A woman wearing her dark hair in a up-do and floral bandana. Her eyes are closed as sunshine lightly covers her calm, serene face. Photo by Cesar La Rosa.
Everyday Lifestyle

Distraction Techniques To Ease Anxiety

Whether it’s through a diagnosed anxiety disorder or from generalized stress about an upcoming event or temporary apprehension triggered by a situation that will resolve itself over time; anxiety is a common experience that many people will encounter.

Feelings of overwhelm, fear, situational depression or experiencing prolonged stressors can leave us exhausted and frayed. Anxiety symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, dry mouth, distress, difficulty concentrating, etc can use up a lot of mental and physical energy. So what coping mechanisms can help us work through an anxiety attack? 

There are a number of anxiety relief techniques that can provide a way to self-soothe and calm our nerves. One I’ve found incredibly effective recently when dealing with sudden, unexpected bouts of anxiety is using a distraction method, also referred to as grounding. This is a strategy that aims to refocus the mind away from trying to challenge/get control of emotions and feelings. It’s a way of redirecting attention; giving the mind a chance to settle into a more manageable response.

On a white background is a justified left photo by Cesar La Rosa of a woman wearing her dark hair in a up-do and floral bandana. Her eyes are closed as sunshine lightly covers her calm, serene face. Justified right and next to her are the words, ‘Distraction Techniques To Ease Anxiety’ which is the name of the post on Transatlantic Notes this graphic links to.

It’s worth noting that distraction techniques are not a one-size-fits-all approach to easing anxiety symptoms. It won’t be ideal for everyone, and its effectiveness will fluctuate at times; coping with anxiety and depression isn’t simple or formulaic. As a tactic, however, it can be utilized immediately; allowing it a decent chance at disrupting an anxiety loop (attack).

If you’re concerned about your anxiety and it’s impeding your ability to go about your daily life, seek advice from a medical professional. Helplines are included at the end of this article.

Here are some useful ways you can ground yourself …

When You’re At Home

  • Clean, organize or sort an area of your home, garden or the room you’re in. Ordering things helps focus attention on what you’re doing rather than what you’re experiencing/feeling. It provides direction for your mind and may lessen the anxiety enough to pass.
  • Have a very cold drink or place an ice pack that’s wrapped in a tea towel on the back of your neck (always have ice and/or ice packs in your freezer ready to go). The cold provides the body with an alternative sensation to focus on rather than how we may be physically responding to the anxiety we’re experiencing. Notice or describe to yourself how it feels on your neck, arms and face, etc.
  • Undertaking gentle and calming physical activity will reduce the build-up of cortisol, our bodies main stress hormone and release endorphins, our feel-good hormone. Doing some bed yoga, stretches or walking outside are all positive examples of various exercises that can help improve anxiety and our general mental/physical well-being.
A young woman with pink hair, black glasses and wearing an orange sweater sits with her arms crossed over her raised knees. She’s gazing out over a cityscape at dusk. Photo by Finn Hackshaw.
photo via Finn Hackshaw

When You’re At Home Or Out In Public

  • Practice some focused breathing; if you can, find somewhere suitable to sit, relax/lower your shoulders, steady breath in through the nose for 3 seconds, out through the mouth for 4 seconds, repeat. This will help settle your breathing and relax your mind/body, plus counting breaths in and out will provide the brain with something to concentrate on. There are many breathing techniques that can help reduce anxiety; I use the one outlined above because it’s simple and will likely go unnoticed if I have to do it in the presence of other people. 
  • A classic grounding technique is counting. By noticing the number of red cars or letters on a poster, books on a shelf or cans of soup at a store, etc; the brain is drawn to categorizing what’s around it and naturally concentrates on what you’re seeking. You can count anything that’s around you — but if that’s too visually stimulating or you’re visually impaired, recite sequential numbers in your head; I use the nine times tables (forwards and backwards).
  • Similar to counting, categorizing things around you in terms of colour, type, size, etc is a great mental distraction. Noticing things within a theme can help your brain refocus and find some calm. If this is also too visually stressful or you’re visually impaired, think about categories of things you like (favourite food/smells/musical artists/songs or most calming textures or sensations, for example).

Living with anxiety can be really difficult so it’s important to find someone you can talk to. Every so often, a trusted friend or family member is all you need to cope with whatever is thrown your way. But talking about anxiety isn’t the most straightforward thing to manage. For those of us who experience it, anxiety often carries an incredible weight and fear that we’re being a burden to those around us; always remember the people who care about us want to see us thrive.

However, if you feel you can’t talk to family or friends, please check out the helplines and resources listed below. You deserve support — remember to be kind to yourself when dealing with the complexities and nuances of anxiety.


Further Info & Support:

NAMI Helpline – a free, nationwide U.S. resource that offers experienced peer-support guidance and advice

CheckPoint – global (by country) resources for mental health support

How To Help Someone With Anxiety – Hopkins Medicine

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55 thoughts on “Distraction Techniques To Ease Anxiety”

  1. Wow there’s some amazing techniques that I’ve never heard of before. I’ll definitely be trying an ice pack next time.
    Thank you so much for sharing

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    1. I try to have a few different grounding techniques that I can pull out anytime I feel an anxiety attack coming. It’s really reassuring to know that I have things at the ready that help — which by itself can actually stop it getting really bad. I hope you find the ice pack or the other tips useful!

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  2. These are great tips Molly. Sometimes, stress leaves me feeling anxious. Whenever I am feeling anxious, I try doing something I enjoy. This was a very informative post. There are a lot of techniques I never knew before here. Thank you for sharing

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    1. I hope you find one or more of these techniques helps you. I think having a number of options in our mental health ‘toolkit’ that we can utilize whenever we need them is such a good idea. I definitely feel better knowing that I have several options to support myself (which in and of itself reduces my anxiety overall). Thanks so much for reading!

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  3. i def use cleaning as a way to distract my anxious mind. & it’s a win win because it works & i have a clean house afterward. loved all these suggestions and will look back on this when i need the reminder.

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  4. These are all amazing techniques! Completely agree that there’s not one size fit all. I find that cleaning and organising really help me ground myself when feeling anxious as well as doodling. I will try to concentrate on something around and categorise too! x

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  5. This is a super helpful list! I’ve always found journaling a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. I’ve never tried the cold drink or ice pack idea, but I’m curious to see if that would be effective for me.

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    1. I use the ice pack if I have a quite intense sudden onset of anxiety as it sort of startles the senses a bit but in a manageable way. My physical brain then focuses on the cold sensation and calms the anxiety enough to work through it. I hope if you try it out that it proves useful!

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  6. This is a wonderful post – thank you so much for putting together these anxiety-reducing techniques. I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a child, so I’m always looking for tips. I like how you’ve split them into ones to do alone and ones to do in public!

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    1. I have also struggled with anxiety since I was a child and it’s something I’m still getting to grips with (like accepting I have to live with it and it won’r magically go away). I find I experience a number of anxiety attacks when I’m going out so I figured other people probably do too and need subtle bu effective ways to deal with it. Thanks so much for reading!

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  7. Great suggestions! I love how you listed techniques for when you’re at home and when you’re out. So helpful! I find when I’m really anxious cleaning up really helps me get grounded. As an added bonus I also feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m done. I will definitely try the counting technique next time I feel anxious when I’m out. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Lovely post, Molly! When I’m feeling a bit anxious, I like to draw up a nice candle-lit bath and rom-com! I rarely ever get time to do it so I save it for when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Organizing and cleaning is another great tip! Thanks for sharing x

    Lynn | https://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

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  9. These are very helpful tips. I haven’t seen some of these techniques before. Thanks for sharing them with us. I’m about to face a project that causes me anxiety and I’ll be trying a few of these.

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  10. Such a fantastic post, thanks for sharing. I have been struggling with anxiety for all my adult life and can personally testify for the methods shared here. I wish I had found a blog post like this all those years ago when I first started struggling, it would have been so helpful. I also swear by the 5,4,3,2,1 method which is a variation of the counting exercise that you discussed in your post. Thanks again, M xoxo

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    1. I am so glad you have benefitted from techniques like this — they’ve made a huge difference to for me too. I have tried the 5,4,3,2,1 method and although it doesn’t quite work so well for me, I’m glad you shared this as I know it is very beneficial to lots of people who use it. Thank you so much for reading!

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  11. Great post, these are amazing techniques, I’ve suffered anxiety for so many years and I’m definitely going to try the ice pack idea, I’ve never heard of that before. Thanks for sharing. ♥

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  12. Hello Molly, thanks for sharing a great post! I suffer with anxiety and these tips are really helpful. I love your techniques and LOVE putting a cold pack on my neck when I’m at home. Alicia

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    1. It’s so useful to have a mental health ‘toolkit’ that we can utilize as and when we need to. I hope your techniques continue to work for you and if any of these are new and you try them out that they prove helpful. Thanks so much for reading!

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  13. Great and helpful post! Whenever my anxiety attacks, I always tend to do the first thine you have mentioned. Organizing and decluttering to the point I will ransack my already but not so organized things and start to organize and fix them again by color coding and size hahhaha

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  14. These are some great tips – I get really anxious when I get stressed out or especially with going out and about at the moment after being locked in for some long, so will definitely be using some of these!

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    1. This very unique time during this ongoing pandemic has been a struggle on so many levels. You are definitely not alone in experiencing stress and anxiety going out and about again — I hope these techniques help you as much as they have helped me. Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

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