Ever get the feeling that your thoughts have been hijacked, or that your mind is spinning out on too many distracting tracks at once? Three experts offer tips for overcoming mental chaos and reclaiming a balanced brain.
Eric Maisel, PhD, psychotherapist, creativity coach, and author of 40 books, most recently Natural Psychology: The New Psychology of Meaning (Natural Psychology Press, 2012)
Try the 10-second technique: Take a big, long, slow inhale, breathing in for a count of five, and then exhaling for a count of five. Marry your breath with a calming, centering thought. For example, say to yourself on the inhale, “I am completely . . . ” and on the exhale, “stopping.” Or “I am . . . quieting my mind.” That combination of monitoring your breathing and monitoring your thinking at the same time is a quick way to get centered and quiet “monkey mind.” Repeat as needed; most people need to use the same phrase two or three times in succession to get mentally quiet.
Henry Emmons, MD, integrative psychiatrist and author of The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Your Anxiety (Touchstone, 2010)
Reconnect with your body: If you’re a driven, type A person by nature, with a busy schedule and a lot of deadlines, you’re generally sending your brain lots of fight-or-flight signals, and the brain is responding by being jumpy. If you take a moment to get out of your head and into your body, you are essentially telling the brain that there are no threats present, and that it can “stand down.”
Try placing your hand on your lap, or on your chest, and just pay attention to the feeling of warmth that’s exchanged between your hand and body. You can also bring your attention to your feet on the ground or your seat in the chair. Getting into your physical experience briefly in this way calms mental chatter.
Or take a few minutes to simply listen to music — paying close attention to nothing but the music. You’ll be giving your brain the message that everything’s OK for now and it can quiet down.
Trudy Scott, CN, nutritionist and author of The Antianxiety Food Solution: How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings (New Harbinger, 2011)
Rebalance your biochemistry: If you’re experiencing a chronic case of monkey mind, it may indicate that you’re low on certain neurotransmitters or key nutrients. For example, you may be low on serotonin, a neurotransmitter than helps produce feelings of well-being and also helps you switch off worry and ruminating thoughts.
The amino acid tryptophan helps restore serotonin levels. High-quality grass-fed red meat is a great source of tryptophan. Red meat also contains iron, which can help support mental focus.
One of the best ways to avoid monkey mind during the day is to eat a protein-rich breakfast. A good breakfast prevents blood-sugar fluctuations, which produce poor focus as well as irritability and mood swings.
To combat monkey mind in the moment, you could try a tryptophan supplement. (Amino acids take effect very quickly. You’ll typically know in 10 minutes or less if it’s working.) You might also be experiencing lowered levels of catecholamines, which can result in poor focus, scattered thoughts, ADD-type symptoms and fatigue. Here, the supplement to try is tyrosine, which can have the same kind of quick effect.
Jon Spayde is the author of How to Believe: Teachers and Seekers Show the Way to a Modern, Life-Changing Faith (Random House, 2008). He is a regular contributor to Experience Life.