Everyone has a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to how to distract yourself from scary or negative thoughts. We've all tried our hand at mindless TV watching, video game playing, and sometimes mind-numbing internet surfing. Some of us have even used these techniques to avoid doing work and get things done. The mind is a powerful tool. It contains our best and worst thoughts, memories and daydreams. The mind can protect us from harm or torture as well as protect us from holding onto our goals, dreams and aspirations.
Here are ten surefire ways to distract yourself from scary thoughts and get on with your day.
- Call a friend
When we're under stress, our brains often turn to the worst possible scenario. So when you're sitting in traffic, you might be thinking about how there's an accident up ahead, or when you're behind on a project, you might be imagining getting a bad evaluation from your boss.
It's not always a bad thing. Our brain is trying to help us prepare for the worst by anticipating it. But sometimes, the situations we're worried about aren't dangerous—like being late for work or having an argument with your partner—and we can feel very anxious if we let our minds continue to spiral downward.
The next time this happens to you, call a friend. It might seem counterintuitive because your brain is telling you that you don't have time for small talk, but hearing another person's voice can help calm down your nervous system and take your thoughts off of whatever is stressing you out.
Calling a friend may be a good way to distract yourself from scary thoughts. Whether you're dealing with a scary situation that's unfolding right now, or simply trying to calm the fear of what might happen in the future, taking some time to hear someone else's voice can help. Research has shown that talking to friends can boost your mood, and if you're being bullied or feel like an outcast, talking on the phone can help you feel less alone and more cared for. And if you're in the middle of a terrifying experience, reaching out to others can make all the difference in your ability to cope with it.
- Play with a pet
Playing with your pet, or any animal for that matter, can help you forget about your worries and nagging thoughts. When you are playing with your dog, cat, or horse, you should be in the moment. Playing with your pet doesn't require a lot of thought and shouldn't be stressful. This can increase your dopamine levels and decrease cortisol (the stress hormone).
Petting an animal is also very calming for humans. It's like when someone gives you a wonderful back rub and all of the tension melts away. When you're petting an animal, you tend to pet them in slow rhythmic strokes which can be very relaxing. And if you're stressed out, there is nothing better than stroking a soft dog or cat for a little bit.
The other reason playing with your pet will distract you from your scary thoughts is that being around animals has been shown to improve our moods. They have the ability to change our perception of ourselves and our environment. They can make us feel happier and more loved. Pets have been shown to reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost self-esteem.
- Do some light exercise
It's no secret that exercise is good for you and has a ton of benefits for your health, but did you know that it's also a great way to distract yourself from scary thoughts? That's right, here's how doing some light exercise will help to distract yourself from scary thoughts. First, when you're exercising, you are breathing fast and heavy. This alone will help to distract you from scary thoughts. As you continue to exercise, your body will start releasing endorphins which will not only get rid of any negative energy in your body, but they'll also boost your mood and leave you feeling happier than you were before. If the exercise is intense enough, it might even cause you to sweat! When this happens, your pores open up which allows toxins to be released in the form of sweat. Not only does the release of toxins cleanse your body from the inside out, but it also serves as a distraction from any scary thoughts that may be on your mind. Finally, when exercising, we tend to focus on our movements rather than anything else going on around us or in our minds. This could be how many reps we do or how many miles we run which can definitely distract us from any scary thoughts we're having.
- Practice deep breathing
Practicing deep breathing will help to distract yourself from scary thoughts. Research published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy has shown that one of the most effective techniques for calming down when you're feeling anxious is to focus on your breathing. By taking slow, deep breaths, you can take the focus off your anxious thoughts and bring it back to what's going on around you. This technique is particularly useful if you're having a panic attack — one study found that learning how to breathe deeply helped people decrease their anxiety during such an episode.
The way this works is that by focusing on your breathing, you are taking control of something that will have an effect on what's going on inside your body. When you're feeling anxious, your heart rate speeds up and you might notice that you feel lightheaded or shaky. Deep breathing can counteract these effects by slowing down your heart rate, making you feel calmer and more in control of what's happening to your body.
- Take a shower
Have you ever taken a shower and had an epiphany? There's something about the sound of water that helps to drown everything else out, leaving you with a clear head and some fresh ideas. If you're trying to distract yourself from scary thoughts, why not take it back to that place? Just as the sound of water can help you think better, it also acts as “white noise”—a constant, unvarying hum that can drown out voices in your own head. Also, just having something to focus on (such as scrubbing the tile grout or shampooing your hair) can take our thoughts away from what we're trying not to think about. Plus, it will give you that feeling of being clean, which might help you feel like you're more in control. In this case, a shower might be more effective than a bath because while bathing is relaxing and can help with some types of stress relief, it's easier to start associating bathwater with drowning—in other words: Cue the scary thoughts.
- Write it out
You can write your thoughts out in a journal or even just type them into an email to yourself. You can also use the notes section on your phone, so that you always have a notepad with you. Just write out the thoughts that are scaring you, and then write back to each one of those thoughts with reasons why it's not something you need to worry about right now. When we do this, we're actually using a technique called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This method aims to help us let go of our negative thought patterns by acknowledging them, and then challenging them. Writing it all down means that they're no longer swirling around in your head anymore, which helps you to focus on more productive things instead. It also allows us to slow down and think about what we're writing—you will likely realize pretty quickly when you look at it all written out that those scary thoughts aren't really something to be scared of at all.
- Nap or meditate
Distracting yourself from scary thoughts can be as simple as closing your eyes and sitting still. Meditation is one of the best ways to give your mind a break while still allowing you to stay present in the moment. Find a quiet place to sit, then close your eyes and focus on your breath. As distracting thoughts enter your mind, let them pass by and gently return your focus back to your breath. Meditating for even just five minutes can give you a much-needed break from anxious thoughts and help you feel more grounded in the present moment.
Napping is another way to take a break from anxious thoughts by putting yourself into a state of deep rest. A nap can help you recharge and reboot so that when you wake up, you feel refreshed and ready to face whatever challenges come your way. If napping isn't an option, try taking some time for yourself by listening to music or going for a walk. These simple things are great ways to relax and distract yourself from scary thoughts.
- Dance around
The next time you're feeling down, why not distract yourself and boost your mood by listening to your favorite song and dancing around? It might sound odd, but engaging in an impromptu dance party can actually help you feel better.
To understand how dancing around can improve your mood, it's helpful to understand what happens in the brain when you listen to music. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, listening to music that you enjoy activates the same reward centers in the brain that are activated by food, sex and drugs. That's right: Your brain likes listening to music just as much as it likes doing other pleasurable things.
Dancing around helps boost your mood further because it's an exercise that increases endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of happiness and euphoria. They're released when you exercise, eat chocolate or have sex, among other things. Regularly engaging in these activities can help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety over time.
- Make something artistic
Taking up an artistic or creative hobby can help you distract yourself from those frightening thoughts. There is some research that shows that making art reduces anxiety and depression. You can also use art as a way to get in touch with your own inner voice and express how you're feeling. In particular, painting, drawing, writing poetry or songs, and photography can all be very effective ways of communicating your fears visually or metaphorically.
You can also break out your inner artist when you're feeling afraid by using words and phrases to create something beautiful that speaks to your heart. For example, take a piece of paper and write down whatever feelings come to mind—whether it's an emotion like “scared” or “anxious,” an image that comes to mind when you think about being afraid (for me it's always spiders), or a memory that makes you feel sad or upset.
- Tackle something on your to-do list
One of the most productive, yet easiest ways to distract yourself from scary thoughts is to tackle something on your to-do list. When you find yourself constantly worrying about a certain subject, focus all that energy into something positive and productive. For example, if you’re worried about an upcoming test, study for it instead of wallowing in worry. Or if you’re concerned about the state of your bank account, make a budget instead of lying awake at night. Focusing on something concrete will help you shift your focus away from your worries and toward a solution that might make everything better.
Distracting yourself from scary thoughts might be the best approach. You have to look at them when they come, sure, but the best thing you can do is to focus your attention on something else, something positive. Good luck!
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