Anxiety can take lots of different forms, but I think one common theme is that it can be extremely overwhelming. I’ve found that in the moment, it’s hard to focus on anything except how anxious I feel, like when I’m about to order a drink in a cafe, or meet a new group of people, or even just preparing to leave the house for the day. Anxiety seems to completely take the reins and I find it hard to do the things I need to do, no matter how small and easy they may seem to others.
One thing I’ve found that I was already doing was distracting myself. There are a number of different distraction techniques you can use in different situations. I sat down one evening and created a Distraction Plan, and I keep it in a place that’s easy to get to, and it really helps. A Distraction Plan is a list of possible techniques you could use during situations when you know you may experience anxiety. It doesn’t have to be written all at once, and you can add to it over time if you think of new things and discover what works for you.
The idea is that the sensation you pick will be enough to distract you from the other strong emotions you’re feeling. If you’re at home, you could take something cold, like an ice cube or a wet flannel and put it gently on your skin, or you could have a cold drink. If you’re near a sink, you could splash cold water on your face and wrists. Strong smells can also work to distract you, like the bottles of different oils, or maybe even a perfume bottle. This gives you an external sensation to focus on rather than an internal feeling. This isn’t always possible to use if you’re out and about, but with a little consideration there’s usually some comforting sensation you can find to keep with you.
This is a good one for when you’re at home and you’re feeling anxious. It’s a way of getting all the overwhelming emotion out of your system rather than letting it stew in your mind. You could try punching a pillow, or something soft, or you could express yourself by painting or dancing. I find that writing really helps when I’m feeling anxious and want to distract myself, because I can release a lot of feelings through other characters and situations on the page.
This is something that I put in my Distraction Plan. I drew up a list of activities I could do when I’m feeling too overwhelmed with anxiety, and then I made sure I had the activities prepared for certain situations. You don’t have to do this, but it may help you feel more prepared for when you’re feeling anxious. You can pick any activity, such as knitting or cleaning. You could do a puzzle or some gardening, or you could go for a walk or bake something. Choose something that you’ll enjoy, something that will hold your attention and distract you but not distress you. I chose to keep a Sudoku puzzle book in my bag for when I’m on the bus. I’ll be honest, it’s not as useful when you forget to pack a pen, too.
Occupying Your Thoughts:
This is the easiest for when you’re out in the world. Try keeping a book with you or listening to music on your phone. If you don’t like music, watching a video or listening to a podcast can also help distract you. Little exercises like reciting the alphabet backwards in your head or counting backwards from 200 in sixes can occupy your thoughts so that you’re not focused on any overwhelming feelings.
These distraction techniques may not come easily to you at first, and they may not all work for you, but they are a good way to ward off panic attacks or intense feelings that could overwhelm you. They can help to take your mind off your anxiety. It may feel a little weird at first, counting down to zero in your head in sixes, but you are not the only person doing it.
Everyone has little ways of distracting themselves when they’re feeling anxious, so you’re very much not alone in this. This is just another way for you to take control of how you feel. Perhaps this could help you too? It’s easy to start your own Distraction Plan if you pick the suggestions above that you think could work well for you. You can add your own ideas to the list as they come up for you.
Which distraction techniques work best for you? Let me know in the comments below…