5 Times Distraction Is Good For Your Mental Health (And One Time It's Not)

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distracted girl with hand on chin thinking

There are many times when distraction is good for your mental health, despite the fact that usually it's maligned. 

There is nothing worse than struggling with depression or anxiety, or any other mental health condition. Riding it out can be very difficult, but there are many skills that you can learn to help you do so and sometimes distraction is just the thing.

Distraction is something that you do temporarily to turn your attention away from what you are struggling with, to refocus yourself on something else so that you stop ruminating on how you are feeling.

Research shows that mental health issues cause the amygdala (part of the limbic system) to be overstimulated. Distraction has been proven to reduce some of that activity and calm the brain.

That said, distraction isn’t something that is always effective and it isn’t something that should be used every time. In fact, distracting yourself too much can cause you to ignore problems that may need to be faced.

Understanding the difference can help you use distraction effectively to manage your mental health.

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Here are five times distraction is good for your mental health

1. When your depression/anxiety had been caused by something specific

Let me ask you. Is what you are struggling with something that is caused by something specific?

Perhaps you are depressed because your parent has died or you are going through a divorce or your child is struggling in school.

Perhaps you have a social event at the end of the week that you are dreading and it’s causing you a ton of anxiety.

This kind of depression or anxiety is called "situational." Situational depression or anxiety means that you have a hard time adjusting to your everyday life after an event that caused you trauma, big or small.

Situational depression is something that usually passes. Time goes by and heals the loss of the parent. The divorce is finalized and life goes on. The child learns how to manage at school. The social event comes and goes without issue.

When those things are over, our situational depression/anxiety tends to fade and we are ultimately back to our normal selves.

So, if you are struggling with depression or anxiety that is caused by a specific occurrence or event, distraction might be just the thing to get you through it.

Try something that works for you. Take a walk, do some chores, call a friend, watch a movie, or do something creative. Whatever will help you get through this traumatic time.

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2. When you have worked through this before successfully

Have you found that you have days where you are just feeling down, whether it’s because of something that has happened or just because?

Do you know how horrible it is to be in this place but have some hope that it will pass as it has in the past?

This is one of those times when distraction is good for your mental health. Instead of sitting around the house, focusing on how bad you are feeling, getting out there and doing something to take your mind off things is the key to working through it.

Try practicing mindfulness (hard I know). Read a good book. Go out for a night on the town with a friend. Take your dog for a walk.

All of these things will help you pass the time that you know you need to pass to get through this and out the other side.

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3. When you have something fun to do

Are you feeling super depressed or anxious and are you being presented with something that you know will be fun?

Perhaps it's planning a trip or going shopping or attending a wedding or getting a new puppy. Something that you have been looking forward to or, maybe, just been given the opportunity to do today.

Unfortunately, when we are feeling depressed or anxious it can be difficult to get up the energy to go do things. We want to stay home and curl up on the couch and watch Netflix and the idea of doing something, anything, just feels like it’s too much to bear.

Now is the time to push back on those feelings, to get out of your house and do something fun. To not sit around, focusing on all that is wrong with you and your life.

So, what do you have in your life that could be fun?

Perhaps it’s going to visit your adult kids? Perhaps it’s a shopping trip with friends, perhaps it’s going to the bookstore and getting a new book. Perhaps it’s getting a massage.

Whatever it is that you love to do when you aren’t feeling down will help you work through this time and come out to the other side.

RELATED: 31 Experts Share Their Favorite Ways To Manage Anxiety Or Stress — Without Medication

4. You need to get off the couch

Are you reading this on the couch?

Have you been stuck there for hours or days, feeling shitty and not knowing what to do about it?

Are you surrounded by take-out food boxes and empty ice cream cartons?

Have you finished ‘Love is Blind’ and ‘Perfect Match’ and are you watching old reruns of "Friends" just because.

Literally, the worst thing that you can do when you are struggling with a mental health condition is to lie around in bed or on the couch.

Not only do you eat and drink things that aren’t good for you, turn your brain to jello from stupid TV and skip the self-care that you need, but you also don’t get out into the world, to get some fresh air and sunshine.

And that might only make your depression or anxiety worse.

So, find a distraction that will motivate you to get up off the couch.

Even if it’s just taking a bath with a copy of a trashy magazine, do something that will get you standing up and moving.

RELATED: 15 Self-Soothing Techniques To Manage Your Anxiety & Stress

5. When it is working

This is key. Is your distraction working?

Do you find that by doing things that take your mind off of what you are struggling with, your depression is fading, maybe even almost gone?

Take a moment to ask yourself if things are getting better. Sometimes we don’t even notice.

Finding something that helps people work through their mental health issues can sometimes be very difficult. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

When we learn something that helps, we must add it to our arsenal. I know that for me, distraction doesn’t always work. Sometimes, some TV and some sleep will refresh me and I will feel better but some days there is nothing in the world that will help me get through how I am feeling.

So, if you find that distraction is helping you get through your difficult feelings, use it.

RELATED: 6 Signs Of Emotional Detachment In Yourself Or Someone You May Know

The one time that distraction should not be used

When your depression and/or anxiety are getting worse, distraction is not necessarily the best idea.

Do you find that you are feeling worse every day? Is your depression not situational but has come out of nowhere? Does nothing that you do make you feel any better at all?

If any of these things are happening to you, it’s time to do the opposite of distraction and face your mental health issues head-on.

The first step? Reaching out to your primary care doctor to get some help. Your doctor can discuss with you what is happening and help you figure out the next steps.

And, if you are scared of the treatment that your doctor recommends, know that there are many forms of treatment other than the dreaded medicine and therapy (although both of those things can work very well).

Cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectic behavior therapyketamine treatments, micro-dosing, etc., are all things that you can use as part of your arsenal to manage your mental health so that you can live the life that you want, whether or not you are struggling.

Whether you are dealing with situational depression/anxiety or chemical depression/anxiety, there are many tools out there to help you get through it and out the other side to live your best life.

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Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be in this crazy world in which we live.