How to Distract Yourself from Things You Don't Want to Think About

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If certain thoughts or memories cause you to feel sad or anxious, you may be looking for an outlet to distract yourself from these thoughts. Finding distractions can help you get your mind off upsetting or negative thoughts. Everyone has distressing things that they may not want to think a

Easing Your Mind

 One reason it can be hard to stop thinking about something is because we keep trying to force those thoughts out of our minds. Unfortunately, this can often emphasize them even more, and bring in unhelpful feelings like guilt or shame ("Why can't I stop thinking about this?"). Keep a mental health journal to give yourself space to explore your feelings and thoughts, even the ones that cause you sadness or anxiety.[1]
  • Keeping a journal allows you to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and give them space to just exist. Write an entry any time you feel overwhelmed by things that you don't want to think about. Get the thoughts down on paper, then shut the book and go and do something else.
  • Try to think about when these things you don't want to think about first began. Did something happen to trigger them? What experiences surround them? Does thinking about them interfere with your ability to live your daily life?
  • Journaling may improve your mental stability by relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Writing your thoughts down in your journal can also offer insights on patterns of upsetting thoughts and help you understand potential triggers.[2]
  • Journaling about unwanted thoughts can bring up repressed memories. If you have experienced a great deal of abuse or a difficult childhood, journal only with the help of your therapist.
 Ruminating refers to mulling an issue over and over in your mind. Typically, this involves a negative thought or worry. If you feel the need to distract yourself from your thoughts, you may be ruminating. It's important to overcome this habit because rumination is closely linked to major depression.[3]Here are just a few ways you can jump off the rumination train:
  • Find other sources of self-esteem. You may be thinking about a perceived flaw constantly because you see it as being a huge part of your self-concept and identity. Beyond the one flaw, highlight other areas in which you have talents and strengths. That way, any single criticism (from others or yourself) won't cause you so much distress.
  • Problem-solve bit by bit. If you find yourself ruminating on an issue, make strides to resolve it. This may seem overwhelming at first but if you break the larger problem down into smaller pieces, you can work towards figuring out one piece at a time. Then, the problem won't seem so daunting.
  • Let go of extreme expectations and standards. Some people expect 100% perfection or effort from themselves or others at all times. These are unreasonable and unattainable expectations that keep you from adapting to the challenges of life.[4] If you are one of these people, you might begin to feel low or upset when your standards are not met. Retrain yourself to have feasible expectations of both yourself and others. Remember, everyone is only human - and humans can't be perfect.
Engage in mindful meditation.[5] Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment.This is the practice of being present in the here and now. The idea is to slow down your thoughts and become aware of constant thoughts that keep popping into your mind.
  • If you are a beginner, choose a spot that is quiet with little distractions. Sit comfortably, whether on a chair or on a floor cushion. Cross your legs (if on the floor). Straighten your upper body and place your hands on your thighs. Take a deep, cleansing breath, pulling in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on your breath - only on your breath. When you find your attention straying from your breath, just note that and return to your breath and stay there.
  • For starters, aim for approximately five or ten minutes of mindful meditation before building up to longer periods.
  • Some types of mindfulness meditation encourage you to focus only on your breath while others acknowledge each thought that comes into your mind. To determine which type is right for you, visit Greater Good.[6]
 A wonderful way to stay in the moment and avoid getting lost in negative thoughts is to practice mindfulness routinely. This can be very effective for minimizing rumination and easing your mind of troublesome worries or concerns.
  • When you wake up in the morning, take a deep, calming breath. Do some light stretching and think about how each stretch feels to your body's muscles and joints. Drink a glass of water and notice the temperature, the consistency and how it feels going down your throat. Stay present in each activity that you take part in throughout the day: showering, brushing your teeth, eating, driving, working, etc..
  • As you go throughout each activity, refrain from casting judgments about what you're doing or letting your mind wander. When you notice your mind wandering, return to the activity at hand and consider how the activity affects each of your senses.

 

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