Distraction is the Name of the Game

Sometimes thoughts of self harm, suicidal or homicidal ideation can be combatted by psychiatric medications. These medications don’t work the same for every patient though, and it isn’t uncommon for folks with these persistent thoughts to have to face them with sheer willpower alone.

My therapist told me the best thing I can do is try to keep myself from lingering on these thoughts. Don’t let them convince you to do what they want you to do. 

The theory sounds simple enough; think of something else… but for anyone who has experienced all consuming thoughts of suicide or self harm, this is easier said than done.

Today I thought I would share a few of the things I have been doing to try and keep my mind occupied and off these harmful topics. Truth be told, it takes quite a bit of energy to continuously have to shift one’s focus, but it is a strategy that has worked for me both in times of impulsiveness and also in longer-term chunks of depression.

1. Listen to Music

This is something I’ve suggested before, and I find it most helpful if I not only listen to music but sing along as well. When my brain is busy trying to follow along with the lyrics, it doesn’t have time to think of anything else.

2. Listen to a Podcast or Audiobook

I do this most often when I am on the bus or walking around downtown. The content should be interesting enough that it keeps your attention… and free content can be found at your local library or on itunes. There are podcasts on an infinite number of subjects out there, including some involving mental illness (though I found those to be a little less helpful at distracting me from, well, mental illness!) I prefer interview podcasts or ones hosted by comedians. Audiobooks are great because I find that I can actively listen with less effort than trying to read (and sitting around reading the same page over and over again).

3. Watch a marathon

A movie or television series marathon, that is! I find it the most helpful to watch something I haven’t seen before (to keep my interest) but sometimes the questionable content of a new show can leave you back in the thought loop you’re trying to escape. In those situations I put on Friends or Seinfeld because I never get tired of them and I can watch them randomly or in order.

4. Try to solve a puzzle

Working on something like a crossword puzzle, sudoku, or even a jigsaw puzzle can keep your mind busy with minimal effort elsewhere.

5. Bake

Ok, this isn’t exactly the most healthy method of getting your mind off things (because I normally eat everything I’ve made after baking it) but baking is a lot like working on a puzzle. Having complete one step after the next leaves little room for thinking about other things.

6. Play a game

Games are a lot like puzzles, they  tend to keep my attention for a long period of time and help time to pass quickly.

I think the real trouble comes at the end of the day when I feel exhausted from diverting my attention and being worn down by the constant thoughts when I can’t focus my attention elsewhere. I find that if I feel like no longer being present, the best thing I can do is go to sleep. It isn’t uncommon for me to feel refreshed when I wake up the next morning.

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