Suck at meditation? Don’t understand the mindfulness movement? Here’s why distraction can spell good news for your emotional wellbeing.
Whether it’s watching a reality TV show while you’re trying to study, online shopping at work or scrolling through the app store when you’re supposed to be focused, getting distracted has never been easier. And despite what you’ve been told about multi-tasking (as in, it’s no good for you), it turns out second screening – or plain old distraction – can actually help you in more ways than one.
According to one study, distractions (in this case playing Tetris) can help you nix cravings for unhealthy foods, and according to the International Journal of Physiology Pathophysiology and Pharmacology, distracting yourself with music during a workout can help make exercise easier.
Numerous studies have also shown that people who get distracted are more likely to come up with creative ideas, and distractions can also help reduce your perception of physical pain. But that’s not all distraction can do.
As well as helping your physical health, distraction can also be a great way of boosting your emotional wellbeing. While every wellness guru worth their weight in crystals has touted the benefits of meditation and mindfulness over the past few years, some people (including yours truly) just can’t get into it.
By tapping into the power of thoughtful distraction, though, some experts think that you’ll be able to achieve a similar calming effect. Here’s how.
How distraction can be better than mindfulness
While there’s no denying mindfulness and meditation are champs when it comes to reducing stress, increasing your focus and teaching you how to regulate your emotions, for some people, it’s kind of hard. Not only that, these methods also require you to sit with uncomfortable feelings for a prolonged period of time, and depending on how severe your emotions are, this isn’t always a good thing.
“Distraction is often seen as a form of avoidance, but everybody is different, so distraction may well prove useful for people who find mindfulness difficult,” explains Dr Tim Sharp, founder of The Happiness Institute.
Think of it this way. If you’ve been ruminating on the fact you partner broke up with you just days before Christmas (clearly they didn’t get the memo), then tuning into your favourite TV show or scrolling through Instagram might provide you with a welcome reprieve.
“Constantly avoiding facing up to issues is probably not a great idea, but sometimes it’s easier to choose the fluffy option,” notes Dr Sharp. “Distraction is no different to any other coping strategy. It has cons but it also has pros, like allowing you to take a break from suffering and reducing stress,” he adds.
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Thanks to distraction’s ability to give your mind a break, psychologist Jacqui Manning also notes that you might find you’re better equipped – emotionally and energetically – to deal with your problems afterwards.
“Distractions can help you regain your energy and give you a different perspective,” she says. “While ignoring your problems isn’t healthy, if you’ve been trapped in a cycle of rumination and have already tried crying, journalling or mindfulness but still feel heavy, then watching your favourite TV show can be a positive thing.”
Whether you’re feeling upset over a fight with a loved one, losing your job, the death of a friend or you’re simply overwhelmed with life, allowing yourself to disengage from the hurt can help you reset and refocus.
The downside of distraction
Both Manning and Dr Sharp are quick to point out that while distraction can be helpful, it isn’t a long-term solution.
“As a general rule, problems don’t get better on their own,” notes Dr Sharp. “Ignoring difficulties won’t make them go away and in fact, it might make them worse” he adds, and Manning agrees.
“It’s vital you confront your problems otherwise you’re just suppressing them, which means they’ll pop up later in the form of stress, a bad relationship or a problem at work,” she says.
Although working through uncomfortable emotions can be tough, it’s a necessary part of life – and it’s how you build resilience and mental grit. So while bingeing Riverdale might be a great way to distract you from a bad break-up, sooner or later you’ll have to put the remote down and do the hard work instead.
“Humans are supposed to experience every emotion, including the more uncomfortable ones, and if you continually distract yourself from these experiences, you’ll begin to ignore your needs,” explains Manning.
A (healthy) dose of distraction
Distraction looks different on everyone, but if you need a breather from a difficult situation or emotion, Dr Sharp says to opt for a more physical activity. “Anything that can help get you out of your head and away from your thoughts,” he notes.
Not sure what to do? Here’s a list to get you started…
Go for a workout
It’ll boost your endorphins and take your mind off painful thoughts
Listen to music or podcasts
How can you think about your work problem when Beyoncé is singing to you?
Talk to a friend
Sometimes a good laugh is just what you need to see things from a different perspective
It has similar benefits to meditation (like upping your relaxation and focus), but it’s not meditation!Organise your pantry or wardrobe
De-cluttering won’t just take your mind off things, it’ll help you feel more in control
How can you think about your own life when the second season of You is on?
Retail therapy always wins