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The Power of Distraction

For children that become fixated on something, either good or bad, a common trick parents and caregivers use is distraction.

For people with large amounts of stress and/or anxiety, a common technique used to take the mind off the issues, is distraction.

When overwhelmed, naturally our brain gets distracted very easily.

Distraction is a technique used to temporarily compartmentalize thoughts and feelings.

The word itself comes from the Latin dis-, "apart," and trahere, "drag." So distraction is when you're dragged away from your task or from your worries.

Although distraction is commonly used as a CBT technique, I’ve often wondered if over time, the body automatically, and somewhat subconsciously turns to distraction as a way to dissociate but then ends up spiralling into further anxiety, or loses the ability to completely focus when necessary; for example, brain fog.

Distraction is a passive coping strategy in that the person copes without directly confronting the situation or trying to solve the problem.

There are 3 types of distraction: visual, manual and cognitive and distractions can be external (such as noise) or internal (such as fatigue, rumination, or stress). Distractions may be caused by a number of factors, including the loss of interest in the primary activity, inability to pay attention due to various reasons, or intensity of the distractor.

So what are the hidden vs obvious costs to using distraction as a coping mechanism?

Obvious: There is temporary relief from stress which results in temporarily easing difficult emotions. There is an opportunity to physically change surroundings and sensory input. There is also an opportunity to change the energy your surrounded by and engage in different activities.

Hidden: There may be a slow build-up of anxiety, knowing you have to return to the problem to fix it. There may also become an endorphin-seeking pseudo-addiction where the distractions become an escape and due to stress and anxiety, your brain constantly is seeking out distractions that allow the brain to feel happy. The constant change may increase fatigue and drain cognitive energy.

In general, distraction is a great coping mechanism in the short term, but learning to deal with stress and anxiety without constantly having to subdue such feelings or escape with distractions, is the healthier option.

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