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  • Wendy Elzinga

The Art of Distraction

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Distraction gets such a negative conotation doesn't it? We often think of the problems associated with it. For instance the pull of distraction from our face to face relationships or distraction's ability to keep us from being productive. But in reality, distraction is just a tool. And like any tool such as money, possessions, technology, its how it's used that matters.


In therapy, we use distraction as a tool to help people remove themselves from intense emotional states or anxiety so that they can use the part of their brain that allows them to think clearly and make decisions rather than just react as in the state of high arousal (fight or flight) or to break an intense pattern of rumination or negative thought. Distraction is usually a pleasurable, soothing or grounding activity that takes the focus off from distress. It can be used to dial down the intensity of emotions


The difficulty surrounds our tendency to enjoy the pleasureable or numbing state of escape or avoidance. And when we prolong the use of distraction it can become an addiction. It can become a way to not deal with difficult or mundane things of life that do need to be attended to from time to time. Those difficult and mudane things allow us to be whole and functional human beings. And what we repeatedly avoid or escape we tend to strengthen our intolerance to dealing with it For instance, let's say I am in the middle of conflict with my spouse and I request a time out and choose to distract myself by taking a break to dial down my emotions. I listen to upbeat music which makes me feel calm. However, I might hesitate to go back and emerse myself into that uncomfortable problem. But knowing that distraction is only a tool to use to dial down my emotional state so that I can engage less emotionally charged, I will move back into the situation to resolve the conflict.


So use distraction wisely. Allow it to be the resource that gets you back in the game not habitually out of it. Be aware of the pull to get sucked into that allure of escape and avoidance and stay there. Along with distraction as a tool, use also the tools of self discipline and self awareness and you can effectively use distraction to moderate emotions take a break from taxing work or worry and to heal and grow, individually and in your relationships.


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