Strategies to Redirect Your Thoughts and Distract Your Mind
April 25, 2020
These grounding exercises, from UH Connor Integrative Health Network, use mental distractions to help redirect your thoughts away from distressing feelings and back to the present.
Play a Memory Game
Look at a detailed photograph or picture (like a cityscape or other “busy” scene) for 5 to 10 seconds. Then, turn the photograph face-down and recreate the photograph in your mind, in as much detail as possible. Or, you can mentally list all the things you remember from the picture.
Think in Categories
Choose one or two broad categories, such as “musical instruments,” “ice cream flavors,” “mammals,” or “baseball teams.” Take a minute or two to mentally list as many things from each category as you can.
Use Math and Numbers
Even if you aren’t a math person, numbers can help center you. Try:
- Running through a times table in your head.
- Counting backward from 100
- Choosing a number and thinking of five ways you could make the number (6 + 11 = 17, 20 – 3 = 17, 8 × 2 + 1 = 17, etc.)
Think of a poem, song, or book passage you know by heart. Recite it quietly to yourself or in your head. If you say the words aloud, focus on the shape of each word on your lips and in your mouth. If you say the words in your head, visualize each word as you’d see it on a page.
Make Yourself Laugh
Make up a silly joke — the kind you’d find on a candy wrapper or popsicle stick. You might also make yourself laugh by watching your favorite funny animal video, a clip from a comedian or TV show you enjoy, or anything else you know will make you laugh.
Use an Anchoring Phrase
This might be something like, ““I’m Full Name. I’m X years old. I live in City, State. Today is Friday, June 3. It’s 10:04 in the morning. I’m sitting at my desk at work. There’s no one else in the room. You can expand on the phrase by adding details until you feel calm, such as, “It’s raining lightly, but I can still see the sun. It’s my break time. I’m thirsty, so I’m going to make a cup of tea.”
Visualize a Daily Task You Enjoy or Don’t Mind Doing
If you like doing laundry, for example, think about how you’d put away a finished load. “The clothes feel warm coming out of the dryer. They’re soft and a little stiff at the same time. They feel light in the basket, even though they spill over the top. I’m spreading them out over the bed so they won’t wrinkle. I’m folding the towels first, shaking them out before folding them into halves, then thirds,” and so on.
Describe a Common Task
Think of an activity you do often or can do very well, such as making coffee, locking up your office, or tuning a guitar. Go through the process step-by-step, as if you’re giving someone else instructions on how to do it.
Imagine Yourself Leaving the Painful Feelings Behind
- Gathering the emotions, balling them up, and putting them into a box
- Walking, swimming, biking, or jogging away from painful feelings
- Imagining your thoughts as a song or TV show you dislike, changing the channel or
- Turning down the volume — they’re still there, but you don’t have to listen to them.
Describe What’s Around You
Spend a few minutes taking in your surroundings and noting what you see. Use all five senses
to provide as much detail as possible. “This bench is red, but the bench over there is green. It’s warm under my jeans since I’m sitting in the sun. It feels rough, but there aren’t any splinters. The grass is yellow and dry. The air smells like smoke. I hear kids having fun and two dogs barking.”
Grounding yourself isn’t always easy. It may take some time before the techniques work well for you, but don’t give up on them.
How to get the most out of these techniques:
- Practice. It can help to practice grounding even when you aren’t dissociating or experiencing distress. If you get used to an exercise before you need to use it, it may take less effort when you want to use it to cope in the moment.
- Start early. Try doing a grounding exercise when you first start to feel bad. Don’t wait for distress to reach a level that’s harder to handle. If the technique doesn’t work at first, try to stick with it for a bit before moving on to another.
UH Connor Integrative Health Network has remote appointment options that allow you to continue to manage your health safely from the comfort of your own home. Call 216-877-8577 to learn more about our virtual options for acupressure, stress management, integrative health consults and more.