Thoughts of something going wrong in the future can cause us to experience anxiety. It’s important to recognise that whatever it is we are imagining to go wrong is just that – our imagination. The fact is, we don’t possess the ability to predict the future. So imagining all the various possible outcomes of something going wrong is not only pointless, it creates and increases anxiety.
Distraction is a way of taking your attention away, for a period of time, from thinking about future events or past events and to focus it onto something happening in the present moment. Once you take your attention away from the future or the past and focus on the present, the anxious feelings often diminish.
ACCEPTS is an acronym for a range of distraction techniques.
Distract with Activities
Engage in a hobby, watch TV, go for a walk, play a sport, work out at the gym, bake a cake, tidy the garden, go fishing, go shopping.
Distract with Contributing
Contribute. Do volunteer work. Babysit so a friend can go out. Do something nice or surprising for someone.
Distract with Comparisons
Compare yourself to people coping the same as or less well than you. If you are doing better than you were a year or two or five years ago, make that comparison. Some people find this helpful, others don’t. Just do what works for you.
Distract with opposite Emotions
Read emotional books, go to emotional movies, listen to emotional music. For this to work, you need to read or watch or listen to things that have an emotion opposite to one you are feeling. If you are anxious, watch a comedy or listen to silly music.
Distract by Pushing Away a distressing situation by leaving it mentally for awhile
Build an imaginary wall between yourself and the situation. Imagine yourself pushing it away with all your strength. Block the situation in your mind. Each time it comes up, tell it to STOP, or go away. Put some pleasant thoughts in its place, by thinking about someone or something you love, or are passionate about.
Other ways of putting distance between you and the negative thoughts is through reading, watching videos or movies, doing crossword puzzles or jigsaw puzzles, writing poetry.
Distract with other Thoughts
Engage in some form of mental activity e.g. recite your times tables, say the alphabet backwards or do a crossword, pay attention to what is going on around you in the present moment e.g. listen to someone else’s conversation, or count as many round objects as you can see in the room.
Distract with other Sensations
Find things you can touch, taste or smell. Hold something in your hand and really pay attention to its size, shape, weight, texture, temperature. You might for example hold an ice cube in your hand or apply it to the back of your neck. You might take a hot and/or cold shower. Perhaps savour a cup of coffee, feeling the warmth of the cup, inhaling the coffee smell, exploring the subtleties of its taste. Any strong sensory stimulus like this can help distract you from the negative thoughts and ground you in the present moment.
These distraction techniques are helpful in pushing worries and negative thoughts and images away for awhile, so that you get a break from them. They don’t however, address the unhelpful thinking habits that are the source of the negative thoughts.
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REMEMBER – “When you change your mind you change your life.”
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