Distraction Tools

What it is

Distraction tools are any activity that turns our thoughts away from an emotionally triggering or stressful situation, and helps us focus on something different and less distressing. It can be an escape from reality for a moment, and helps give us space before coming back and addressing an emotional challenge, when we feel more ability and strength to manage it.

How it works

Distraction tools are effective because they are healthy ways of going into the numbing mode, as referred to in the mindfulness skills section. Our brains naturally want to numb because they get tired of being in the problem solving mode continually. When a problem gets too overwhelming it can be beneficial to take a step away from the problem for a little bit in order to decrease panic and pressure into making quick decisions. And when we need to come back to a problem sometimes the break away from it allows us to come back at it with a new perspective.

When it comes to using distraction tools we want to make sure that they are healthy ways of being able to check out for a bit, because the same tool can become unhealthy if it is used in excessive amounts. For example watching a favorite show of yours or playing a video game can be a healthy distraction tool. But when it is done in excessive amounts where you start to neglect responsibilities and relationships, this is when it becomes unhealthy. The same can go for sleep. Sleep is the brain's natural way of numbing out and a healthy dose is recommended to be at least one-third of our time (8 hours daily). Sometimes being able to take a nap in the middle of the day can be needed to re-energize us for the rest of the day's tasks. But when sleeping is in excess it can be a symptom of depression as well as leaving feelings of missing out on experiences and lack of ability to accomplish goals and hobbies.

When to use

Distraction tools are best used when you are in an overwhelming situation or emotional state that you need a break from. Or when feeling pressured to make a fast decision on something that needs to be thought out. Distraction does help us get out of a difficult emotional situation quickly, and therefore helps us to feel better in the moment. In reality distraction is avoidance, and the thing about avoidance is that the problem is still there when we get back. But if avoidance is needed for a short time in order to regroup cognitive strength then it can be beneficial. Just know that the purpose is to be able to eventually come back to the problem or situation feeling a sense of being refreshed.

Distraction tools can also be helpful when you are feeling triggered, reactive, or impulsive. They help get your mind off whatever the urge may be and can also serve as a beneficial excuse if pressure is coming from other people. Distraction tools used for this purpose should be followed by processing, self-care, or mindfulness at the appropriate time. This helps us to be more aware of why our brains are feeling an urge to do something and better helps us prepare the next time a similar scenario occurs. Distraction is not a fix all, and should be looked at as the band-aid solution.

Specific Tools

Listening to music or a favorite song

Watching a movie (comedies can be great distractions

Calling a friend or family member just to talk

Hanging out with friends or family

Playing a video game


Going on a walk

Playing a sport

Taking a nap

Going on a drive

Taking a shower or bath

Cleaning house


Grabbing a bite to eat

Reading a book

Doing a hobby

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