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Healthy Distractions

Updated: Jan 30

Healthy Distractions – What They Are and How to Use Them

By Ashley Geist

Distractions can get a bit of a bad rap, but did you know that there are ways to use distractions in healthy ways? When we think of “distractions”, we sometimes think of interruptions, busy work, pointless errands, and time wasters that take us away from our goals and priorities. But distractions can be positive things when we choose healthy activities and use them to create healthy space from our current struggles. When we are facing chronic or on-going struggles or big emotions that feel too overwhelming for the moment, healthy distractions can give us a mental break from our challenges and can even improve our mood and wellbeing.

Using an adaptive activity or practice to take a break from our difficult situation doesn’t mean ignoring the problem at hand, dropping the ball on important responsibilities, or not taking actions to help ourselves at some point; but instead, it can function as a way to refresh our minds and spirits when they most need a break. A healthy distraction can also break a loop of rumination or negative self-talk.

So what are healthy distractions? These can be activities, practices, hobbies, or sensory experiences that allow us to enter a different headspace, for an amount of time. The key to keeping them “healthy”, is moderation; as even a healthy practice like exercise can become unhealthy if done compulsively, or to avoid and not deal with our problems. A healthy distraction is something that only helps, and does not cause harm to ourselves or others.

Keys To the Art of Healthy Distraction

Short-term Use – It’s OK to press pause on a difficult thought or situation long enough to get a fresh perspective on the situation. Instead of getting mad and yelling at someone or sending an angry email, we might take some deep breaths, call a friend or relative to chat about their day, or prepare and eat a snack – mentally pressing “pause” on the situation. Other ideas could be taking a nap, meditating, or exercise.

Soothe With the Senses - We can use sensory experiences like drinking fresh juice, wrapping up in a warm blanket, taking a cool shower, or enjoying some scented lotion. Engaging with the senses changes our mood and mindset. If we need a longer distraction, we might watch a movie, create a playlist, plan a small day trip, read a book, or work on an art project.

Long-Term Use – Healthy distractions can be a great tool to use when we are struggling with something long-term. For example, rebuilding a life after tragedy or loss, managing a difficult illness, grieving, going through a tough time like a divorce, breakup, or job loss. These situations are big, they take time to process and integrate into our systems.

When we are struggling long-term, we might first learn to find small moments of joy. We can enjoy the smell of a cup of coffee, smile at baby, or listen to a favorite song and enjoy it for just a moment. When we are able, we might send a birthday card to a friend, work on a home project, take a class or try a new hobby. These activities won’t automatically solve a problem or completely take away the pain in a difficult season of life, but they offer us valuable respite and comfort, if even for a few minutes at a time.

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