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erin laughHave you ever used distractions as a way to deal with anxiety producing situations or mental illness induced urges? Me too. Wait a minute… Have you also been told that distracting yourself from the present moment can cause a greater and more intense situation later? Me too.

Like everything else “distracting” is good in moderation.

The key is to know when to use it. This evening my brother was really struggling with his obsessive compulsive disorder. He was trapped in a behavior out of anxiety and together we used a trip to Walmart to distract him from the swirling thoughts in his head. I’m happy to report that by the time we got to Walmart he had forgotten all about his “need” to do his behaviors at home.

Also like so many other things – this for me was won from LOTS of experience. Having struggled with an eating disorder for most of my life coupled with mood issues and anxiety – distraction has been huge for me. Be it distracting myself from an urge to make myself sick, or distract myself from a distressing thought, the art of distraction has been one of the life saving tools I’ve acquired during the recovery process.

Here is what I have learned:

Distracting from an urge, temptation, or unwanted behavior:

  1. Have a list of “distractions” handy – for me this was art supplies, my favorite movies, contact lists..
  2. Change your scenery – sometimes for me getting out of one environment and into another did enough for my senses to distract me for a little while.
  3. Be willing to try multiple things – sometimes I needed to bounce from activity to activity or friend to friend to keep myself distracted.
  4. Keep trying. Sometimes it won’t work (especially in the beginning) but don’t give up on the idea because it didn’t work one day, try again the next.

Distracting from an unwanted thought:

  1. Distract with something that requires concentration: a puzzle, a conversation, shopping etc.
  2. Give up on the idea that your thought has to be rational or irrational. Just accept that regardless it is distressing and it needs to be put away for right now.
  3. Writing my thoughts down helped me to put them away so you could try that too.
  4. Share your thought with someone and then say “now let’s talk about something else.”

Now, finally with distraction it’s important to remember that it is a tool not a way of life. We all have things that need to be dealt with and too much distraction from everything we feel turns into running away from ourselves (I’ve done that too!)

Distraction is a temporary relief so that you can figure out how to move forward once you are feeling less distressed!

My name is Erin and this is Where I Stand