How to Distract Yourself

Five Methods:Understanding Healthy Ways to Distract YourselfUsing Relaxation TechniquesUsing Entertainment for DistractionHaving Awareness of your Self and SurroundingsGetting Out and About

The desire for distraction is a natural response that we often feel when we want to avoid something uncomfortable or negative. When we experience physical or emotional pain, for example, we may try to distract ourselves by engaging in serious unhealthy distractions, such as addiction, self-harming, overeating and other behaviors. But distracting activities can also be helpful, especially if addiction or other behaviors have become a pattern. Distraction can help you stop yourself from using drugs, buying you time and shifting your attention. Finding distractions can also be useful when you need to pass the time, turn your attention away from something, or calm yourself down. In these instances, using entertainment, relaxation and other methods can help distract yourself.

Method 1
Understanding Healthy Ways to Distract Yourself

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    Know that distraction can be an unhealthy response. Distraction is a mechanism used to avoid dealing with difficulties and feelings in our lives. Some distractions that are considered unhealthy include eating junk food when stressed or turning to alcohol or drugs. For example, if you have an anger management problem, you might turn to drugs to handle your overwhelming feelings.
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    Acknowledge the feeling that you’re having. It’s healthier to acknowledge and let go of the negative feeling that you’re experiencing. You can still use a distraction, but know that the distraction is drawing you away from something that may need to be processed. Otherwise, you’re just covering up or ignoring the negative emotion you’re feeling.[1]
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    Recognize that distractions can help you through unhealthy responses. If you have an addiction, you might use a distraction to prevent yourself from using more. This need for distraction happens because you’ve acknowledged the negative feelings of wanting to use. You are making a conscious decision to positively address your addiction.[2]
    • Count to 100 to buy yourself time when you feel the desire to use drugs or alcohol.
    • Use a distraction to give yourself a time-out before you deal with the negative feelings.
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    Transform your response into a healthy distraction. Your natural inclination to a stressful situation or feeling might be to engage in an unhealthy distraction. You might want to eat too much junk food, for example, or drink too much alcohol. It’s fine to distract yourself after acknowledging the feeling. But choose more productive activities so that you’re treating your body and mind with respect and care. These might include:
    • Taking a walk
    • Eating some fruit instead of a candy bar
    • Reading a book
    • Cleaning up your desk

Method 2
Using Relaxation Techniques

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    Try deep breathing techniques. When you focus on breathing deeply, you can help your body release stress and anxiety. Your mind will start to clear as you think only about breathing. [3]
    • Breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four. Place your hand on your stomach to feel it moving in and out with the breath.
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    Use a mantra. A mantra is a simple phrase or word that you repeat to yourself. When you find yourself in a situation when you want to distract yourself from thinking certain thoughts or doing certain activities, use a positive mantra. For example, if you want to distract yourself from anxious feelings, you might say, “I am strong,” or “I can cope.” This will turn your mental energy away from the negative feelings as you focus on yourself repeating these words.[4]
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    Get some exercise. If you are feeling negative emotions, you might find it useful to get some exercise. Going for a walk or bike ride will allow you to focus on one activity.
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    Go to sleep. When you sleep, your mind will quiet down and you will stop thinking so actively. Curl up in bed for a nap.

Method 3
Using Entertainment for Distraction

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    Listen to music. Load up a new playlist and listen to some music. Find a comfortable spot to sit and listen closely to the music. Focus on the lyrics and the musical strains. See if you can hear when different instruments are played.
    • Listen to the music through headphones. Music with a faster tempo will require you to pay closer attention if you’re trying to track the music, instruments and lyrics.[5]
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    Watch TV or a movie. Turning on the TV or watching a good movie can distract you from the task or thought at hand. Get absorbed in the storyline of a TV show or movie.
    • Make sure to choose a movie or TV show that doesn’t remind you of your problem. For example, if you’re distracting yourself from the emotional pain of a breakup, don’t watch a movie that focuses on a person who ends a relationship with someone.
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    Play a video game. Video games offer compelling narratives that can suck you into their worlds. If you are playing a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, you will interact with others online, which will take your attention away from your problem.
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    Read a book. Find a good, juicy story or revisit an old favorite novel. It helps if the book is a fairly easy read. If you have to process a lot of what you’re reading or constantly look up vocabulary, then you might lose your momentum to get lost in the story.
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    Work on a big project. Dive into a project with multiple parts. This will engage your attention with various steps and instructions. A good project could be working on a model, painting a picture or building some shelves for your living room.

Method 4
Having Awareness of your Self and Surroundings

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    Observe something in minute detail. Turn your attention to one element of your surroundings. Look at that element as though you needed to paint or draw it. Sharpen your attention on this item, examining how it looks and how it might feel. For example, look at the arm of a chair. Notice the wood grain and pattern. Observe how smooth the arm is and how it curves downward.[6]
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    Pay close attention to your body. Rub your index finger and thumb together. Notice how your skin feels. Notice what happens when you press your fingers together more gently. Listen to your breathing. Pay attention to your eyes blinking.[7]
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    Pinch yourself. If you are experiencing physical pain or sharp emotional pain, distract yourself by inflicting a small amount of physical pain on yourself. This will redirect your attention to one area, such as when you pinch the webbing between your index finger and your thumb.

Method 5
Getting Out and About

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    Take yourself on a field trip. Find somewhere new to visit. The new adventure will keep your mind occupied on details such as getting there, finding a place to park, and exploring the site.
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    Do a favorite hobby or pastime. When you distract yourself with something you enjoy, you will find that you can endure pain or uncomfortable feelings more easily.[8] You might enjoy doing woodworking, gardening, or hiking.
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    Spend time with others. Pass the time with people you enjoy being around. This will enable more sustainable and interesting conversation. When you are on your own, you start to feel isolated and you may tend to focus on negative feelings more readily.[9]
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    Find new routines. Distract yourself from old patterns of thinking by forcing yourself to try new routines. Retrain your brain to think about life in a different way. For example, if you had a difficult breakup, you might need to stop visiting familiar restaurants that remind you of your ex. Instead, find a new restaurant and make new memories.[10]

Article Info

Categories: Managing Negative Feelings