“I can’t eat and I can’t sleep. I’m not doing well in terms of being a functional human, you know?” – Ned Vizzini,
In life, distractions often lead us to procrastinating on completing tasks that need to get done. They dangle in front of us like bait, tantalizing our minds until we give in to the temptation. It’s clear that distractions can take a toll on our productivity, leaving us scrambling to complete things at the last minute. Yet, many fail to realize that when used in the correct context, distraction can be an immensely powerful tool. Cultivating the ability to temporarily divert our often over-active minds can serve as a strong, and healthy, coping mechanism. It can act as a gateway to better managing our mental health.
It’s no secret that depression, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed are widespread issues in today’s society. Keeping mental-illnesses aside, these debilitating psychological states are typically generated by our minds in response to facing particularly negative experiences in life. A trigger, such as being fired from a job or breaking up with a long-term partner, often precedes the mental anguish that we encounter. Negative events themselves aren’t the only triggers – distressing memories can equally impair one’s mental health.
Immediately after a trigger, we can’t think straight, since our minds are flooded with negative thoughts. Our mental states are at their weakest, leaving us greatly susceptible to falling prey to depression, among other mental health impediments. Now, this is when we need to temporarily distract our minds. By doing so, we buy ourselves valuable time. Our minds need this time to accept the situation at hand. To see things more rationally. To calm our overwhelmed thoughts. And to not succumb to the depression that’s knocking on the door.
As straightforward as it sounds, distracting the mind while it’s in a state of turmoil isn’t easy. This is because our negative thoughts often pull quite strongly for our attention. For this reason, the key to self-distraction involves fully immersing our minds in an activity that is unrelated to that which is bothering us. We must enter the “flow state,” which is characterized by being so engrossed in a task that we lose sense of time and space.
Alcohol is a terrible distraction, as all it does is temporarily clouds the brain, and then deteriorates our mental health. Watching movies, or reading, are better distractions, but since they often don’t put us in the flow state, our minds tend to drift back to our negative thoughts. The best distractions are projects or tasks that require us to actively apply our minds. They don’t need to be large undertakings, as long as we feel truly absorbed by them. They can be as simple as painting a picture, or redecorating a room. I have found that writing works as a great distraction for me. As soon as I put pen to paper, my mind gets captivated in the process of brainstorming a topic, structuring the flow, using the correct verbiage, etc. While writing I’ve often found myself looking up at the clock and thinking, “How has it already been 3 hours since I started, and how come I feel so much calmer?”
Without even knowing it, some people use their jobs as distractions from personal problems, and vice versa. But if we identify actual tasks that distract our minds, we can voluntarily use them when faced with crisis situations. Of course, distracting our minds shouldn’t be used as a way to neglect or repress our feelings. In fact, it’s important to experience negative emotions. Distractions are simply meant to give our minds time, and thereby strength, before having to confront those emotions. So, next time you’re beginning to feel depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed – distract yourself out of it.