As Annie once said (or sang), “It’s a hard knock life.” Everyone has experienced the ups and downs of life, and unfortunately the downs can leave a major impact on our mood, emotions and outlook toward tomorrow. These negative thoughts may lead to depression, anxiety or substance abuse. When we feel as if life keeps throwing us unfair curveballs, it is important to rely on healthy coping skills like positive distraction to prevent falling into unhealthy coping patterns such as self-harm or self-medication.
Here are a few positive distractions to help us regulate our emotions:
- Play music: We all know music has the power to transform our emotions and focus our thoughts, making it an excellent tool for distracting ourselves from the negative thoughts and destructive urges that arise during times of distress. Turn on your favorite (upbeat) tune and sing loud.
- Call someone: Part of maintaining lasting recovery from mental health and substance abuse issues is establishing a strong support network. When we feel our emotions start to overwhelm us that support network can provide us with a great laugh or simply a shoulder to cry on.
- Take deep breaths: Breathing is a fundamental skill that has a tremendous calming effect. From a stubbed toe to childbirth, breathing serves as a distraction to reduce pain, anxiety and stress. Focus on breathing in deep and exaggerating your release, counting as you exhale. It may be a basic function, but we are hardly ever mindful of the breaths we take.
- Go on a run: Exercise is a wonderful distraction and serves as an outlet to get our frustrations, irritations and excess energy out. Time spent exercising also boosts our production of mood-improving endorphins that reduce feelings of depression. Once the intense emotion has subsided we are able to think more clearly and use wise mind to approach a problem.
- Build a puzzle: Puzzles demand all of our concentration and attention. This allows us to ignore the current anxiety, urge or emotion and instead concentrate solely on the task at hand.
When using distraction as a coping tool, it is crucial to remember that this is not about suppressing emotions and feelings in the long run, but rather about calming destructive impulses so we are able to think clearly, without judgment and without emotional urges.
Life can be difficult and the “downs” may seem relentless, but just remember, the sun will always come out tomorrow.