Use distractions to cope with emotions and post-traumatic stress disorder

Purposeful use of distraction techniques can actually help people cope with strong and uncomfortable emotions.What exactly is distraction? What are some examples of distractions that might help?


People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience very strong and uncomfortable emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, and shame. These emotions can be difficult to deal with, so they may cause PTSD patients to use unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol or drug use (self-treatment).

Although alcohol and drugs may eliminate strong feelings at first, their use is only a temporary solution. In the long run, alcohol and drug abuse often lead to stronger emotions and other problems. In view of this, it is important to learn how to use coping techniques that do not expose you to the risk of long-term negative consequences to deal with the very strong emotions of the moment. One such skill is distraction.

What is distraction?

As the name implies, distraction is anything that temporarily diverts your attention from strong emotions. Sometimes, focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel stronger and more out of control. Therefore, by temporarily distracting yourself, you can give your emotions some time to reduce the intensity and make it easier to manage.

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What it’s not

A key part of the above definition of distraction is the word “temporary.” Distraction is not trying to escape or avoid a feeling. Distraction, which means you will eventually return to the original feeling. Then, once the intensity of the feeling decreases, you will try another technique to manage emotions, such as expressive writing.

Distraction can prevent unhealthy behaviors (such as drug use or deliberate self-injury) caused by strong feelings, and make it easier to deal with in the long run, so you can stay safe in the moment.

Does it really work?

It seems obvious that getting your attention away from strong emotions can help, and research supports this finding. Distraction seems to not only help regulate the mood of anxiety-related diseases (such as PTSD), but also help regulate depression and even acute and chronic pain.of

There seems to be a physiological basis to help explain these findings.Scientists have discovered that certain structures in the brain are closely related to PTSD.

The amygdala (part of the limbic system) in people with post-traumatic stress disorder seems to be overstimulated.This part of the brain is thought to be responsible for processing memories and conditioned responses to fear. Studies have found that distraction can reduce the activation of the amygdala. Distraction also seems to produce changes in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex, which are also affected by PTSD.

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How to distract yourself

There are many ways you can try to distract yourself. Some common distraction techniques are listed below.of

  • Call or write to a good friend or family member.
  • Count down to seven or other numbers from the largest number (for example, 856, 849, 842, 835, etc.).
  • Do some housework, such as cleaning the house, washing clothes or washing dishes.
  • Do something creative. Draw a picture or build a model.
  • exercise.
  • Focus on the environment. Name all the colors in the room. Try to remember and recall all the objects you see in the room.
  • Go shopping (even if it’s just window shopping).
  • Practice mindfulness. Focus on your breathing.
  • Read a good book or watch an interesting movie.
  • Participate in fun and challenging games that require a certain level of attention, such as crosswords or Sudoku games.
  • Participate in self-comforting behaviors.

Find yourself distracting

Try to make a list of your own distraction activities, which can be used when you encounter strong emotions that are currently difficult to cope with. The more you can propose, the more flexible you will be in proposing the best activities based on your situation. At first this may feel compelled and contrived, but over time you will find that it will distract yourself emotionally more easily, almost automatically.

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Sometimes we ignore some simple ways to deal with emotions. It’s as if you have to practice more—or endure more side effects of drugs—means that treatments will be better. Thankfully, research tells us that this “unbelievably good” skill for dealing with difficult emotions is indeed real-at least when combined with a comprehensive treatment plan to help you cope with PTSD and eventually thrive.

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Although these distraction techniques are useful, they cannot replace other forms of professional treatment, including treatment. If you have PTSD and are experiencing very strong and uncomfortable emotions, please consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can help you recognize these emotions and enhance your skills in dealing with them.