Distraction is one of those things that we all suffer from occasionally. And it isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes we can use distraction as a technique to manage our mental health, or as a form of relaxation. However, in some cases, distraction can be a symptom of a bigger problem.

When Is Distraction a Problem?

Your deadline is 5pm but it’s now 4pm and you’ve only written half of your agreed upon word count. You know you’re running out of time and yet, somehow, you can’t seem to tear yourself away from Facebook, or Twitter, or from gazing out the window. Perhaps you should make a cup of coffee? Then you’ll really be able to focus and get the job done.

Does any of the above sound familiar? We humans seem to have an in-built distractive button that doesn’t seem to ever get pushed to the off position. Some people thrive on it. These people that distract themselves right up to nearly the last minute, and then they treat the deadline as a challenge that must be beaten!

The means of distraction can often be a problem too. Alcohol, drugs, and other destructive behavior may distract you for a short time, but you know that’s only temporary. You probably also know that kind of distraction is definitely going to give you other problems if it’s the only coping strategy you have.

Distractibility in Children and Young Adults 

Any parent of teenagers can tell you all about selective distraction. A teenager that is meant to be doing household chores, or homework, or anything you’ve asked them to do, is very easily distracted. It just seems to be part of the adolescent job description.

In young children, however, showing signs of distraction can be a symptom of another problem. Children are sponges. They continually soak up information and experiences and are able to focus 100% on the task at hand, particularly if it’s something they love doing.

Distraction in young children often becomes noticeable when they begin school. Fidgeting, day-dreaming, and general disruptiveness can often be dismissed as bad behavior. However, if your child is constantly displaying this behavior it may be necessary to seek further advice.

Distraction as a Coping Technique

Distracting yourself in times of mental or physical distress can be extremely helpful in alleviating symptoms. With conditions such as anxiety, or panic attacks, distracting yourself by something as simple as counting from 1 to 10 can reduce your distress very quickly.

It’s important to remember, however, that distraction is a temporary solution to a distressing situation. Once you’ve distracted yourself enough that you feel calmer and more in control, then you can seek the appropriate help or treatment.

If you use distraction as a coping mechanism to ease symptoms of distress, you need to have a plan in place before you need to use it. When you’re in the middle of a panic or anxiety attack, it can be difficult to think of things to do to distract yourself. Having some suggestions written down, where they are easily accessible, means that you’ll be able to consult them without having to think too much about it.

Here are some examples of distraction techniques you can add to your distractive management plan:

  • Read a favorite book
  • Listen to your favorite CD
  • Watch a DVD
  • Ring a friend
  • Count from 1 to 10 repeatedly
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle or word game
  • Go for a walk
  • Play with a pet
  • Write a letter
  • Do some housework

Other Forms of Distraction

Distraction has been used in warfare for centuries. Distracting your enemy with a small battle so that a major invasion can take place somewhere else is a tried and true technique.

Magicians, or illusionists are the masters of distraction. While performing a trick, the ensure that their audience is focused on something they are doing, so that they don’t see the other thing that they are doing. The other thing is, of course, the actual trick. The true genius of the magic trick is that even when the audience knows they are being distracted, they still enjoy the entertainment.

Distraction is also used a lot in criminal ventures. Setting off fire alarms so that everybody vacates the building and leaves you to your own devices is common. And we are all becoming well acquainted with the terrorist trick of setting off a bomb in one area, so that they are able to attack and kill more heavily in another area. Tying up the attention and time of emergency services is frustrating for everyone involved.

Not all forms of distraction are as dramatic or have such far-reaching effects as some of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. And we have seen that distraction can also be a tool in maintaining health and well-being. Like a lot of things in this world, how you use it, is much more important than what the actual tool is.

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