Distraction is all about deferring unpleasant thoughts until there is a healthier time to confront them. For example, distraction would come in very handy when your credit card does not go through at the grocery store so you do not have an emotional breakdown in the middle of the parking lot, letting every other trouble come out in the sobbing (I may or may not be speaking from experience here…).
There are five methods of distraction that I was taught at Remuda:
Distract with Activities: engage in a hobby, listen to music, exercise, call a friend, play a game, go for a walk, get coffee or food with a friend, garden, knit, read, bake, color, scrapbook, whatever you can do physically to take your mind off things.
Distract with Emotions: watch a funny movie or read a joke if you need an escape from sadness; listen to upbeat music for getting rid of anger; watch a favorite movie and call a friend if you are feeling lonely and can not be with your friends at the particular moment.
Distract with “Putting At Arm’s Length”: Push the situation away temporarily. Leave the situation mentally. Literally leave the place where your emotions started getting the better of you to escape the visual stimuli of the area. You may be surprised with how much just changing your location can help. If you get an upsetting text message or e-mail, just put your phone or computer somewhere where they are not easily accessible for a bit.
Distract with Other Thoughts: Use short, declarative statements like “I will get through this” or “I can tolerate this” or “This will pass”.
Distract with Focused Sensations: Hold ice in your hand, squeeze a rubber ball, take a hot or cold shower, listen to very loud music. By focusing on one sensation, your mind will have a much harder time focusing on whatever is emotionally distressing you.
I relied on distraction heavily in my recovery. Maybe sometimes too heavily, but it sure did get the job done. At Remuda, I kept my crossword puzzles or book on my at all times to have an escape from reality. The crosswords focused my attention on one thing and books allowed me to step into an alternate reality.
I remember one specific time at Remuda. We had a thing called “restaurant challenge” where we were taken to a restaurant (one of two in the town) and had to eat lunch there. We were not allowed to order any diet sodas or request changes to our meal. At the end of the meal, we could challenge ourselves with dessert and be exempt from the afternoon snack. My friend Lindsay and I split a horrid piece of cheesecake. CHEESECAKE! God, I am shivering just thinking about it. I did not want to eat that cake. Not one bite. I just powered through it, distracting myself with the eclectic surroundings and the company, I knew I had to somehow distract myself and seem strong for my friends.
It was not until I got back to Remuda that I went outside and broke down. I was able to talk to my two best friends there about it, and after crying for a little I felt much better. I knew if I had started crying in that restaurant it would have been a lot worse because I would not have had the time to realize that I was fine.
I would love to write about distracting oneself in the workplace because I know there can be a lot of stress involved there, but I really have no room to talk about that. I work at a wedding and banquet venue, which is super fast-paced work and if I get upset about something there is really no time to distract myself with something.
At school, I feel like sleep is a college student’s go-to distraction technique. Other options that I really enjoy for when my classes are stressing me out is walking around the quad (I think it is a safe bet to say that any college’s quad is beautiful), watching a movie, popping in my yoga DVD-yes, I do have room in my dorm to do yoga!- and painting my nails.
One very important thing to remember when using the distraction skill is that it is not a permanent solution to dealing with emotions. If you distract yourself with something and never confront the emotions shortly afterward, the underlying stressors will just build up and manifest in a much worse way later.