Nature has taught us many lessons and it continues to do so. Nature deals with stress by decreasing high pressure to low pressure. This phenomenon can be observed in some of nature’s most impressive forces like volcanic eruptions and disastrous hurricanes, down to those at the microscopic level like cellular osmosis. Through osmosis, for example, a concentrated solution is diluted – similarly distraction is a powerful diluter of overwhelming and sometimes dysfunctional thoughts and feelings.

Most of us experience feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and shame and sometimes these feelings can become intense. This intensity of feelings can be difficult to deal with, and may cause us to use unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance abuse and self-injurious behavior, or sometimes, we behave in a way we may regret later on. In some extreme cases thoughts of suicide may seem to the individual like a probable solution.

It is thus important for us to learn how to cope with these times in our lives when powerful negative feelings compel us to act in a way that is destructive and in conflict with what we know to be in our best interest. Just like osmosis, distraction can dilute – intense and powerful feelings and is a useful coping strategy.

Coping Strategy is a key component of many evidence based interventions for those who are struggling with substance abuse, personality and mood disorders, adverse urges and crisis situations. It can be immensely useful to others too who, in the moment, are dealing with overwhelming feelings. The backbone for most coping strategies is distraction.

Distraction is an action or interest that can divert your attention off powerful negative feelings with the goal of diluting that feeling thus making it more controllable or bearable. The best feeling-diluting distractions are those that promote immersion, interest, shifting of thoughts and mood changing – even if it is for just a short while and even if it changes the intensity of ones feelings – just a little.

Some effective distractions can be:

  • Watching an interesting TV show or movie (Comedy is excellent)
  • Reading a book that grasps your attention
  • Listening to music that makes you feel good
  • Taking a hot bath
  • Looking and photographs
  • Stroking your pet
  • Taking a walk
  • Going for a run
  • Reflecting and appreciating nature
  • Working out
  • Going for a drive in your car or a ride on your bike
  • Talking to a friend or family member (about anything)
  • Taking a nap
  • Cooking or baking
  • Cleaning (the sense of accomplishment has a double pay off)
  • Projects
  • Art (appreciation and creation)
  • Shopping
  • Play a board game or a challenging mind puzzle
  • Writing (journal, letters, blogs etc.)

A word of caution – distraction should not be considered a permanent solution but rather a temporary measure to assist in regulation of intense feelings. It should not be a means to continually avoid dealing with feelings that really do need addressing. The ultimate goal, of course, is to allow opportunity to make a positive change. Consider your Capital EAP counselor to assist in that.

For once – you have permission to “go out and play” – happy healthy distracting.