Plus 6 ways to constructively distract yourself on your path to healing
If you are processing some heavy emotions or issues, for example, a long-distance move, finalizing a divorce, or grieving the loss of a loved one, it may benefit you to create a purposeful routine for yourself, a program of sorts to follow, that involves lots of little ways to keep you in a space of “belonging”, and inclusion, and motivated to stay engaged with the world around you.
This is a nice idea but may be easier said than done. Particularly if you’re the introverted type, the very last thing you probably want to do, even on your best day, is go out and join the local bridge club or something… “Engaging with the world” is never particularly high on the priority list for an introvert. Especially not when we’re working through something, and everything feels so sensitive and emotionally charged. As an introvert myself, I get it, and I am definitely not advocating forced bridge club memberships.
But I think it’s good to recognize two things:
- Constructive distractions can help navigate tough emotions
- Humans love routine
It is very calming and comforting to our nervous system when surprises and stresses are kept to a minimum. When the day is planned out with the right amount of activities for you, your mind can rest easy. We know that first we’ll do this, then we’ll do this. There is perceived control.
If you’re like me, a little dab’ll do ya. Even when I’m in my best mental state, I’m not one to pack my schedule with stuff. I need a lot of breathing room between activities, so if I do two things in a day, which is often the case, that’s just fine. Your mileage may vary. The point is that when you are facing big emotional challenges that are throwing you out of whack, you may be able to get back in whack (whatever that looks like for you) by simply firming up your schedule a bit. Add a couple of activities each day that you are interested in doing, that you know are good for you, and that you can definitely check off the to-do list with minimal issues.
Constructive distractions to get your emotions back in whack
When we’re feeling highly emotional, and everything in life is up in the air, it’s easy to overeat, overdrink, oversleep, and generally overdo it, none of which helps anything. In fact, going overboard in any way is sure to involve a crash at the other end. So really, you’re just prolonging your own agony. Best to lean into more constructive distractions like a long walk, coffee with friends, a challenging workout, or baking a delicious cake.
In the 1990s, there was a study by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University and Dr. David Skoner of the University of Pittsburgh looking at social behavior and the common cold. The study found that people with a larger social circle were less likely to catch colds than people who weren’t as social.
Anyone who knows a thing about germs will recognize that this makes no sense. But it’s not all about the germs. The people with more places to go and people to see also feel a sense of belonging and of being needed in these places they’re always rushing off to. This helps their bodies stay strong so they can be ready for the next thing they’re doing. Can we parlay the takeaways from that study into ideas for helping ourselves through emotional hardships? I think we can.
It’s good to have some things planned out, and those things may even keep you healthier as you move into this new chapter of your life. But if you’re a more solitary person and not inclined toward socializing much, how do you create a self-supportive program or routine that works for you?
I have been able to help my not-so-social self greatly over the last several weeks as I navigate the loss of a loved one, by being a little more strict with my schedule, time, and attention, and a lot more open to going with the flow (if I want to, of course).
Sometimes, I just don’t want to do something. In that case, I don’t. But if I am using this as a tool for helping myself out of a tough emotional place, I can pause for a moment when I’m offered the opportunity to take a yoga class with someone, go out for food, attend a birthday party, or whatever. Is the initial clench because I really don’t want to go? Or is it because I’m sad, and hiding in bed sounds more “fun”? Do I have the time to do this thing before my next scheduled thing? Is there a real reason not to do it?
I find that often I do have time, and that indeed I am just sad. There isn’t a good reason not to go. So I go and do the thing, and let me tell you: the coming home part is amazing! But joking aside, I’m always glad I went. I need hugs and connection, particularly now, and I don’t always recognize that. But I think it’s important to try, and by pausing for a beat, I sometimes end up with a bit of spontaneous fun and belonging in my day. I can absolutely see how it’s good for my health.
My 6 favorite constructive distractions
This has always been something of a focus in my life, but these days, I have ramped things up a bit, and I do everything I can to stick to my schedule. I wake up at 5:30 am and go for a long brisk walk. Then I spend some time doing weights, Pilates, yoga, and whatever else my body needs that day. I do this Monday through Saturday for the first couple of hours of each day.
It’s become such a cliche that I have grown to loathe the phrase, but it’s true. I’m way into Self-Care Sunday. I make a point of doing everything my body wants me to do on that special day. I stretch, eat particularly well, lay around a lot, and maybe get some brunch. Whatever sounds good is what I do.
Instead of vegging out in bed watching Netflix, I now have a budding interest in podcasts. I think they’re a good tool for healing because they require somewhat undivided attention, and when you find the right one, it’s kind of like being part of a conversation with like-minded friends. Podcasts can offer new perspectives and bend your mind in ways it very much doesn’t when you’re lounging around watching reruns of Gossip Girl. Again.
I particularly like The Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. It focuses on meditation and general health and wellness topics. Some episodes have guided meditations you can try, or for more of a seamless experience (no ads or extraneous talking), there’s a Ten Percent Happier app.
I use the Insight Timer app, or you can just set an alarm on your phone to remind you once (or twice) a day to stop, refocus your brain, and breathe. You can download any number of apps that will do the reminding and the guiding for you, like Insight Timer or Ten Percent Happier.
Since I have changed up my workout routine, my body has been more sore than usual. So I take 10-15 minutes in the afternoon after I have finished my work for the day to chill out and stretch. I do stretch a bit after my morning workout, but this afternoon stretch allows me to undesk my body and visit all the places that have stiffened up over the day. It’s also a nice transition away from work time into personal time.
Giant Salads & Rice Bowls
I know that proper nutrition is particularly important as I find my way through a challenging time in life. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not a great cook. I don’t enjoy it, and I’m not creative with food, but I do know what’s healthy for me. So I get a lot of veggies, and I make a lot of big, yummy salads. I also cook a couple of cups of rice at a time to have in the fridge. I toss it together with veggies and make an easy stir fry. I’m no chef, but I do eat well. I know that good nutrition matters in so many ways, so it’s a key distraction for me right now.
I hope that whatever you’re going through, you find your way through it by doing things that feel good and right to you. My list of remedies for myself is obviously different than it will be for others. But I hope it gives you some ideas and helps motivate you to find unique ways of caring for yourself during this important time of transition. By partnering with yourself and showing yourself support and compassion, you’re bound to come out the other side stronger. And you’ll end up with a better relationship with your Self too, which is invaluable as you continue moving through life.