“I’m feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts – what can I do?”
When we’re feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts, it can be really hard to think about anything else. We lose our ability to concentrate and our ability to go about doing the things we would normally do. We can end up spiralling lower and lower as we are trapped in these thoughts.
So what can we do in these moments?
One of the best skills that I’ve learnt for these situations is distraction.
What is distraction?
Distraction is a coping method designed to use simple, low-energy, tasks to redirect you away from the negative thoughts you’re experiencing.
Isn’t that just avoidance?
No, what we’re doing here is containment. When we’re in distress, it’s not the time to try to deal with the underlying issues. Better to focus on getting out of the overwhelming moment, then, when we’re feeling a little more robust, we can work on those underlying issues.
How can I distract myself?
The main thing to remember here is that we’re not looking for anything too cognitively complex. When we’re in distress, we lose a lot of the functions that allow us to do things like reading a book, writing poetry, studying, and so on. What we’re looking for are easy-going tasks.
So here are a few ideas:
A friend told me about this one recently, and I think it’s a great idea. You can write out lists for just about anything: your favourite films, your shopping list, your bucket list, all the red things you can think of – literally anything! You could write your lists in a journal, or even just on the back of an envelope, it really doesn’t matter.
Watch something on TV. Don’t try to dig into a documentary or a horror film – go for something tame and even silly, like a kids’ TV show or a Disney film. Something light and feel-good that doesn’t require you to be 100% focussed.
Put on some music and dance around your living room. I personally like to use cheesy 90s songs and just get silly with it. Here are a few of my favourites:
Things like face masks or even just applying hand cream are a great way to not only distract yourself but also to look after yourself. You could also brush your hair, brush your teeth, or, if you’re up to it, take a shower and use lots of nice smelling toiletries.
Have you ever used distraction as a coping method? What kind of things do you find work the best? Let me know in the comments.