A distraction plan a list of items or actions to help you in a moment when your mind is spinning a zillion miles a second and is out of control. Distraction plans are heavily used in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and mindfulness techniques. Distraction plans are also a good way to note what makes you happy or puts you in a safe place. Most people, however, will think of distraction plans as another phrase for “self-care” or as a method for soothing yourself.
If you’re like me, it’s hard to remember that you have a distraction plan in place when you’re feeling anxious and it’s also hard work to do the plan which seems counterintuitive. It’s hard because it’s a change from the way we normally think and operate and doing something new seems insurmountable. We often think that it is easier and safer to continue on with our line of thinking but where has that thinking gotten us? Research has shown it is possible to rewire the brain, there are hundreds of books by esteemed authors that prove this, but yet making that first step feels like moving a 500lb rock.
But we can do it.
Right now, as I write this, I’m in a high state of anxiety. I applied for a job, interviewed with a recruiter for that company, and was so convinced I bombed the interview that when the recruiter reached out a few weeks later to set up another interview, I was floored. That interview led to a third interview which also went really well. I was on pins and needles waiting to hear back from the recruiter and even emailed her to say the waiting was like waiting for a crush to ask you to prom. The recruiter called me this afternoon to tell me I’m 90% going to get the job but spent the majority of the phone call going over my paperwork (something we had done in the first interview) and nitpicked so much again that I feel stressful and even more anxious. Once I got off the phone, instead of working a distraction plan to soothe my anxiety, I ate a donut. Don’t be like me.
What kind of things should you have in your distraction plan?
Anything you damn well please.
When I first set out to write my list of distractions, I thought I couldn’t name one thing that would qualify. Once I put pen to paper, I created a list of nearly 75 things and I’m sure if I went back to the list, I could come up with more.
Here is a sampling of what’s on my list.
Now you have your plan, then what? The first thing is writing down the items, which you’ve just done, so the second thing is putting them in a place to remind you for next time when you’re in a state of distress. My partner and I see a couple’s counselor who is really big into mindfulness. We have cards we’ve made in sessions that I’ve put on the fridge and around our office. I’ve also written a few of the items on a list on my phone as well as created bookmarks, and put some of the list on cards in my wallet. For me, it needs to be in sight to remain in mind. You may not be like me so you should do whatever you need to do to get to the same list.
Using my example above about the job prospects, I should not have reached for that donut to soothe rather I should have gone to my list. But like I mentioned previously, going to that list is hard work.
I’ve calmed down a bit since I started writing this so I’m using the list to plan out the rest of my day. Right now I’m going to finish laundry, either watch a movie or read. Tonight we’ll play catch up on TV and eat a healthier meal than my donut. I plan on going to bed early because I have yoga tomorrow at the crack of dawn. Keeping myself busy will help with the anxiety because my brain will have less time to wander since I’ll be concentrating on those things.
Your homework tonight is to create a distraction plan. Even creating the list is a distraction in itself. Living in the 21st century but we can make it through relatively unscathed. You’ve got this. I believe in you.