Care and Feeding of Your Stress Monkey
by Ruth Halpern

Crafting Your Elevator Speech by Ruth Halpern





Care and Feeding of Your Stress Monkey
By Ruth Halpern, President, Halpern & Associates

Previously printed in Golden Gate ALA Newsletter

Stress management is one of the time-honored training topics in Professional Development. But few stress management experts have acknowledged the core dynamic at the root of our tension, anxiety and exhaustion: The stress monkey.

Yes, it’s true, though at times many of us try to deny it—everyone has a stress monkey. Yours may be well-mannered or wild, a tiny organ grinder’s monkey or a big baboon, or all of the above. At every moment, every one of us has a stress monkey firmly attached to our backs.

In law firms, of course, we try to present ourselves as cool, calm and collected, and keep that biting, scratching, chattering little monkey out of sight, but in truth, just as stress is a part of life, the stress monkey is part of human nature—the only choice we have in the matter is how we handle it.

How are you taking care of your stress monkey? This article provides a few do’s and don’ts to make life with a stress monkey a little less…stressful.

Don’t ignore your stress monkey, hoping he’ll go away. If you know you’re stressed, but you don’t do anything to release or modify or tame it, he’ll only grow from a cute little capuchin monkey to an angry gorilla, hopping and whooping and pounding his chest until he’s truly too enormous to ignore.

Don’t feed the monkey junk food. Junk food includes television, road rage, irritability, compulsive shopping, impatience, or more stress (if you can help it). These are all short-term stress busters that end up making the monkey even wilder, because they’re not really nourishing—they don’t address the underlying causes of the monkey’s agitation, they just distract him temporarily.

Don’t keep the monkey captive in its cage. Monkeys are born to move—whether a sedate walk in the park, a fast jog on the treadmill, or a wild dance in the dark. Stress monkeys need a chance to swing from the trees.

Do get your monkey out and moving. Exercise is a great stress-buster, because it releases those prized endorphins, gives your mind something to occupy it, and gets you breathing hard. Stress monkeys like to wrap their spidery arms around our necks and make it hard to breathe, so anything we can do to shake them free is good for them and for us.

Do keep your monkey’s environment well-organized. Monkeys get more frantic when their toys are out of place, broken, or lost, when sounds and smells over stimulate them. Chaos makes them wild, so look for small ways to create order.

Do help your stress monkey keep to a schedule. Good time management is very soothing to stress monkeys, because then they’re not scrambling frantically from food bowl to climbing tree to social gathering. Limit your commitments, so your monkey can stay calm.

Do give your monkey “down time” away from the stressors of everyday life. Try to take just five minutes a day to let the stress monkey be idle, whether it’s swinging gently from a tree branch or gazing into a limpid pool. Some stress monkeys respond well to meditation, yoga, or deep relaxation. Others are more restored by something that requires physical action, like knitting or gardening. The point is, a busy monkey mind needs a rest sometimes—time to float, away from confinement and obligations.

Do cultivate your pack. Monkeys relax in groups, where they can find mutual support, playful wrestling, and a willing pair of paws to scratch and groom them. To keep your stress monkey peaceful, find a safe group of people with whom you can let the monkey off the leash.

Do help your monkey sort out the stimuli that overwhelm its senses, and figure out which stressors it can control and which it’s safe to ignore. Sometimes a stress monkey just needs to leave that vibrating cell phone or that tempting keyboard or that flashing email alone. Is your monkey maddened by long lines at the checkout counter? Take it shopping at a different time of day. Does your stress monkey get infuriated whenever anyone is late? Let the monkey arrive on time and play with its tail while it awaits the tardy members of the party—after all, they have their own stress monkeys to care for and feed as well.

Even in the fast-paced environment of a law firm, you can find time to nurture and groom your stress monkey: Treat it like a curious, vital, hyperactive child, give it kind attention, vigorous exercise, useful toys and a clean environment, and it won’t jump on your head and take over your life.

Ruth Halpern, President of Halpern & Associates, teaches Professional Development workshops for attorneys and support staff. Her specialty is combining useful information with entertaining presentations that leave participants talking—and thinking—long after the presentation is over.

Featured Article
Download a PDF copy of this article.
© 2008, Halpern & Associates. All Rights Reserved. Phone: 510-338-0241 or email