The Right and Wrong Way to Distract Yourself

One of the most common coping mechanisms to deal with stress is distraction. The idea that, “Well this is bothering me so I’m going to do something else.”

(In this case we’re not discussing the other kind of distraction, “I’m trying to get this task done but the kids are climbing the walls and distracting me.” We’re talking about distraction as a coping mechanism.)

There are about a million and one ways to distract yourself. You can go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride. You can go to YouTube, social media, or look at pictures on your phone. You can grab a snack, or have a nap. You can play with the kids or hang out with the pets. You can make supper or bake cookies. There’s countless ways to distract yourself from the task at hand!

Is there something wrong with these things? No!

Is there something wrong with distraction? No. Not if you do it right!

Let’s take a look at what works and what doesn’t work about distraction and the best way you can use the distraction coping mechanism.

First, let’s look at the distraction approach that doesn’t work. How about an example…

Let’s say that you’re working on the computer, perhaps doing your finances. Maybe the internet is slow, you don’t fully understand the program, and you don’t really like the numbers you see.

You’re feeling stressful emotions like impatience, frustration, and anxiety. It’s a crummy situation and you want out!

Time for distraction.

Ooo look! Your phone is sitting right beside you and so you pick it up and start scrolling. The distraction works because within seconds, you’re not thinking of your finances because you’re so lost in other people’s drama that you forget your own.

After a (un)reasonable amount of time you suppose that this bookwork isn’t going to finish itself, so you grumble and gripe your way back to work.

Sound familiar?

It probably sounds so familiar that it’s difficult to even see what the problem is with this scenario! So let’s look at the flip side.

You’re working on the computer and it’s not going well. You feel those stressful emotions such as impatience, frustration, and anxiety.

You recognize how crummy the situation is. You recognize those stressful emotions. And you know that these emotions are not making it any easier. They’re not helping you at all. In fact they’re making it worse.

So you decide to take a break. You stand up and stretch, and reach for your phone. You make the personal choice to avoid the drama of social media, and instead you send your Mom a quick hello text, or listen to your favourite song. You let your emotions shift to positive ones of care, appreciation, and peace.

Then you bring those positive emotions back to your work. Yep, the situation is still crummy, but now you feel better in the situation.

The difference between these two approaches either sets you up for struggle, or sets you up for success.

Here’s 5 things you need to know about distraction:

  1. It’s not about mindlessly avoiding your task. It’s about taking a strategic break.
  2. It’s not just changing the external scenery; it’s about changing your internal emotional landscape.
  3. It’s meant to charge your battery so that you can bring your best self to the task.
  4. It’s not the situation that creates your emotion - positive or negative. It’s your choice what emotion you experience.
  5. It’s not about checking out of your life. It’s about living your life fully.

What tasks do you distract yourself from?

What’s your go-to distraction?

Do you dwell in negative emotions despite the distraction?

How would shifting your emotions to positive ones help you when it comes to getting back to the task at hand? Would you be more effective, more clear-headed, and more alive?

P.S. Want free coaching? Contact us to let us know what task you’re distracting yourself from.

Here’s to Conquering Stress,

The Stress Experts

Practical Strategies to Deal With Daily Stressors

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Practical Strategies to Deal with Daily Stressors

Sign up to receive inspiration, skills, tools, and tough love right in your inbox each week. Don't worry, we don't share your email address and we're not going to fill up your inbox with junk.