Image Credit: Getty Images/ Linda Raymond
Woman walks her dog in the sun to distract herself from sad thoughts

7 Distraction Techniques to Combat Feelings of Anxiousness

Reading time | 4 mins

We all have those moments when things get too much and all you want to do is curl up and cry. Sometimes it’s OK to do that – in fact, sometimes that is downright necessary. At other times you may have to do something to take your mind off the situation.

Over the years living with a number of chronic illnesses I’ve come up with a list of my best distraction techniques to deal with the symptoms of my mental health issues, and my partner Ash has come up with a few of his own.

It might take time to find what works for you, so do not give up if the first thing you try does not work as well as you wanted it to. Eventually, you will build your own arsenal of techniques that help you manage difficult symptoms of your mental health condition. As always, please talk to your doctor or health care professional about a treatment plan if you’re struggling to manage your condition.

Here are some of the techniques I use when it feels like the world is weighing me down:  

Game time!

This technique has been with me since the start of the decline of my mental health. My mum introduced this technique to me and I have been using it ever since.  

Whenever I spiralled out of control, mum would sit me down for a board game. We had our favourites of course, and sometimes it would take a few tries to get me to stop screaming and relax into a calmer mood in which I was able to focus on the game.

When I lived alone, I often played card games. My aunt taught me round-the-clock, and solitaire was another game that helped me often. Ash on the other hand, often turns to video games to relieve his stress.

Working up a sweat

While running away from your issues is futile, actual running and other forms of working out can really help you to stay calm and relaxed. The positive effect of physical exercise on the symptoms of depression has been well established in studies and personally I find that pounding the pavement with my dog when I feel the intensity inside me start to rise, works like a charm. When I am asleep and Ash’s head is still buzzing, he finds that a late-night walk helps to clear his mind.  

Let the music take you

Numerous researchers have noted the beneficial effect of music on a number of psychiatric symptoms. Personally, this is a technique I learnt when I was receiving inpatient treatment. During my treatment, I sometimes needed help to calm down. At times like these the nurses allowed patients to listen to music of our choice through headphones while we paced the corridors. It is surprisingly hard to think yourself into a standstill while music is playing into your ears. Added bonus is that it doesn’t bother anyone else, so it’s a win-win situation!  

Breathe in, breathe out

Over the years, I’ve been taught many, many relaxation techniques, and if I’m totally honest I have to admit that most of them just wind me up more. But one technique that has actually worked for me is square breathing. It takes a while to get used to, but it is quite simple:

It works like a square – you breath in to the count of four, hold your breath for the count of four, exhale for the count of four, hold again for the count of four. Each count should last for at least a second, however, if you need to start off by breathing quicker you can count faster in the beginning.

Count on it

It’s super simple, but when my anxiety gets out of control, this is a good one to fall back on. When walking, I pick a number (usually 10) and think only about the next 10 paces, counting each one as I go along. When I get to 10, I start again: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 and repeat it over and over again until I reach my destination.

People probably wonder what on earth I am doing because I mutter the numbers under my breath with my head down and music playing through my headphones, but they can think what they will!

The pen is mightier than the anxiety

In the past, crafting was my go-to technique to help ease anxiety, but these days my hands can no longer do the delicate tasks required and too often I end up with a mess. Now I use my blog as a release. When the going gets tough, I write and pour all my emotions onto the page. A creative outlet of any kind can be a big help, so find one that works for you.

Turn on the telly

We have a collection of films that soothe me when I’m feeling upset. They are undemanding and I can slip in and out of them if need be, but usually I find that I’ve paid attention to it most of the way through. Animated movies and comedy shows are my thing. They don’t require much brain power and are simple and easy to follow and enjoy, while distracting enough to take my mind off heavier things.

The takeaway

Remember, different techniques work for different people. A pamper session is more likely to harm me than help me, but for others a facemask and a bubble bath is just the ticket. So don’t feel bad if traditional forms of anxiety relief make you feel worse. For years I felt that something was wrong with me because I didn’t respond positively to things like meditation and visualisation. In truth, nothing was wrong me and just as nothing is wrong with those techniques. They just don’t fit for everyone. The trick is to find techniques that work for you.

NPS-IE-NP-00228 March 2021