As I write this article, I would probably class myself as being in crisis. It’s a horrible place to be and it feels like no matter how hard I try, I cannot feel better. I have been told by the Crisis Team to distract as much as possible. This advice frustrates a lot of people because they cannot see how distraction is going to “cure” them of their suicidal/manic thoughts. It’s not designed to take all that pain away or make things better. Distraction serves as a short term solution to help you slow your thoughts down and focus on something else for a short while until meds can kick in that will help you feel better and until your crisis passes.
So what distraction mechanisms help me?
If I am in the early throws of a crisis, where my thoughts are racing but I have not hit an agitated state to the point of being useless then I find writing useful. I am writing this article now to channel all of my excess energy (I have Bipolar and currently in a mixed episode) but it has also helped me in the past to channel severe depressive and suicidal thoughts. Sometimes I write about how I am feeling. Other times I write about a topic completely unrelated to how I am feeling. I have written some amazing things whilst in crisis, and when I read them back I cannot believe that I have written them.
If you are able to concentrate for long enough then reading is a god distraction. It enables you to escape reality for a little while and can help slow the thoughts down for a while.
Using art to distract your mind in a crisis is fast becoming a popular distraction technique. I cannot draw, but I do have a mindfulness colouring book and I also have a colouring app. It’s a technique that doesn’t require much thought and you can just focus on what you are doing, colouring within the lines, which colour you are going to pick next etc. I used to laugh when people suggested this to me because my initial reaction was that it was a bit childish, but since trying it, it is now one of my first “go to” distraction techniques.
Having a bath/Aromatherapy
This is usually one of the crisis team’s suggestions which really frustrates a lot of people. But it does serve a purpose. If you own lots of nice bubble baths and bath salts, the scents and smells tend to have calming effect, especially if you have things like lavender and chamomile scents. I also light candles too as I find the smells relaxing and quite often I stop to think “that smells nice” and reflect upon what I can smell for a short period, often without realising I am doing it.
I am a little biased towards this one as I am a gamer, although I do struggle to play some games whilst I am agitated. But I find games like solitaire or bejewelled useful because they are only short games, but do require a degree of concentration. Sometimes I get frustrated and give up, but other times it’s enough to slow my mind down.
As much as I hate cleaning, it is a good distraction. I can do it at my own pace and it doesn’t require much thinking or skill. When I am cleaning I tend to focus on what I am doing, rather than my mind wandering off at a tangent.
There is something about baking that is extremely therapeutic. I’m not sure if it’s getting stuck in and dirty, whisking violently or following instructions, but after a baking session I am always a lot calmer. A very tasty way to end a crisis.
I would avoid anything triggering at all costs. But if there is a TV show you like to watch, or you have a favourite movie then I would recommend this. This is a great distraction technique as it requires very little effort. There is something comforting about watching your favourite movie whilst snuggled under a blanket in your pyjamas.
Going for a walk
If you feel up to it and safe enough, I find walking a good distraction. It helps to clear your mind and also gets you out of the house and active. Because you are moving about, you release endorphins which are the “feel good” hormone. You can also focus on what is happening around you, whether it’s just noticing the buildings, the hustle and bustle of your town or admiring the view.
Exercise releases endorphins which is the “feel good” hormone. It can also help you relieve some of that pent up rage and emotion.
This is great way to bring you back into the present rather than being consumed by your thoughts. There are many exercises to try such as deep breathing, body scanning, guided imagery and focusing on objects.
If you have pets then a great way to distract yourself is give them some fuss and love. Pets love attention and they also have a way of sensing when you are not feeling well. It’s very therapeutic.
Talking to People
One of the best techniques for distraction is talking to people – someone to chat to, to take your mind away from the distressing thoughts can be incredibly helpful. The SF chat room is open and free 24/7, 365 days a year. There is almost always someone there ready to chat with.