Symptom Management

Monkey Brain-Mind Hopping and MS

By Kathleen S. Rand, M.A.

Have you ever had the sinking feeling when you got up to do something and then couldn’t remember what it was? Or had the experience of not being able to concentrate with your mind jumping from one thought to another? This mind hopping experience can be called “Monkey Brain.”* Think of it as a little monkey hopping from tree branch to tree branch inside your mind, unable to land anywhere for any length of time.

Preoccupation with other things – like MS – can make it difficult to concentrate. Cognitive difficulties are a common complaint for persons with MS and finding ways to deal with Monkey Brain are important. If you find it hard to concentrate and need help quieting your mind and calming the monkey in your head, the following techniques can help: 

Minimize distraction. Whether you are at work or home, prioritize your important tasks and write them down. Then, turn the phone or TV off or ask someone to take your calls while you complete your essential task, whether it’s organizing your budget or preparing for a meeting at work. When you complete the task, cross it off your list and move to the next task. 

Exercise. Any kind of exercise is beneficial. Try T’ai chi, yoga, water therapy, or walking. Take a walk to reduce your distraction and tension. Bring your scooter, walker or wheelchair, if needed.

Meditation. Regular meditation practice can help calm the mind. There are many complementary and alternative health groups and organizations that practice meditation. If you can’t get out to a meditation group, there are books and audio tapes available. There are also private meditation instructors who will come to your home, although this can be costly. Finally, there are “Meditation Societies” that exist in many areas as well as online. 

According to Barbara Hudson, M.Ed., MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and substance abuse counselor in Reno, Nev., it is possible to understand Monkey Brain and quiet its ever present chattering. The most important aspect of minimizing Monkey Brain is to find what works for you. As with any new venture, you may fail initially, but don’t become discouraged. The Monkey can be quieted. Reduce distractions, take time for yourself, and eventually, the monkey will take a nap, allowing you to focus on what you need to do.

*(Hudson, 2005)

Kathleen S. Rand, M.A. has been officially diagnosed with MS since 2000 and has experienced Monkey Brain on many occasions. She is an avid adaptive skier and scuba diver. She works full-time as a senior buyer for the City of Sparks, NV and as an adjunct professor for Morrison University, in Reno, NV.

(Last reviewed 9/2009)