Lately I’ve been recoiling when I use the word “distractions.”
As a therapist, I educate clients about coping skills and ways to move through triggers and symptoms. Moving “through” something is different than moving “away”, and it seems that most people want to avoid feeling the hard feelings.
When someone has an anxiety attack I don’t encourage them to find a distraction. I teach them how to ride the wave of anxiety in a safe manner. Distractions can serve to be a false band-aid. Sometimes they can be a barrier to what’s really ailing someone.
I have always thought that it’s important to have “healthy escapes.” Unhealthy escapes involve gambling, drinking, drugging, spending too much money, etc. Anything in excess is bad for you right? So when does an “escape” become a free pass to eff up your life? What happens when the escapes feel more safe than the “real world?”
Do you know the borderline between a safe escape and effing up your life?
For instance, is marijuana or wine becoming your default coping method?
Are these coping methods interfering with your life or causing people close to you to be concerned? These “escapes” may have crossed into a dangerous area.
As I’ve been learning more about riding the wave of healthy emotions I realize that many of our core emotions can be unconsciously blocked by distractions.
What do I mean by blocked?
Let’s take fear as an example. Fear is actually a natural instinct that serves as a caution sign. Fear alerts us that we need to protect ourselves. A person who is afraid to fly may be a safer passenger than someone who isn’t afraid. When we’re afraid to visit family members who are toxic or insulting, do we distract ourselves or protect ourselves? The more we learn to ride the wave of fear the more the irrational thinking fades away. When distractions become avoidance we block our personal growth. Click To Tweet
If we distract ourselves from our fears do we know how to step up or speak out? Do we know how to set appropriate boundaries or do we just shrink behind some earbuds and zone out? This is where avoidance becomes a poor coping skill.
Healthy alternatives to avoidance?
- Develop a list of healthy affirmations that you can use in anxious situations. Example: I don’t have to be in this moment forever. I’m ok. I’m safe. (Read: 17 Affirmations That Challenge Self-Sabotage)
- Set healthy limits in situations you usually escape from. Attend the company party for one hour or with a supportive friend. Attend family functions for a short time as well. Rehearse appropriate conversation topics. Example: Discuss sports, funny things you saw on social media or Netflix shows.
- Examine if your healthy escapes provide multiple roles. When I get overwhelmed with trauma stories at work or disturbing news, I enjoy “escaping” outdoors. Hiking or long walks with the dog involve exercise which could be considered healthy. Do your healthy escapes allow social connections, creativity or physical activity? These are more likely to be nourishing instead of “blocking” growth.
In worst case scenarios, if your current situation is causing you to want to escape from everything, please seek professional help. You can use EAP through your employer, spiritual guidance, Talkspace (online therapy), the Huddle app (on iTunes) for mobile support groups or a referral from your primary physician.
Healthy escapes are part of self-care. Grounding techniques like meditation and mindful walking are natural ways to pause through difficult moments. Make sure your pauses are nourishing and help you keep your head in the game!!