Distraction and Self-Care – What’s the Difference?

Imagine a scenario in which a person goes to see a therapist for help in dealing with depression/anxiety. The therapist tells them to use self-care by doing whatever makes them feel better: get immersed in a good book; watch a series on Netflix; go for long walks, etc.- with the basic goal getting the patient’s mind off of the problem at hand and onto something else.

But what is this…really? It’s called distraction therapy – a bandage as a way to numb the pain long enough for one to get through a rough time for a short period of time. But does it really solve the problem longer term? No, in reality, it is temporary relief. By its very definition, distraction is an object or activity that prevents someone from giving their full attention to something else; it’s a diversion or interference. However, once that diversion or interference – Netflix movie, book, walk – is over, the pain is still there and can be overwhelming. There are only so many movies to watch, books to read, and walks one can take before one realizes they are not really getting any better.

In reality, distraction is just a component in the arsenal of the bigger solution of self-care arena. By definition, Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness to preserve or improve one’s own mental health. If one stops at the Distraction phase, the pain is still there. One must be guided through and learn the bigger strategy behind self-care. That actually involves focusing on the triggers and problems that cause the problem, not only blocking them from memory.  There’s a book called What’s in the Way Is The Way by Mary O’Malley – that says it all!  When the time is right, the problem needs to be faced head on and dealt with accordingly.



That said, sometimes Distraction Therapy is necessary for short term help in getting though a particularly rough patch, and that is okay. But don’t stop there. Keep going when the time is right. Something to start focusing on is the saying “I cannot control others’ behavior, but I can control my reaction to it.” Adopting this line of thinking is HUGE. Often times, we let others dictate how we should feel or what we should do without our even realizing it, and that can cause great pain. We must radically accept (meaning accepting reality without necessarily agreeing with it) and process through that pain.


Example: a patient may be suffering from the emotional trauma of an adult child choosing to cut them from their lives. The parent loves their child deeply, but they will not get to be a part of their lives. Very hurtful, sad, confusing, frustrating, etc., right? Spending days crying over a situation or using any type of distraction can be extremely helpful in such situations, but ultimately, the patient must deal with this reality, accept it, and move on without further pain. Yes, admittedly, this can be very difficult and take a long time, but the acceptance must occur. If only wishes came true, but reality doesn’t change. Our reaction to it, however, can and will if we work to make that happen.


The book The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by John P. Forsyth, PhD and Georg H Eifert, PhD. is the best tool, in this author’s humble opinion, out there to guide a patient through this process. It will take time – the process and healing does not happen overnight.  But with mindfulness, consistency, and practice, one can learn this process, accept the wonderful person they truly are, and accept reality as it is without constantly living in pain. For this author, it truly works!


How do I know it works? Because I lived it for 6 years! After 4 years of distraction therapy, as guided by a therapist, I found this book, left my therapist, and studied and implemented this on my own. It saved my life AND I’m medication-free!!! I am a completely different person now…happy, content, and loving life. One has to truly want change in their life to find that inner peace and heart-felt joy again.


So I’ll sum this up with an easy analogy. You have a toothache and realize you need a filling. Your anxiety shoots up because you are deathly afraid of that process. So you just go for routine shots of novocaine (distraction), but the pain returns when the numbing medication wears off. But if you face the problem head on, get your shot of novocaine, and continue to move to the next step of getting the cavity repaired, your pain ultimately goes away. You don’t forget it, but it’s now in the past and you can move on and be happy.


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or therapist. I am just a person who has gleaned so much from personal trauma and life-altering experiences. While self-care has been a game-changer for me, your “mileage may vary”. If you feel you need medical attention, I highly encourage you to seek out a good mental health practitioner for further care and guidance.


I hope this helps you understand that Distraction is a small component of self-care, but is not self-care in and of itself. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Diane at Studio413


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