Somehow I Manage, Vol. 6
The year is closing out. It’s our last week of lectures. It absolutely flew to say the least. It was always going to bother me if I didn’t finish out this series, so I said I’d get stuck back into it. Hopefully people are reading these, and I’m hoping even more that it can help at least one person. God knows I probably need them. Then again, it’s always good to refamiliarise with skills like these, so it’s a bit of a kill two birds with the one stone job.
I actually had forgotten what skill I was on, and I’m actually excited to write this about this one as it’s so incredibly important. It may not seem even relevant or important to some people, but it’s helped me, I’m hoping it’ll help others, and do have a read because you never know, fingers crossed you won’t, but some day you may need this skill.
Jesus, I’ve completely forgotten what format I write these in, but I’ll give it a go. Apologies if I’m rambling, or somethings don’t make perfect sense, but I tend not to proof read things I write, and my brain is lacking because of my current medication. I’m going to brew a new cup of tea and give it a go.
I’ve a fresh cup by my side. I’ve got Brian Eno ‘The Big Ship’ on repeat to get my thoughts in order. And here we go. This week’s skill is Distraction. And it’s not distraction in regards to when you’re doing an assignment and you’ve got the tv on with your eyes flicking between both. It’s far more important than that. This skill is to help you survive the worst. The worst may differ from person to person. It may be your laptop crashing mid essay in college and losing all your work, or it could be when a person has been pushed to the edge and at the point of self-harming or suicide.
I’ve had to use it this year plenty of times. And most importantly it worked for me recently. It has not always worked, but it’s better to have the skill than not have the skill. For me there’s been moments in the past few months where I’ve wanted to punch walls and hit my head off them, but I’ve had to distract myself in that exact moment from doing so. It has come to the point where at times I craved hurting myself and felt like it was everything I wanted to do in life. To cause some sort of physical pain, some sort of destruction just to escape from my emotions briefly. I had to use everything I had not to go through with self-harming. Had to use everything and anything to stop myself attempting suicide. For self-harming, I used the ski trip. As much as I wanted to hurt myself, I knew I wanted to ski so so bad. I was looking forward to the trip so much, and I didn’t want to be injured for it. I couldn’t ski with a broken bone, or a head injury, so in those moments I tried to focus as hard as I could on skiing, and keep telling myself ‘you can’t do this if you want to be able to ski’. And it worked. When I was suicidal, I held onto anything I could. My family and not hurting them, my friends and not wanting to put them through losing a friend, the mental health documentary and not wanting to tarnish that and undermining everything I said in it, and to just not put anyone through the pain of losing someone to suicide. At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do. It’s complete survival mode. But you can get through it.
I’d just like to note again that I’m not a professional or a doctor or anything and I’m just speaking from my own experience with using this skill. It may not work as well, or work at all for you. And if you are feeling an urge to self-harm or you are suicidal to contact a doctor, or ring Samaritans, or anyone. There’s people there who want to help, and nobody wants to see you go through that alone.
WHAT IS IT?
Distractions a skill for tolerating, or coping when it feels like distress is taking over. The whole idea of it is not to end the crisis. Instead it’s to help you get through distressing situations without resorting to doing things that will make the situation worse.
Sometimes it’s useful to have some skills to buffer, or distract ourselves from pain, in the short term. For example, maybe you’re in college or on a night out, and you think it’d be better, for that moment, to get just get through it and tolerate the distress.
So as a short term or temporary solution, distraction can be helpful. e.g.
- When you need to tolerate or survive a difficult situation that can’t be immediately changed
- When you need to get through a terrible or difficult situation that can’t be immediately changed
- When the distress is so overwhelming you can’t think of what else to do
Distraction, as great a skill as it can be when needed, it comes with a health warning. Essentially it’s a crisis survival strategy that can be effective in the short term. But distraction as a long term strategy can lead to more problems than it solves.
The more people continuously try to avoid and inhibit emotions and distress, the more it can haunt them. Always avoiding pain means that it is never processed and so may be triggered quickly. Just like a pulled hamstring, if you avoid it and keep running on it, then you may end up tearing your hamstring eventually, and be out of action for a long time.
If you avoid this emotion problems are never solved and we spend more energy avoiding and building a fear of the time that we will have to face the emotion. So long term avoidance of distress causes suffering – that is, a pain that never ends, that continues indefinitely. In order to reduce pain in the long term, it has to be experienced, so that people can learn to tolerate it and accept it. We all have to experience pain at some point in our lives, if there was no pain then there would be no pleasure, it’s all about learning to deal with this pain, and once we do we can get back to pleasure and things that make us happy.
Surviving our ’emotional storms’ even if it’s temporary, might be a good idea in some instances. Distraction reduces our physiological arousal and puts us in a better position to cope. There’s a few methods that can be used to help you use the skill.
Push the situation away by either 1. physically leaving, 2. mentally blocking it. e.g. build an imaginary wall between yourself and the situation, 3. write on a list that is put away or mentally put the situation in a box and put the box away, to be taken down and unpacked at a later stage.
The aim is to get a break, or some breathing space from the distressing situation. It doesn’t get rid of the situation, but it buys you time so you can come back and solve it later.
Exercises or hobbies, cleaning(works absolute wonders for my mental health), call a friend, play a game, walk, have a decaf tea or coffee, play a sport.
The aim is to behaviourally do something different, which interrupts the harmful urge. You also physiological counteract the unpleasant physical sensations, whilst distracting your attention away from the distressing trigger.
Do the counting of 6 things exercise, that could be European countries, car brands, whatever. Do a puzzle, like a crossword or sudoku, watch tv, read, count backwards from 1,000 in 3s, say the alphabet backwards. Literally anything to distract you.
The aim is to full your short term memory with other thoughts/images to counteract the distressing ones. The idea is that the distressing thoughts activated by the negative emotions don’t intensify further. This is a good emergency response as your thoughts are always available, but it needs to be something really engaging.
Hold ice or an ice pack, squeeze something very hard, stand under a very hard and cold shower, listen to loud music, put a rubber band on your wrist, pull it out and let go(but not too much), bite into a lemon, eat a chili.
The aim is to use something that will engage your physiological levels, and distract you and give your body a shock which will act as a substitute for any craving for high physiological actions. You refocus your attention away from the negative emotional trigger by experiencing a different and intense(but not harmful) sensation.
Distract from pain and suffering by focusing your mind on someone else or something else that you can contribute to, somehow make better. Lots of people do volunteer work as a way to get their mind off a situation. Even something small like smiling at someone can help. In the middle of a crisis we will be unable to do something big so plan ahead and keep it manageable.
The aim is to distract in a way that actually makes you feel better about yourself/ that you have mastered something.
When we stop to think about it, the crisis may take a different perspective. We may acknowledge that is is as distressing as a previous one, however we may also acknowledge that we managed to get through those times despite how difficult they were and we will survive this too. This time although it feels distressing you may recognise that you have learned more skills and gathered more resources than you had before. Or perhaps although it feels distressing by comparison it is not quite was distressing as other crises were before and we may be grateful or feel relieved.
The aim is by comparing to a time when you felt worse or reminding yourself that you have survived other times and used skills like this, you often generate a sense of gratitude, hope that it will pass or relief that it is not as bad as it could be. People often feel better about themselves and more competent.
Distract from one emotion by figuring a way to create another emotion. The secret to using music as distraction or crisis survival is to pick your music so that it changes your emotion. Sad = energetic or happy music on. Anxious and tense = soothing and calming, Ready a book that’s emotionally involving. Go to a comedy or emotional movies.
The aim is by creating a situation that exposes use to a different emotion we can stop triggering the same emotion like we do e.g. when we listen to sad music when we are sad. Instead we try to trigger a change in our emotional state.
It is important to have a ready made list to try. In times of distress we may need to try lots of skills and don’t have the brain capacity to think them up on the spot. Have a kit organised and a list made so you can look at it and use it quickly in times of distress.
And remember distraction is for use in crisis.
Rule 1. If you can solve the problem, solve it.
Rule 2. If you can’t solve the problem, survive it.
Remember to be mindful when using distraction. This may not have resonated with you but it can be used in an array of situations. If that’s getting in a verbal fight with someone, getting in a physical fight. It could just be acting out in frustration over something. It could be in a match, and it could prevent you doing something that may get you sent off.
These aren’t just mental health skills, or for people who have mental illnesses or are depressed. They’re life skills. So take note, and hopefully you can use it somewhere down the line.
All the best,