It seems that smartphones and other devices have redefined and expanded the ways in which we distract ourselves. How many times have you found yourself endlessly scrolling through Facebook or playing just one more level of Candy Crush instead of actually being engaged in life? Electronic devices aren’t our only forms of distraction; eating, drugs, alcohol, spending money and watching TV are just some of the common ways we opt to “check out” for a bit. But why are we distracting ourselves in the first place? Most people’s initial answer would be “I’m not.” My answer would be that we engage in unhealthy distraction more often than not. We are a nation and a culture of individuals that has mastered the art of avoidance. By avoidance I mean engaging in any activity that alleviates (or will be perceived to alleviate) discomfort. So you scroll through Facebook 10 more times because that prevents the onset of anxiety that will arise when you try to tackle the mountain of laundry piling up in the closet. Or you “crush” more candy because talking to your significant other may mean addressing feelings or situations that are best put off for another time.Avoidance lowers our frustration tolerance (our ability to healthily combat challenging events and situations), resulting in a skewed perception of what is stressful or anxiety provoking. We convince ourselves that the discomfort that accompanies normal, everyday upsets SHOULD not be felt. The more we avoid through unhealthy distraction, the more numb and less tolerant we become.
How do we combat this? First, we need to acknowledge that everyday discomfort and stress is normal. Get out of the mindset that nothing should ever be challenging or upsetting. Second, when you catch yourself avoiding, ask yourself; What am I distracting myself from and why? Third, allow yourself to feel the discomfort that comes with everyday challenges and remind yourself that this is how it is supposed to feel. Lastly, be mindful of everything you do. Be present and act with intention.
We all need distraction in our lives, healthy distraction, but mind-numbing activities that are devoid of feeling only pull us further away from ourselves.