woman sitting on a dock distracting herself from a depressed mood

6 Effective Ways To Distract Yourself From Anxiety And Depression

When you’re down, stressed, or anxious, do you tend to fixate on how you feel? When you’re feeling emotionally awful, do you try to figure out what the heck is wrong with you? Unfortunately, this kind of thinking increases our negative feelings, but there is something you can do about it. It’s called distraction. No, not the kind of distraction when you’re driving. The kind that’s helps improve your mood. If you’re not using distraction, then you’re missing a simple and effective strategy to improve your mood.


Six Types Of Distraction

I’ve divided distraction into six categories. You might come up with other ways to group them but this is just a way that I’ve found useful. Below are examples in each category but there are many others I didn’t list. Use the list as a starting not an ending point.Woman listening to music to distract herself from depression

  • Stress-reduction – meditation, visualization, diaphragmatic breathing

  • Physical activity – running, walking, lifting weights, biking outside, spinning

  • Hobbies/Leisure – gardening, knitting, building models, woodworking, painting, playing music, genealogy, dancing, writing, journaling.

  • Mentally engaging tasks – Sudoku, Scrabble, crosswords, online games (angry birds, candy crush, unblock king)

  • Social activities – meeting with friends, visiting family, spending time with children, going someplace with other people like a café or bookstore.

  • Routine activities – house chores, cleaning, running errands, working on home improvement.

5 Steps To Effectively Using Distraction

  • Make your own list of your favorite and most convenient activities.
  • Next, think about how you could start to distract. Some of these activities may not be suitable. If you’re at work and you start to dwell, you can’t bolt out of a meeting for a run (as much as I would love that) . . . Figure out what would be easiest, quickest, and most effective.
  • Asking yourself, what are the warning signs you are ruminating? Do you want to isolate? Are you irritable? Do you fixate on certain mistakes from your past?
  • Try to recognize when you’re ruminating, even if you can’t stop yourself. Awareness is a necessary first step and usually comes before action.
  • Finally, start doing it, even if you don’t think it will help.

What Is Distraction?

Distraction can simply mean not paying attention but I’m referring to a technique that can help you to stop dwelling on the negative. Distraction is a way of taking your mind off unpleasant feelings, uncomfortable physical sensations (like pain), or upsetting images (like mentally replaying critical feedback from your boss).

Distraction is positive coping strategies, like listening to uplifting music, taking a warm bath, or exercising. But some ways of forgetting about your emotions could be harmful, like drinking alcohol, over-eating, or spending tons of money. This will make you feel worse. So I’m not saying that forgetting about your emotions is necessarily good by itself but there are some reasons to do it, as I’ll discuss below.

Isn’t Thinking About Your Feelings Helpful?

Sometimes, thinking about your feelings can be helpful but other times. At other times, it can make you feel worse. A lot of research has found that dwelling on your negative feelings and its consequences can flame mild negative feelings into melancholy, despair, or hopelessness. This is a habit is called rumination.

Ruminators are introspective, but they self-evaluate when they are feeling at their worst. Rumination doesn’t deepen self-understanding, create action plans, or find solutions to problems. Rumination is not problem-solving. Ruminators tend to think, “I just feel so awful and I can’t stand it” and “What’s wrong with me that no one wants to hang out with me?”

Why You Shouldn’t Analyze Yourself

When You’re Depressed or Anxious

When we’re in a bad mood, we have trouble thinking objectively, flexibly, or creatively about our problems. For me, when I’m angry and trying to fix something, I often make the problem worse. It’s not much different when we’re upset and trying to fix ourselves.

The height of despair is not the time to dive into self-analysis. For one thing, the kinds of questions that you ask are biased to find faults not solutions: “Why I am so stupid?” “Why can’t I ever do anything right?” “Why do people hate me?”

What Counts As Distraction?

There are an endless number of ways to distract yourself. What makes something distracting isn’t the activity as much as why the activity is done. Running for example, is a form of exercise, a form of stress reduction, and a form of distraction. It just depends on how you use it. So if you use it to keep yourself from dwelling on how depressed you feel, it’s distraction. If you use to cope with anxiety, it’s stress-reduction, and so on.

How Long Do You Need To Distract Yourself?

Distraction can be brief, just a few seconds or go on for hours. Counting to 10 when you’re upset is a form of distraction. Even this small amount can help but usually we need to do it for a little longer. As a rule of thumb, try to aim for 5 minutes.

Final Thoughts About Distraction

Distraction is a powerful self-help strategy for battling the unhelpful thinking of rumination. The name distraction makes the technique sound easy to do but it requires a lot of will power and determination. You have to put off the pull of your emotions in the minute and those emotions will tell you fix yourself immediately, even though you’re not in a state of mind to do this. But keep with it and if you use this technique consistently, you will find your negative moods.

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