Saturday, 20 July 2013

Anxiety Diaries | The Distraction Box

Moments of anxiety can sometimes bring an unpleasant sense of disconnection, when worry consumes your thoughts and renders you feeling somehow disconnected from the real, tangible world around you. As a result of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions I've been attending, I've come to recognise that when anxious or upsetting thoughts and feelings begin to take over, I tend to rely on a range of unhealthy quick fix 'solutions' to distract me and ground me in the present. 

When I was a teenager I went through a short period of what I guess could be called self-harm, although I never needed medical attention and I haven't got any visible scars. I was full of anxiety about GCSEs and my performance in exams, determined to get the A*s I longed for, and I entered a cycle of harming, 'comforting' myself and feeling calmer, only to harm again when my anxiety built up once more. In recent years I've used shopping and spending money to distract myself, as the physical action of holding and focusing on items grounds me somewhat in the present moment and enables me to feel rooted and centred, albeit only temporarily before feelings of guilt and further anxiety kick in. 

I've recently discovered that there are healthy alternatives available, healthy distraction techniques that can and do help me to root myself in the present moment, distancing myself from overwhelming thought patterns in order to then begin unpicking such thoughts in a positive and productive way. I came up with the idea of a 'distraction box' full of activities that I can turn to instead of automatically harming myself by going shopping or harming myself in other ways. All of the contents are healthy, calming and free from negative side effects. They bring me back into the present, to a more stable and rooted place. Once I've gained this distance from anxious or upsetting thoughts I'm in a much better place to begin challenging and changing those thoughts, something else CBT helps with. The great thing about a distraction box is that you can personalise it and fill it with things you feel will work for you. Here's what's in my box so far:

  • Slips with grounding exercises on ~ I have a few favourite grounding exercises I use. One involves closing your eyes and listening carefully to the sounds around you. What can you hear? How many sounds can you detect? What is loudest? What is quietest? Are there any hidden sounds? After a minute or two, open your eyes and ask yourself if you feel more grounded having spent time focusing on the present. I've found it  works really well! My other favourite is to sit on a chair with my feet placed firmly on the ground and my hands in my lap. I close my eyes and take a deep breath in; as I breath in I imagine roots reaching up from the earth, connecting to my feet, spreading all the way through my body to the top of my head, anchoring me to the ground. On each breath out I direct my breath back into the ground and beyond, channeling it along the roots. I do this for five or ten minutes, before reaching down and placing my palms on the floor, 'pushing' any excess energy back into the earth. 
  • Maths worksheets, crosswords, colouring book and pencils ~ I used to hate maths lessons at school but there's no doubt that solving sums helps me focus! I could never sing and sum at the same time (unlike one of my best friends who I sat next to in maths class for five years) so I know that when I'm subtracting or dividing I'm fully rooted in the moment! Crosswords require a similar immediate focus, as does colouring in pictures. 
  • Nail polish and face masks ~ Often the sensation of doing something tangible roots me into the present moment. When I apply my make-up every morning I always feel very calm and focused, and it's the same with painting my nails or applying a face mask. 
  • Affirmation slips ~ My favourite affirmation at the moment is 'I am found', in direct contrast to the thought that's usually directing my anxiety, 'I am lost'. I'll be writing a post about this soon, as I've found creating alternative, positive affirmations so interesting and powerful when it comes to grounding and to changing unhelpful thought patterns.
  • Pens, paper, envelopes ~ I thought it might be a nice idea to include letter writing, as I used to write letters to friends and family all the time when I was younger. Writing with a pen rather than on my laptop makes me feel far more grounded, I think due to the physical sensation of the muscles in my hand really working at creating letters and words while holding the pen. Having to think carefully about the words I'm writing gives me an alternative focus to anxious thoughts and feelings. 
  • Italian language pack ~ Learning a language takes a lot of concentration and focus! I'm not putting any pressure on myself with this, but I'm using various Italian resources as a way of diverting my attention from anxiety to something positive and fun! Plus, hearing an abundance of foreign words immediately acts as a contrast to the repetitive English anxious words swirling around inside my head. 
  • CDs ~ Singing and dancing is another way I've found to centre myself and bring me into the moment. Plus it counts as exercise and it feels so good to sing at the top of your voice! I've included lots of fast music for dancing and some slower songs for singing. A personal favourite is anything by The Dixie Chicks as their music is so good to sing along to, even (especially?!) the sadder songs. I love a bit of country music to vent my stresses!
Of course, you can add all sorts of other things to a distraction box. It's a personal choice, and it's a choice open to everyone. My distraction box is really helping me gain control over my anxiety and moments of low mood by giving me space to reconnect with reality and ground myself before attempting to tackle and ultimately change anxious thought patterns. If CBT has taught me one thing, it's that you can regain a sense of control over your thoughts and feelings. It feels so hard at times, especially when I'm experiencing a moment of extreme anxiety, but there is hope and anxiety doesn't have to rule my thoughts. What a freeing realisation! 



  1. This is such a good idea, I especially love the first and second suggestion. I'll be trying these out for myself next time I can feel anxiety rearing her ugly head. I really do hope it works for you xxx

    1. So glad it might help you too, so far it's been really helpful for me but of course the real test will be during a super tough time. I feel like I've got some good tools to draw upon now, so hopefully it will continue to help :) xx

  2. Such a great and helpful post! Im sure a lot of us have gone through something similar! Amazing post.

    from Brigitte at // BreezeyBee Blog | BlogLovin'

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    1. Thanks Brigitte, glad you have found it helpful :) I think anxiety is a lot more widespread than we realise sometimes xx

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I'm similar in terms of spending money and buying things, then I get anxious about money and its a vicious cycle.
    I have my own little distractions but lately they're not working. This has really helped!

    Thank you again!

    oOo Becky oOo

    BKY Bubble oOo Beauty, Life, Baby, Bits & Bobs

    1. I'm so glad to hear it's helped, hopefully you can adapt some of the ideas to create your own box of distractions to help you during difficult times. It certainly isn't always easy is it? I'm really hoping to get to grips with my spending cycle as I feel that's one of the main things I'd like to break xx

  4. This was so interesting. I get anxiety around exam time and it's horrible. I'm a Psychology student too so I love reading about things like this. I'm your new follower by the way :)

    1. Thanks so much hun, I also get horrible anxiety around exam time. Have you tried CBT or mindfulness techniques before? I'm finding them really helpful xx


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