By Jennifer Mudarrie, LICSW
Distractions are sometimes helpful from overwhelming states or times when we need different input or neutral information. When you ramp up at work, for example, instead of acknowledging your feelings of shame by falling behind – you’re avoiding those feelings through distraction and this can lead to burnout and other stress responses.
The Power of Distraction
Are you noticing that when you slow down your hustle even for a few moments that you feel a strong emotion like anger or guilt? We all get distracted and at times – it’s a part of life. I’m not talking about the kind of distraction where your child interrupts your phone meeting or a moment where something important now becomes the priority but rather when distraction forms as a type of avoidance of emotion.
How have distractions served you in life and what are you currently doing about it? Maybe you are distracting from heavy emotions or situations running through your minds in a loop. Maybe you don’t even know what you are feeling because you aren’t allowing yourself to sit with and explore it.
Ask yourself these questions:
- When you get a call and go to grab your phone do you have a strong negative reaction or since of dread?
- Are you so busy that you are exhausted by the end of the day?
- Is it too hard to sit and rest without getting up or feeling “lazy”?
- Do you find yourself watching TV, tweeting, or constantly searching for the next thing to-do?
If you answered yes, you’re like most likely not only human but overwhelmed! Living in this state could also be a trauma response. It can be hard to think about and it is not a reflection of your successfulness in life or in your job! Sit with these feelings for a moment – breathe for 5 counts and explore it. Connect with yourself. Find your way to say: “I see you. I will be here every day to check on you. Find out what feels heavy.”
What to do with distraction and avoidance
Below are some practical steps below to find out how to slow down, pause and continue to be present with whatever you’re experiencing.
- Take a mindful walk in nature focusing on your sensory experiences
- Practice deep breathing focusing on your exhale, aiming to extend it for as long as you can, e.g. counting up to 9 or even 11 when exhaling.
- Surround yourself with pictures, objects, and scents that help you to relax
- Listen to music that makes you slow down and relaxes you
- Watch funny things that make you laugh
- Engage with your sensations and be with an animal or pet
- Don’t be embarrassed to acknowledge that getting support from a therapist can help
When it comes to finding balance and peace in your career and private life, remind yourself that even as distractions come, you can reflect on their presence. All emotions are information and your body is trying to communicate with you – so listen!
- Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Bantam Books.
About Jennifer Mudarrie, LICSW: Jennifer is a psychotherapist with nearly two decades of experience in the mental health field. She provides individual and family counseling, movement-based healing, and clinical supervision and facilitates various workshops in the community with other multi-disciplinary professional providers.