In psychological terms, one crisis-survival skill is distraction. A selection of distraction techniques have been described in such a way that they can be remembered by the acronym ACCEPTS. The techniques are also referred to as ‘Wise Mind Accepts,’ and this phrase will help you find relevant information if you search online. The distraction techniques are listed below. Some of the strategies may sound glib or trite, assuming you have limitless money and time to do them. They are, however, just a guide and the aim is to tailor the idea to see if it has potential to help you.
Distract with Activities:
Do hobbies, watch a video, go for a walk, play a sport, cook, garden, go fishing, go shopping.
Make a list of your activities and put it someone easy so you can find it in a hurry.
Distract with Contributing:
Contribute. Do volunteer work. Babysit so a friend can go out. Do something nice or surprising for someone.
What have you done this week to contribute? What can you do next week to contribute? Plan something in advance. This takes you away from your pain and puts your attention on your concern for someone else.
Distract with Comparisons:
Comparing yourself to other people can be useful if it is positive. I personally do not find this helpful as it is too easy to fall into comparing yourself to someone ostensibly better off. It also consolidates the view that we are individuals rather than a collective consciousness. This latter perspective does not sit well with Western society. This viewpoint, however, has been the foundation of Eastern techniques including meditation, whose medical value has been statistically verified by Western researchers, for many hundreds of years.
What do you think about comparisons? What comparisons would you find useful to improve your mood? Would it make you feel grateful to compare yourself to someone in a war-torn country or would it make you feels worse? If you can find any comparisons helpful for yourself (e.g. I am better than I was last year) make a list of keep it handy.
Distract with opposite Emotions
The premise of this distraction is to shake up your feelings and move yourself to a different emotional state. For example, if you are sad or angry, watch a comedy, listen to silly music, sing and dance around on your own.
Try and identify the emotions that trouble you the most and consider what activity has the potential to move you out of that emotion. Notice that the word emotion contains the word ‘motion.’ This can be used to help remember that are emotions are not static and can be moved or changed.
Distract by Pushing Away a distressing situation
The basis of this technique is to give yourself a break from the painful situation you are in while still feeling safe that you are managing the issue and not hiding/avoiding. A common method which works well for people is to mentally put the problem in a locked box in your brain. In this way you can temporarily ‘shelve’ the issue to alleviate the immediate distress. You are not dodging or avoiding the issue either as the problem is still in your ‘to-do’ list; you are choosing not to look at it at the present time as it is unhelpful and can revisit it a later date if you feel you want to.
In may cases a period of time away from the painful situation can change your perspective of its severity. It also has less of a grip on you as you have chosen when to shelve it and when to address it.
What metaphors or mental techniques do you think will work for you? As with everything this may take practice or you may need to try other mental scenarios. Alternative it just might not suit you.
Distract with other Thoughts
The typical examples given for this technique are crosswords and puzzles, counting things and writing a journal. I believe that to be truly versatile, the thoughts need to be something you access whether you are at home or in public. One option is a vision board with pictures of your hopes and dreams and the things you love. You can consolidate this by keeping a list of positive thoughts with you when you go out. This can easily be done on your phone with apps for making flash cards. For example, I have a card carrying a list of hobbies and skills I would like to learn and activities I enjoy. If I find my mind being invaded with unwanted thoughts I can (sometimes) distract myself by imaging what potential outcomes could come from my hobbies and activities. Sometimes I sketch it on paper; the activities branch into as many outcomes as I can think of whether they seem realistic or not. I call this the Tree of My Life.
Can you compose a list of positive things to distract yourself with such as a personal goal or dream? Can you think of some other ways of distracting with thoughts?
Distract with other Sensations.
Any strong physical stimulus such as a cold bath, very loud music or snapping an elastic band on your wrist can break your connection to the mental pain you are experiencing (this is one of the reasons people use self-harm as a coping mechanism for mood disorders). Crystals can be useful to distract you with touch and sight when you are out. Small portable roll-on fragrances which can be carried in your pocket are now sold (about £4) to distract people with smell. Smell is the most emotive of our senses and if you can use a specific smell as an anchor by smelling it when you feel positive it is possible to improve your mood by simply smelling the positive fragrance.
Can you think of anyway you can distract yourself with sensations? It is harder to find examples when you are out.