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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Haws

Distraction is a Skill and There's More to It Than You Think!

Updated: Apr 9




I think everyone has things they use to distract themselves from challenging emotional situations. What people don’t know though, is what they are doing has the potential to be quite skillful. 


Now let’s be real, if we practice distraction over and over and over and do nothing else about our emotional problems, we are likely not going to get very far in terms of our wellness goals. However, if we use distraction strategically, we might be able to move through challenges more effectively after using distraction for a set period of time. 


Many people think of activities when they think of distractions. Most people don’t know that there are actually 7 ways we can effectively distract ourselves during high emotional intensity. The following are the different types of distractions: 


  • Activities: These are the things people often think of first when they think of distracting themselves. Some people might choose to go for a walk, listen to a podcast or watch a TV show. The whole point of engaging in activities is to give yourself something that can occupy your brain and take it off of the previous subject matter, even for a short while. 


  • Contribute: This is the kind of distraction where you take the attention off of yourself and place it on someone else. Maybe you decided to bake a friend some cookies to take your mind off things, or maybe you called a friend to ask how their day went. Either way, the attention becomes less about you and more about them which can be a nice break. 


  • Comparison: Now this one I like to tell people to be cautious about. Some people find this skill super helpful, and some people really don’t. Whichever camp you fall into is totally fine. It’s all about taking what works and leaving the rest. My favourite way to use this skill is instead of comparing how we are doing to how others are doing, perhaps we compare how we are doing compared to how we were last year or perhaps we practice gratitude. Taking a step back and thinking of what you’re grateful for won’t make your problems go away, but again, it can surely provide you with a nice break. 


  • Emotions: Sometimes one particular emotion can feel like too much. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel anything but this? This part of distraction is about generating different emotions than the one you’re currently feeling. This doesn’t automatically mean you need to aim for happiness. That might be too far of a jump. If you’re sad, maybe you watch a scary movie to instill feelings of fear. If you’re afraid, maybe you play some angry music to swap to that feeling state instead. It’s not about cheering yourself up. It’s just changing from one emotion to another when one emotion is too challenging or perhaps destructive. 


  • Push Away: Okay, so here’s another one that I teach with extreme caution. DO NOT SHOVE YOUR FEELINGS DOWN AND LEAVE THEM THERE. I repeat, do not suppress your feelings. However, sometimes we are in situations where we need to snap into a different mode to get things done. This is when we use the push-away skill. It’s the skill you use when your significant other ends the relationship right before you have to go to an important meeting for work. Put the feelings in a container for the time being, but make sure you go back to your feelings to allow them to be fully felt or they might come back stronger in the future. 

 

  • Thoughts: Just like how you can opt for different emotions, you can also opt for different thoughts to take your mind off things. This part of distraction is all about filling up your short-term memory with other thoughts. Perhaps you watch a TV show, read a book or do a puzzle. Whatever fills your brain with different thoughts to give you a break from the ones that are likely being repeated in your mind over and over and over. 


  • Sensations: This is the part where you use strong sensations to overpower your mind and take over awareness. You might decide to eat sour candy or some hot sauce. You might decide to hold ice cubes in your hands. The idea is that your brain will be so focused on the strong sensations you’ve given it that it can’t think about or feel whatever it was you were upset about prior. 


For distraction, it’s really important not only to continue to do the things that have been working for you but also to be willing to try some new things too. We are often doing great things to help ourselves, and we can always do more.




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