Getting the Stress Monkey Off Your Back

The term “stress monkey” is both colloquial and scientific.  Urban Dictionary describes a stress monkey as “one who behaves like a panicked monkey, when placed under minimal stress.” Interestingly, there was a study done with monkeys to assess what type of stress was significant enough to cause ulcers.

The Executive Monkey Experiment noted that stimulating monkeys to take on the additional responsibility of providing food for other monkeys produced significant enough stress to develop ulcers. The subtext is that by better managing boundaries and personal responsibilities, one can significantly reduce stress and improve health and mood.

While hyper-responsibility and over-achievement are periodically present in nearly everyone’s life, the role of today’s mother is particularly stressful. Whether working outside of the home or not, mothers must attend to children’s homework, carpools, after school activities, volunteer work, managing food, and many, if not all, home executive tasks.  If the husband travels, her work is intensified.  The role of mother has been described as overwhelming and “soul-sucking.”  Health trajectory and life satisfaction of this overly stressed role need to be recognized.

By no means does this suggest that mothers should discontinue working or serving others. Instead, a shift in perspective may serve the over-stressed best.

Here are some initial thoughts to consider, if you find yourself in the stress monkey category:

  • Consider priority management over time management.
  • Assess your relationships for emotional triggers and identify personal boundaries. Who or what are the relationships (an organization or relatives?) drawing on you to add extra work, expectations, or feelings of guilt?
  • Check your motives.  Are you doing whatever you are doing for yourself and/or your priorities? Issues from the past can instigate performance to soothe wounds of possibly wanting to feel more needed or valued.  Unresolved motives can derail priorities but can be vetted and redirected with the help of a therapist.
  • Implement soul care.  Soul care practices impact our lives, health and relationships.

While stress can invite problems, over-stressed feelings are not necessarily bad. Stressful feelings can be seen as early warning signals that alert stress monkeys to seek help with alternative lifestyle practices.


Sheri Schulze, LAPC