The Menopausal Monkey Mind. And How To Keep Her Focused.
Being “in the present” sounds like it should be easy. Right?
Just be “here”. Wherever “here” may be for you.
I mean you’re already physically “here”, so put ‘er in Park and be in the moment.
Easier said than done.
“Ugh…why is it so dang hard to truly be present?”
It’s not necessarily physically difficult. Though some of us have ants in our pants and find it all but impossible to sit physically still. For most, it is the attempt at quieting our inner dialogue that seems impossible at first. And at second. At third, at fourth, and so on.
Why is it so dang hard?
Enter the Monkey Mind
Long story short, you have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 thoughts, give or take, in a given day. Of which some 90% are the same thoughts as yesterday, and the yesterday before that.
These thoughts run on a loop, essentially. Like a big jukebox playlist featuring the soundtrack of our lives. There’s not much of a melody per se. This soundtrack is more a series of statements than songs. And they play in the background of our every waking moment.
Who’s feeding the jukebox all the quarters? Our monkey mind.
This is the part of our psyche (mind) that just won’t sit still and zip it. It’s that voice that is in constant chatter mode. It’s that voice in your head that is saying, “What voice?”, right about now.
The Buddha defined it best when he said, “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.”
Our monkey mind is our perpetual thoughts, the chattering monkey of our internal monologue. With all that constant chatter, it becomes all but impossible to be present and focused on the moment we are in. Instead we go swinging from limb to limb through the thought trees in our heads.
If you’re a woman in the throes of perimenopause, the constant flux of your hormonal symphony adds velocity to the swing. As estrogen rises and falls, and progesterone is on her tapered decline, these swings happen faster and more abruptly. In fact it feels like we lose our grip at times. Much like the grip on our sanity. (Sanity is a fluid term these days and altogether overrated if you ask me. There’s a certain level where a heaping helping of lack is rather therapeutic.)
Introducing Madge (AKA My Monkey Mind)
Personally, I like to add a little color to my world. It’s a need more than a want, really. Seeing that I am my best source of entertainment and I happen to find myself rather funny, I build characters into my inner dialogue.
Now I am sure that if you are a psychologist or a behavior specialist with a trail of letters behind your name, you may be giving me the raised eyebrow at the moment.
I am fine with that.
I do this for my own enjoyment and to lighten the mood. Because Oh-Em-Gee…this world is absolutely on fire and I need a little entertainment to keep from fanning the flames!
Bringing it full-circle to the subject at hand, I have built a character around my monkey mind. Her name is Madge.
Madge is a hot mess.
She has 3 day unwashed hair which has an 80’s hairband level of Aquanet in it, eyeliner on only the right upper eyelid and smeared red lipstick with a visible fleck of it on her left front tooth. She holds an unlit cigarette in her right hand and likes to point emphatically with it as she’s trying to ruin my life. (That’s not her goal at all, but it can sure feel like it at times.)
Madge and I are not friends. Nor are we foes. We’re technically allies. Key word: technically.
She is that part of my psyche that constantly brings up the past. More specifically, the failures from the past. She has a photographic memory for those, and complete amnesia around anything good I’ve ever done or said, or refrained from doing or saying.
She loves to pepper that superpower with other joy-sucking thoughts like bringing to my attention every single thing that could go wrong in the future; and she ruminates on them. All. Day. Long.
She is never in the present and loves to block me from it too. If she’s not in the moment, I’m not either.
Madge is my monkey mind personified.
And don’t tell me you don’t have one. We all do.
You have a facet of your psyche that is trying to keep you “safe”. Another word for this part of our mind is our Ego. Keeping us safe is the Ego’s J-O-B.
When we take our eyes off our monkey mind, for even one second, this furry rascal can run amuck thwarting our best intentions faster than a toddler hopped up on Mom’s coveted pumpkin spice latte.
In short, she can derail us in an instant.
One sure thing about navigating menopause is that new and often less than desirable things will pop up for you physically, mentally, and emotionally. On a regular basis.
By practicing mindfulness, you can look at these things as they are. Which sure beats the heck out of handing the baton to your Inner Madge and watching her furry behind run away from you at a breakneck speed, taking what’s left of your “sanity” with her.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present. One way in which you can practice being present is to sit quietly while focusing on your breathing.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
The intent behind mindfulness is not to rid your mind of thoughts, or keep you from thinking. It is intended to help you balance and accept yourself, your thoughts, all while being more aware of your body in the moment. Being “in the present”.
I look at mindfulness as my “Madge Whisperer”. Like Cesar Millan to man’s best friend, I have mastered my minion!
Well…for the most part. She’s scrappy and rather slippery at times.
Nonetheless we are allies. But only when she’s in “her place” and I am the one making her sit there. Same goes for you and your monkey mind. The clear and present You must take charge of the situation.
Don’t get caught up on the word mindfulness as if it’s something woo-woo. I assure you it’s not. You’ll find a deep vein of information related to mindfulness in the scientific literature. There’s more to this than what’s depicted in popular culture. People of all religions or none at all can benefit from mindfulness.
How Do You Do It?
Mindfulness may sound intimidating or like something you don’t have the time or focus to do. I get that. Like any skill, you can learn to be mindful. It all starts with training your monkey mind to be still.
Mindfulness is something anyone can practice, no matter where they are physically, or where they are within themselves.
To practice mindfulness, follow these simple steps:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place.
- Sit on a pillow, and cross your legs comfortably making sure your hips are above your knees. Place your hands palms down on your thighs. You can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor as well.
- Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breathing.
- Take note of the in breath and the out. Pay attention to your thoughts. If they contain worries and stresses of the day, breathe them out. As you breathe, do not try to stop your thoughts or change them. Just focus on who you are in that moment.
- Breathing in and out, become aware of your body. Use your breathing to connect to your body, mind, and self as a whole just where you are.
- If you find the chatter a bit too much at that moment, you can quietly say to your monkey mind, “I’m not thinking about that right now”.
How Can Mindfulness Help You With Your Menopause Symptoms?
You may be wondering, “How can mindful breathing help me with my hot flashes, or my crappy sleep, or my brain fog?”
Great question. Let me elaborate for you a bit.
Mindfulness Releases Tension And Relieves Anxiety Related To Symptoms.
When you release your body of tension through something as simple as focusing on your breathing, you’ll reduce the anxiety and stress that accompany symptoms that may arise along your menopausal journey.
This stress is likely taking a toll on your body as well as your mind. When you are peaceful, relaxed, and free of the hold your stressors have on you, you will be less likely to venture down the “what if” path.
This is a dark path so many of us find ourselves wandering aimlessly when we are faced with the changes that accompany the menopause transition.
“What if I am actually going crazy? Is it P.C. to say ‘crazy’?”
“What if I am actually going to bleed to death from this never-ending period? ***SIDE CONVO: Hey Siri…has anyone ever died from having a period that just won’t let up? And if so, how long have I got?”***
“What if this tenderness in my right breast is breast cancer?”
It is exhausting.
Now most all of the new symptoms that come on scene when we are knocking on menopause’s door can be directly traced back to the hormonal shift we are experiencing. This shift is temporary and predictable for the most part.
It eventually mellows out.
But not before it takes us for a wild ride, and not the fun kind!
It’s a ride that becomes even wilder when we are stressed.
Stress adds cortisol to the mix. Cortisol is like liquid speed to our monkey mind. Give her a shot of that (or marinate her in it as most of us are stressed to the max) and she’ll run, and run, and run. She will leave you, and your best intentions to roll with the changes, in the dust.
We all have a go-to coping mechanism we turn to in an attempt to ease our stress. It is an automatic and learned response, for the most part. This is referred to as self-medicating.
Some use food, others use “busy-ness”, and some, they reach for the bottle (pill or liquor) to ease their stress. In turn attempting to distract their monkey mind.
By giving your monkey mind something to focus on, like mindful breathing, you can forgo the self-medicating behaviors and tap into the bliss that lies at the heart of being mindful.
Focusing on your breathing is a great gateway behavior to living a more mindful existence and results in a smoother menopause experience.
Mindfulness Engages And Focuses Your Mind While It Increases Body Awareness.
Breathing in and out, while allowing the mind and body to be aware of one another engages your brain and connects you to your body in a way that is calming yet invigorating. It distracts the monkey for a while. That is until we lose sight of the hairy rascal and allow distractions to once again enter the thoughts. When this happens, and it always does, just center your focus back on your breathing. In. Out.
By being mindful of the moment you’re in, and how special you, your mind and body all are, you begin to value all your parts, thoughts, and self.
This type of mindset makes you peaceful, thankful, and encourages you to take the time to give yourself the best care, food, and love possible. Three critical things to help us dial down the symptoms associated with menopause.
Mindfulness calls you to be calm and present while you learn to recognize your thoughts, and who you are in any moment you’re practicing. Being mindful of your body, mind, and self as one can be very powerful in helping to decrease the fallout felt from the symptoms you experience as you navigate your menopause.
A Short Exercise To Get You Started
I created a short mindfulness exercise to get you started on your mindfulness journey. You can pick that up HERE. Or the Resources tab at the top of this page to then request the mindfulness lesson from there.
To stack the deck in favor of reaching your true potential, you’ll need a heaping helping of grit and stick-to-it-ness. Along with support from those who get where you’re coming from, understand what you are seeking and why, and those women who seek the same level of transformation for themselves.
The best way I can recommend you set out on this quest is to join us in the Unraveling Together Community. It’s a free resource hosted off social media on a Mighty Network. You can pop in on the regular from both your desktop and our user-friendly app.
I am carefully curating this community to ensure it is a place for you to lean into during this powerful time of transition. As we lean in, we grow in ways we’ve not been able to do just yet. The alchemy of navigating life and business with others on a similar path, allows you to tap into this transition and come out the other side at peace with your body, your mind, and fully aware of what lights you up as a person.
Request to join us at www.UnravelingTogether.com