Purposeful use of distraction techniques can be beneficial in coping with emotions that are strong and at times uncomfortable.

What is Distraction?

Distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention off a strong emotion. Sometimes focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. Temporarily distracting yourself from it may give the emotion time to decrease in intensity and therefore making it easier to manage (1).

Distraction is not about trying to escape or avoid a feeling. Eventually you will need to return to the feeling, and once the intensity has reduced, try another skill to try and manage it.

Distraction Techniques:

  • Count backwards from a large number by 7's (or some other number if you prefer)
  • Take part in a fun and challenging game that requires a level of attention eg: crossword or sudoku
  • Focus your attention on your environment. Name all the colours in the room, try to memorise and recall all the objects you can see in the room
  • Do something creative, draw a picture, paint or build a model
  • Do housework or chores, cleaning, laundry, washing dishes
  • Read a good book or watch a funny movie
  • Call or write a letter to a friend or family member
  • Exercise
  • Go out shopping (even if its window shopping)
  • Take part in a self-soothing behaviour
  • Practice mindfulness


1. Using distraction as a way of coping with emotions, 2009

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