Coping Methods

200+ Ways to Distract Yourself: The Ultimate List

Distraction as a coping mechanism can be useful for anxiety, panic attacks, overwhelming emotions, negative thoughts, pain, or emotional triggers. This post covers what distraction is, how it’s used as a coping mechanism, how it works, and over 200 ways to distract yourself.

When you grew up with abusive parents, you likely struggle with a lot of what’s mentioned above.

You may have a lot of anxious or negative thoughts that often cause you to spiral into panic or hopelessness. Maybe, like me, you are easily triggered, which can cause overwhelming feelings, thoughts, and emotional flashbacks.

During times like that, you may be tempted to do whatever it takes to quiet those thoughts and emotions. But that’s when you’re at risk of resorting to unhealthy coping methods that end up hurting you more. I know I’ve been there before.

This is where distraction comes in.

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What is Distraction?

Distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention away from something else.

In mental health terms, it is anything that can temporarily take your attention away from something unpleasant such as an intense emotion, disturbing thought, or feelings of pain. It’s also often used to deal with rumination.

It’s important to note that distraction is not the same as avoidance or numbing.

Avoidance keeps you from facing your emotions and problems. And numbing dull your emotions.

Meanwhile, distraction gives you a break from the source of distress and intends for you to return later to process it. So it’s important to note that any sort of distraction as a coping mechanism is temporary.

Distraction gives you space so you can calm down and be in a good enough headspace to tackle the problem at hand afterward. It’s essential that you still give yourself the emotional attention you need once you are in a better place to do so.

There are various handy tools that can help distract you whenever you need them. For instance, a mood tracker app like Lasta can be an invaluable tool to distract yourself and find calm.

Distraction as a Coping Mechanism

Distraction is meant to keep you safe in the moment by preventing unhealthy behaviors that may occur in response to overwhelming feelings or thoughts that arise.

It also helps postpone having to deal with your emotions if it’s a little too much at the moment or if it’s happening at an inconvenient time or place.

Also, when you’re in a negative headspace, you might have trouble thinking objectively about the situation. You may catastrophize or dwell on those negative feelings, which can worsen the emotions.

In cases like that, you may be tempted to use unhealthy coping mechanisms as a way to quickly make yourself feel better.

Although those methods may initially take away the intense feelings, the fix is only temporary. On the contrary, it’ll lead to more problems and overwhelming emotions in the long run.

So while it’s important to deal with your emotions when they come up, there are also times when they can be so overwhelming that you should take a breather first before facing them.

By temporarily distracting yourself, you also give the emotion some time to subside so it becomes easier to manage afterward.

How Does Distraction Work?

According to research, distraction appears to help in regulating emotions related to anxiety, PTSD, and depression by temporarily taking your mind off of it. It also seems to help with acute and chronic pain.

For distraction to work, you need to first recognize when you’re feeling intense emotions or thoughts. Try to notice warning signs like feeling the need to hide, run away, isolate, or hurt yourself.

It would be hard to stop yourself from feeling certain emotions or thinking certain thoughts, but at least try to be aware of when it’s happening.

Then, once you notice it, start doing something to distract yourself even if you don’t feel like it or you don’t think it’ll help. Give it at least five minutes before you decide to move on to another way to distract yourself.

You can distract yourself for a few minutes up to a few days depending on your circumstances. But please remember to eventually give yourself the needed emotional attention to work through whatever it is you’re struggling with.

And when you’re ready to work on those uncomfortable emotions, check out these posts:

200+ Ways to Distract Yourself

200+ Ways to Distract Yourself | Hopeful Panda

To be able to use distraction, you should have some ways to distract yourself readily available when the time comes.

Take a look at this list of over 200 different ways you can use to distract yourself whenever intense emotions, negative thoughts, pain, or anything else too overwhelming to deal with comes up.

As you look through the list, write down distraction ideas that might work for you. The more you add to your list, the easier it will be to have something to distract yourself with when the time comes.

This helps make distraction more effective. It also makes you less likely to cope using an unhealthy method.

Before you continue, please recognize that everyone is different. A distraction activity that works for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. For example, certain activities might be triggering to you at certain moments or just in general.

Also, as you go through this list, realize that not every activity is doable in certain situations.

For example, if you’re at work, you likely can’t go out for a run or play video games. In that case, simple mental activities might be more useful. Or if you’re feeling particularly anxious about the news, reading articles or browsing social media doesn’t seem appropriate.

So try to consider different situations when you’ll need to use these ways to distract yourself. Also, feel free to come up with your own ways as you go through the list.

Ways to Distract Yourself | Hopeful Panda




Mental Activities to Distract Yourself

When something is bothering you internally, these activities can help get your mind immediately off the source of distress.

These simple mental tasks are designed to occupy your mind so that the focus can be shifted away from the source of distress to the distraction.

  • Count backward from a large number (999, 998, 997)
  • Choose a starting number and keep adding a number to it (15+7=22. 22+7=29…)
  • Choose a number and think of various ways you can make that number (10: 5+5, 2×5…)
  • Count how many of something there is in your environment (How many blue things? How many round items?)
  • Name all the colors in the room
  • Memorize and recall everything you see in the room
  • Choose a category of anything you can think of and list as many things as you can (countries, fruits, animals). You can make it harder by listing things from A to Z or using the last letter from the first word to create the next word.
  • Recite a passage, song, poem, or whatever else you know
  • Narrate to yourself what you are exactly doing at this moment
  • Create a mantra if you don’t have one and repeat it to yourself. (“I can do this”, “This too shall pass”) Literally spell it out if repeating is not enough
  • Think of a common task and go through it step-by-step. Imagine you’re explaining the process to someone else.
  • Observe something and describe it in extreme detail. Notice how it looks, its pattern, texture, and how it feels. (This apple is green with two small bruises…)

Productive Ways to Distract Yourself

Ways to Distract Yourself | Hopeful Panda

Maybe you like to immerse yourself in doing something productive to distract yourself. So here’s a list of possible productive things you can do as a distraction.

  • Clean the house (vacuum, sweep, wipe down windows, etc)
  • Wash dishes
  • Scrub toilets, tubs, and sinks
  • Wash your car
  • Tend the yard
  • Mow the lawn
  • Do laundry
  • Clean out filters
  • Make sure everything is running smoothly
  • Make needed repairs or learn how to
  • Do a digital declutter for your devices, emails, and social media
  • Organize everything digitally
  • Declutter (home, room, closet, car, garage, etc)
  • Reorganize things (books, kitchen, pantry, bathroom, desk)
  • Sort through papers (mails, documents, paperwork…)
  • Plan your meals in advance
  • Grocery shop
  • Make a list of goals
  • Organize old photos and videos
  • Get your taxes in order
  • Make a budget
  • Make a financial plan
  • Work on things you’ve been putting off
  • Create an emergency plan
  • Digitize important documents
  • Create a record of your belongings for insurance
  • Create, renew, or update legal documents
  • Learn new ways to save money
  • Search for a useful app or program you can use
  • Shop for presents early
  • Plan for a future trip
  • Earn a license or certification
  • Take a class
  • Attend a workshop or seminar
  • Learn a language
  • Learn how to play an instrument
  • Increase your knowledge about technology
  • Learn how to give yourself a haircut
  • Watch some TEDTalks
  • Learn how to sew
  • Learn a new skill

Self-Care Exercises to Distract Yourself

Teddy Taking a Bath by Hopeful Panda

The ways to distract yourself in this section also doubles up as a self-care practice.

On top of distracting you from difficult emotions or thoughts, they can also help you relax and get the care and attention you deserve.

  • Practice mindfulness: You can do this with anything like driving, washing dishes, brushing, or working out. The purpose is to focus on the present.
  • Meditate
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Try guided imagery
  • Do the body scan practice
  • Find new routines: Distracting yourself from old patterns by adopting a new one can keep old thought patterns from recurring.
  • Create a space for yourself to relax, work, meditate, or get creative. Make it your space.
  • Journal
  • Unplug: Devote a period to be away from your devices.
  • Mute out negativity online: Block, delete, or unfollow pages or communities that seem to spread toxicity.
  • Create a workout routine
  • Learn to play a sport
  • Go for a run
  • Take a walk outside
  • Go stargazing
  • Jumprope
  • Do yoga
  • Go biking
  • Go hiking
  • Lift weights
  • Connect with nature
  • Take a long shower
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Stretch
  • Get a massage
  • Have a spa day
  • Get a facial
  • Get or give yourself a mani or pedi
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Read, watch, or play something
  • Take a warm bath
  • Give yourself a makeover
  • Dress up
  • Treat yourself to something nice

Creative Activities to Distract Yourself

Ways to Distract Yourself - Art | Hopeful Panda

Creativity is linked to better mental health. So here’s a list of creative things you can do to distract and express yourself.

  • Draw or doodle
  • Paint something
  • Try blind contour drawing
  • Build a model
  • Color
  • Sculpt something out of clay, dough, or foil
  • Fashion design
  • Create a logo
  • Make music
  • Take on a creative project
  • Try photography
  • Edit photos using Photoshop
  • Learn calligraphy
  • Write
  • Work on a novel
  • Write a poem or short story
  • Start a blog
  • Do simple arts and crafts using kits or materials found at home
  • Try paper art
  • Upcycle something
  • Build a birdhouse
  • Do a DIY project
  • Redesign something
  • Draw a map of your home or neighborhood
  • Make a scrapbook
  • Personalize something
  • Make jewelry
  • Make decorations for an upcoming event, season, or holiday
  • Draw your dream home
  • Make an inspirational poster
  • Invent something
  • Make your own cleaning or beauty product
  • Start a garden
  • Plant something
  • Make candles
  • Do nail art
  • Design a tattoo
  • Try different hairstyles
  • Redecorate something
  • Rearrange furniture at home
  • Make videos
  • Make a stop-motion animation
  • Pick up a new creative hobby
  • Try knitting, crocheting, or embroidery
  • Try woodworking or metalwork
  • Make greeting cards
  • Cook or bake something
  • Decorate desserts
  • Try a new recipe
  • Recreate a dish you like
  • Experiment with existing ingredients at home
  • Experiment with different food combinations
  • Make a mocktail
  • Create a smoothie
  • Film a cooking tutorial or lesson
  • Make a family tree
  • Make a time capsule
  • Put together a meaningful photo album
  • Draw comics

Entertainment & Time Wasters to Distract Yourself

Ways to Distract Yourself  - Entertainment | Hopeful Panda

Sometimes, we don’t want to put too much thought into what we do. We just want to do it. So here are some ways to distract yourself that are simply for entertainment purposes or to waste time. These are activities you can also do with someone else.

  • Go shopping, even if it’s just window shopping
  • Read a poem, short story, or book
  • Play a game on your phone
  • Watch a movie, TV show, reality show, cooking show, or documentary
  • Binge Youtube
  • Watch trailers or music videos
  • Watch sports
  • Discover new music
  • Play video games
  • Play a card game by yourself or with someone else
  • Browse blogs that interest you
  • Read some blog posts
  • Listen to a podcast
  • Make lists (to read, to watch, to do, to listen, to play, etc)
  • Rank things (top 10 movies, best cuisines, top 5 musical artists, etc)
  • Make music playlists for different occasions (songs to dance to, relaxing music, bops, etc)
  • Discuss what you watched, read, or played with someone
  • Browse social media
  • Look at memes
  • Listen to music
  • Sing or do karaoke
  • Dance
  • Play brain games online
  • Throw a party
  • Spend time with your pet
  • Teach your pet a new trick
  • Have a photoshoot with your pet
  • Research your ancestry
  • Take some selfies
  • Start a collection
  • Make memes
  • Write a positive review for something you enjoyed
  • Learn about a culture
  • Explore Wikipedia
  • Watch a foreign film or drama
  • Watch anime
  • Read a graphic novel or comics
  • Make a bucket list
  • Create a game
  • Observe wildlife
  • Take a virtual tour
  • Attend a virtual concert
  • Travel the world using Google Earth
  • Read some jokes
  • Read articles on things you’re interested in
  • Take silly quizzes online
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Play Scrabble
  • Do a crossword puzzle or word search
  • Play a simple word game
  • Play a memory game
  • Do Sudoku puzzles
  • Catch up on current events
  • Catch up on your favorite celebrities
  • Go to a virtual escape room
  • Attend a virtual event

Social Activities to Distract Yourself

Distraction - Staying Connected to Others | Hopeful Panda

As I mentioned time and time before, social support is crucial for mental health. It’s especially helpful during your time of need. Here are some social activities you can use to distract yourself when you need them.

  • Call, text, or video chat with a loved one
  • Make a date to hang out to grab a coffee, go bowling, or watch a movie
  • Spend time with a loved one physically or virtually
  • Write a letter to a family or friend
  • Chat with a stranger online
  • Join an online community
  • Join a support group
  • Volunteer
  • Participate in an online discussion that interests you
  • Take an improv class
  • Join a club
  • Play a game with someone online
  • Watch something with someone online
  • Explore a virtual world
  • Visit a local community center
  • Participate in your local religious institution
  • Make a gift or care package for someone

Conclusion

Distraction might sound easy. But it does require determination, willpower, and strength. The trick is to just do it. The more you practice distraction, the easier it’ll get as time goes on.

In addition, please remember that these ways to distract yourself are meant to be healthy distractions. If and when at any point these activities become addicting or are making things worse, please pause, take a step back, and reevaluate the situation.

For example, playing video games or browsing social media can get your mind off something difficult. But if you are constantly doing that without addressing what’s going on, then that becomes unhealthy.

It’s also important to note that while these distraction techniques may be useful, they do not replace professional treatment.

If you often experience intense emotions, negative thoughts, and other issues that seem to be hard to handle, consider seeking professional help. A professional can help you understand your emotions and where it comes from as well as learn healthy coping skills to deal with them.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

A lot of time and effort is put into this blog. If you enjoy my content or find it helpful, please consider making a donation or becoming a member. Your support helps me continue providing free content for all. Thank you!


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