Wednesday 5 January 2022

Nine Ways I Distract Myself When I'm Feeling Down

No matter who we are, there are times when we’re not feeling good. It helps to have strategies in place for handling times like this. A personalised Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) can be helpful. In other posts, I’ve described how to turn a bad day around, how to be kind to myself, and things I’m grateful for.

In this article I’m going to describe the strategies I use to distract myself while I wait for my thoughts or mood to shift. Just about anything can serve as a distraction technique if you’re able to immerse yourself sufficiently in it. If you’re interested in the role of distraction in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), I recommend this post written by my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson.

Here, in no particular order, here are my personal top distraction techniques.

1. Writing My Diary

In one form or another, writing has always been an important part of my life, and it’s one of the primary self-care strategies in my WRAP. I’ve kept a daily diary since I was fourteen years old. Mostly, I use it to record and explore what’s going on for me. It’s a mix of what I’ve been doing that day, plus how I’m feeling and thinking. This might seem the opposite of a distraction technique — and it is — but getting things out onto paper helps me let go of things and move forward. If that fails and I find I’m getting stressed or anxious about something, I can choose to write about other things instead, which serves as a useful diversion or distraction. On rare occasions I’ve imposed a moratorium on writing about a given topic or situation, to give myself space to move past it.

2. Blogging

I often use this blog to actively explore my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A few good examples would be Flatness and Disinclination, Return to Down: How My Baseline Mood Has Slipped from Positive to Low, and THIS BOY GETS SAD TOO. At other times, I need to set my stuff aside, so I’ll pick something else to blog about. Whatever the topic, the discipline involved in writing and publishing a new post every week provides a useful distraction. This is helped by having a workflow I’ve honed over the years.

3. Creative Journaling

I’ve written previously about creativity in the context of it being part of my “first best destiny” (together with connection and challenge). It’s taken many different forms over the years, including clay modelling, soft toys, jewellery, and wooden toys and clocks. In recent years, I’ve taken to carrying a Traveler’s Notebook (TN) with me wherever I go, and use it as a memory journal to record special days and events.

Designing and creating spreads in my TN can be totally immersive and allows me to put other cares and thoughts aside for a while. It’s also positive, in the sense that I mostly use it to record and celebrate happy and rewarding moments. I usually journal on my own, but it can be fun to work creatively in good company as I described last year. I enjoy sharing photos of my TN with like-minded folk in the journaling community.

If you’re interested in learning more about Traveler’s Notebooks, check out my article listing official Traveler’s Company notebooks, inserts, and accessories.

4. Learning Teeline Shorthand

I’ve always been interested in writing modes or scripts. In my teenage years I taught myself the Tengwar script created by J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings to the extent I used it to correspond with like-minded friends. I also developed a writing system of my own for personal use. A recent conversation with a friend who is teaching herself Braille inspired me to have a go at shorthand. I researched a few systems, including Pitman and Gregg, before settling on Teeline. Teeline is used by the National Council for the Training of Journalists, which certifies the training of journalists in the UK.

I treated myself to three books: Teeline Shorthand (Harry Butler), Teeline Gold: The Course Book, and the Teeline Gold: Word List. Keep an eye out for second-hand copies on Ebay, World of Books, etc. There’s a wealth of online material too. Teeline Shorthand offer a range of training courses (fees apply) but share sample lessons and practice material for free on their website, Twitter account, and YouTube channel. The Let’s Love Teeline Together YouTube channel is also excellent, with a series of engaging training videos, which I’ve found very helpful.

I’m learning it purely for interest and enjoyment. I find it’s excellent for distracting my mind from dwelling on other concerns and worries.

5. Watching Maths and Physics Videos

There’s nothing quite like other people’s passion for topics you scarcely understand to take you out of yourself. With that in mind, I regularly visit YouTube for mathematics and physics videos. They take my thoughts and ideas into areas way beyond anything I might be stuck on or struggling with at the time. My favourite channels are Numberphile and Up and Atom, but Matt Parker’s Stand-Up Maths and Vsauce (Michael Stevens, Kevin Lieber, and Jake Roper) are great too.

Produced by video journalist Brady Haran, Numberphile hosts “topics rang[ing] from the sublime to the ridiculous… from historic discoveries to latest breakthroughs.” The presenters – my favourites are Matt Parker, James Grime, and Tony Padilla – are all fantastically passionate about their subjects. I discovered Numberphile a few years ago when I chanced on some videos about big numbers, by which I mean brain-numbingly big numbers, such that even getting my head around the notation used to express them is a serious challenge! For a taster, check out The Enormous TREE(3) or Graham’s Number, but you can pick pretty much any of their videos at random (including this one on random numbers) to discover something fascinating.

Up and Atom (“Making hard stuff less hard”) was launched in 2016 by Australian physicist Jade Tan-Holmes, and features “lively and entertaining introductory videos about popular physics.” Jade is a wonderfully engaged and engaging presenter who explains complex topics in a way that make them relatively (pun intended) easy to understand. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but here are three I’ve enjoyed and keep coming back to: The Raven Paradox, This Paradox Proves Einstein’s Special Relativity, and The Halting Problem — An Impossible Problem to Solve.

6. Playing Games on My Phone

I’m hopeless at computer games but in the past year or so I’ve taken to passing time with a couple of games on my (Android) phone. I started out with the Ball Sort Puzzle by IEC Global Pty Ltd. More recently I have started playing Easybrain’s Blockudoku block puzzle game. What I like about these two games is that they are very simple, have few rules, are essentially endless (I am currently on level 3,115 of the Ball Sort Puzzle), and can be played with my brain more or less on auto pilot. I find they’re a great way to pass the time if I need a break from thinking about anything else.

7. Watching Movies or TV Shows

It’s rare for me to simply sit and watch TV. I’m almost always doing something else, whether that’s writing, chatting with friends online, or otherwise engaged on my phone or tablet. The exception to this is when Fran and I get together of an evening on a video call to watch a movie or Netflix show. Over the years we’ve watched a wide range of series including The Gilmore Girls, Downton Abbey, Grey’s Anatomy, and NCIS. We’re currently watching the American crime drama Criminal Minds. I’ve come to really value this shared time with Fran, and it gives me an opportunity at the end of the day where I’m focused almost entirely on the on-screen drama, rather than whatever might be going on for me.

8. Listening to Music

I’m including music in my list of distraction techniques, because I do find it helpful at times. I especially like to listen to music when I’m out walking, and have built up a number of YouTube and Spotify play lists which I like to dip into. I’ve previously shared two lists of my favourite tracks: Ten Anthems for Comfort, Celebration, Inspiration, and Healing and Twelve Songs That Remind Me What Caring Is All About. That said, there are times music is unhelpful as a distraction, because so many of the tracks on my playlists have associated memories, meanings, and significances. Depending on what I need to distract from, explicitly choosing to not listen to music can be a useful tool when I’m feeling stuck, low, or flat.

9. Spending Time With Friends

It’s no secret that connecting with trusted friends is high on my list of self-care strategies. High Tide, Low Tide, the book Fran and I wrote as a guide to supporting friends living with mental health conditions, is based on our belief that honest and open communication is the key to navigating difficult times. I’m grateful for Fran and other trusted friends who know how to handle my low mood, but there are times when I feel unable or unwilling to talk about what I’m going through. This is something I’ve described previously in a post titled Faking Fine: Why We Fib about How We Are. At such times, spending time with friends — whether online or in person — and doing or talking about other things can provide a healthy distraction, if I feel up to engaging with them.

Over to You

In this article I’ve shared a number of strategies I use to distract myself when I’m stuck, stressed, or anxious. The best distraction activities are things we enjoy or find engaging in some way, so yours may differ from mine. What do you do to distract yourself, to shift your thoughts and mood, and give yourself a break from what’s troubling you? We’d love to hear from you!


Photo by Nong V on Unsplash


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