How To Deal With Someone Else's Anxieties, Dramas & Restlessness (Without Losing Yourself)

Switch off their 'monkey mind' with these key tips.

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It’s bad enough when your own mind races — let alone someone else's process of being trapped in frenetic, distracted, restless, mentally busy work. Some call it overthinking or suffering from anxiety. But it may be simpler than that.

Instead, this is your “monkey mind” — your mindlessly active, constantly chattering, never-settling-down, and incapable-of-following-through mind — taking care of its business. This is your mind's business, not yours.


At times, it’s relentless, flinging you from thought to thought, feeling to feeling, worry to worry. 

Sometimes you catch it in motion and can slow its movement. Sometimes you can’t, and your thoughts seem to bounce about. Generally, this happenstance is contained within your own head and doesn’t spill out into spoken thought or action, which will impact others. 

How much more difficult is it when you are confronted by somebody else’s troubled monkey mind?

After all, it can be difficult to know how to help, and when you feel you can't help, it can be difficult to endure. Luckily there are great ways to help someone shift away from their monkey mind. 


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How to help someone shift into their thinking brain & get away from 'monkey mind'

The only effective approach is to engage the other’s thinking brain. A gentle approach works best.

Pathway 1: Find out if the other person is seeking specific support.

Start with this question, “What do you need from me?” If the answer is, “I just need to vent.”, give a listening ear, and then skip directly to Pathway 5.


If the answer is, “I don’t know what I need,” move on to Pathway 2.

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Pathway 2: Invite the other person to come back to physical reality.

When Monkey Mind is reactive and reacting, it loses track of the body.

Ask the other person to describe how they are physically feeling and listen for specific sensations. “Anxious” is vague, while “nauseous” is specific. Invite the other person to breathe mindful, intentional breaths, not shallow panicked gasps.

Bringing attention back to the body will give the thinking brain something tangible to consider and remove focus from what is going on in the mind, quieting it.


Pathway 3: Invite the other person to consider alternatives.

Ask, “Are you open to hearing an alternative point of view?” Rarely will you hear “No.” in response.

Offer alternative points of view, the more, the merrier. These can be good, bad, or ridiculous. Essentially, you’re entering Monkey Mind’s playground and asking the thinking brain to notice equipment Monkey Mind completely ignores.

Considering alternatives enlarges the world and removes focus from the mind spiraling out of control.

Pathway 4: Invite the other person to invent their own alternatives.

Ask the other person, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Monkey Mind will respond with its worries.


Then ask, “Is that the worst? What else could happen?” Repeat this process as many times as it takes. The goal is to bring the thinking brain back online and back to what could happen in reality.

This process removes the focus from anxiety about what hasn’t happened and is unlikely ever to happen.

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Pathway 5: If you cannot reach the thinking brain, acknowledge Monkey Mind and let it be.

Be sure to approach this with compassion because the other person is suffering. You want to acknowledge how their mind sees the world by “mirroring” that worldview.

Echo back their words and the emotional content of those words. This doesn’t mean that you accept this point of view or encourage it — only that you hear it fully and acknowledge it.


What doesn’t work when interacting with other people's anxious monkey minds?

Direct confrontation is not the solution. Facts, data, and evidential “proof” are equally useless. Urging someone to “not worry about it” is worse than ineffective.

Trying to reason with someone enduring this process will only leave you and the other person upset and unhappy. (Honestly, you can’t reason with a jumpy, upset monkey.)

Don’t attempt these approaches because they’re not going to work. Monkey Mind doesn’t want to “calm down.” Monkey Mind doesn’t want to be corrected. Monkey Mind wants to be fraught with worry.


Nudging monkey mind off its track

When you can nudge Monkey Mind off its one-track, model railway circuit, you’ve struck gold. The thinking part of the brain, not Monkey Mind, can now resume control of the situation, conversation, and response.

The human being you care about will be relieved of the burden of their thoughts. You’ll find some relief for yourself as well, having successfully subsided another’s Monkey Mind hijack on behalf of the two thinking brains involved. Engage your thinking brain and your compassion, and reach for the gold.

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Susan Kulakowski, MS/MBA, is a YourTango expert interested in human relationships, especially relationships within families.