May is Mental health month in the USA but really, the focus on our mental health and well-being should be every day and part of a healthy lifestyle, don’t you agree?
Sometimes life can be a struggle can’t it, especially when our ‘monkey mind’ is in full throttle. Have you heard of the term ‘monkey mind’? I know I have one. ‘Monkey mind’ is a Buddhist term meaning ‘unsettled, restless, confused, indecisive, ‘ A mind that refuses to be quiet and concentrated. A mind that has a thousand thoughts racing through. The Buddha used the following analogy to describe ‘‘kapacitta’ to describe this restless, agitated, incessant movement of the mind.
‘Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.’
My monkey mind has been in overdrive lately coping with life which has recently been a roller coaster ride. There are many things happening in our life at the moment – some good, some not-so-good but all needing focus and attention.
Strategies I use to bring calm to a ‘monkey mind’
Please note: I am not an expert or professional in the area of mental health. I am sharing what works for me, however, if you are struggling please reach out for a professional help. Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
When we are feeling overwhelmed and the monkey is swinging from branch to branch it can be almost impossible to function and think clearly. We start to feel anxious, it is difficult to complete tasks and that is our mind telling us that we need to STOP.
If we ignore the messages our mind is sending, we will start receiving messages from our bodies as signs manifest themselves and can lead to illness.
But what can you do when you feel too tired to fight the monkey mind? I could say it was easy but from personal experience it is not. However, there are some short term strategies that may help – I know they work for me – which I’d like to share. I say short-term because sometimes we have to work at practicing to become a habit but in the moment these will bring some calm when you need it.
You probably know them and can add to my list but a gentle reminder is always good. You could be reading this post and think ‘Oh I needed to read this today’.
Give yourself permission to be less than perfect
We set the bar higher for ourselves than we do for others – I know I do. We expect more from ourselves or feel guilty if we say ‘no’ or feel ‘less’ if we aren’t juggling six balls at once whilst hopping on one leg. Accept the reality that we aren’t perfect and our mental health is more important than trying to please others or aiming to be the ‘multi-tasker’ of the year. I used to pride myself on being able to do several things at once – but why? Multi-tasking is over-rated.
Prioritise and make a list
Too much going on? Ask yourself this question: Is it all really necessary? Write a list of all you need or ‘think you need’ to do. Then mark each task out of 10. 10 being most important and must be done or more importantly brings you joy and 1 being ‘the world won’t end if I don’t get this done’. In many cases, you can let go of the ones you have graded as ‘1’ although sometimes it is the ‘letting go’ that is the most difficult part of the task.
Unplug for a day or two or more
Whilst social media certainly has it’s place it can also be a trigger for stress and also at times an unhealthy habit. If you are reaching for your phone to scroll through your social media feeds as soon as you wake or you’ve lost an hour scrolling and seeing ‘the perfect lives’ of others or news that is distressing, then it is time for a social media detox. Could you do that? Unplug from social media (and emails) for at least 24 – 48 hours?
Take time out for mindfulness and meditation
Saturday morning I looked at this view and it reminded me that although life can feel grey and overwhelming there is always light just waiting for the clouds to pass. Taking a moment to focus on a view or a favourite painting can help settle the monkey mind.
I’ve recently found these cute pocket sized books on mindfulness and meditation. Bite-sized pieces to help you learn and practice meditation and mindfulness through fun and efficient exercises you can fit into your day.
Taking a walk in nature
It’s good for the soul as well as our mental and physical well-being
Moving our body lifts our mood
Whether it is a traditional form of exercise, dancing, playing with children or just moving from one part of your home to another room. Harvard Health Publishing’s ‘How Simply Moving Benefits our Mental Health‘ suggests that
recent studies show that the connection between your brain and your body is a “two-way street” and that means movement can change your brain, too!Harvard Health Publishing Article ‘How Simply Moving Benefits our Mental Health’
Tapping EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
You can read more detail on this technique What is EFT?. Basically it is a technique where you focus on your current feelings or negative emotions whilst using your fingertips to tap 5 – 7 times on 9 specific meridian points in the body. There is an easy Butterfly method where you cross your arms and tap each shoulder R then L in a soothing rhythm. You can also just tap your knees or even your feet, depending where you are. You may want to do it before sleep to relax your mind.
Focus on the Breath
There are many breathing techniques to help calm our mind and feelings of anxiety. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is easy to do and is known as the ‘relaxing breath’. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Breathe is a free app which can help you with this breathing method and may help relax you for sleep.
Binge your favourite series, movie or book
Sometimes watching your favourite TV series ( even if it is a reality show where you don’t need to use your brain), getting lost in a favourite book or movie for a couple of hours can have a calming influence on your mind. You’ve stepped out of the world for a while.
If you enjoy cooking and baking – being in the kitchen can help soothe your mind. Kneading dough, can have a therapeutic affect. I have a couple of friends who turn to baking when they are stressed. Knitting, crochet, art or any creative hobby can be wonderful for calming your monkey mind.
Crank up the music
Put the headphones on and listen to your favourite music or dance around the room. For me ABBA is a great mood lifter and singing the lyrics makes my monkey settle down!
Slot in time each day to nurture yourself and do things that bring joy. 10 – 15 minutes might be all you need.
Spend time with children
When I spend time with my grandsons I’m filled with joy and there is certainly no time for my monkey mind. Re-discovering how to have fun and be curious and of course cuddles certainly helps. Children a constantly in the moment. Sure they might flit from one activity to the next but they are always in the moment, not worrying about yesterday, tomorrow or a long list of things ‘to do’.
So here are some suggestions for you to try and as I said, you may have more to share with me.
What will you do for your mental health and well-being today? Share with me things that bring the light from behind the grey.
Have a beautiful day and take care of you
Behind the grey there is always light.Sue Loncaric, Women Living Well After 50