Hamster Brain

hamster-brainA young woman who has been making good progress tackling the problem of severe depressive episodes suddenly is having trouble managing the opposite end of the mood spectrum.  She gets energized and is consumed with getting stuff done. She is unable to stop until she is exhausted and she crashes.

I call this state of mind “hamster mind” because it is like the endless spinning of a hamster in a cage.  Running endlessly and unable to stop. If one thing is done the hamster mind moves instantly on to another task.

In this state of mind what would often be most helpful would be to engage in mindfulness meditation.

But the brain in hamster mode views the idea of a mindfulness practice as something  alien and incomprehensible, like writing in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The idea of sitting for two minutes without really trying to accomplish anything seems absurd and the hamster brain will repeatedly put off the task in order not to have to deal with that absurdity.

This is a good time to try a two-minute mindfulness exercise.


Go to Calm.com. Select “Under the Sea” as the background sound. Then click on “Begin.” Scroll through the choices until you hit “Calm” and select it and then begin a two minute guided meditation.

Two minutes is short enough that even the most frenzied and hyperactive brain will have a hard time distracting you from doing the task.

Now set an alarm and in an hour or so do the same exercise again.

Four minutes is a small commitment of time. But the effect can be profound.

The first two minutes usually don’t achieve very much because your mind quickly wanders and becomes involved in thinking about things that need to be done as soon as the two minutes are up.

However the first two minutes sets an almost unconscious foundation for the next two-minute exercise. The second time you listen to the guided meditation you will more quickly and thoroughly enter into the mindful state as the sound of the narrator and the background music serves as cue to remind you how to re-enter that state.

When you are trapped in hamster mind two two-minute mindfulness exercises can have more impact on how you function than a half an hour guided meditation at other times, not because you enter into a truly deep meditative state but rather because a very small dose of mindfulness when you’re in hamster mind can make a big difference in terms of how you’re functioning.

When you’re in hamster mind your brain is trying to make you function at a hundred ten percent of your capacity. This quickly leads to burnout.

Those two two-minute mindfulness exercises allow your brain to slow down to about ninety percent which is a much more sustainable pace.

For More Information

The Power of a Minute

Mindfulness Apps