by Andrea M. Darcy
Daily distractions can be a bit of mindless fun.
But they can also be a way to escape ourselves, and the results can be far from positive.
Are you hiding behind a habit of distraction?
Habits of distraction – sound familiar?
The following habits, if overused, can be an unconscious distraction or ‘escape’ from uncomfortable emotions and thoughts:
[Consciously choose to do these things instead of getting work done? Then go read our articles on Procrastination and Adult ADHD instead.]
But what exactly am I trying to escape?
Constant use of habits that give you a feeling of escape are often helping you avoid one or several of the following:
Repressed anger or sadness can stem from a childhood where you were taught it’s ‘bad’ to feel and express certain emotions.
Or it could be that you are repressing thoughts and feelings from a recent life change. Did you take a new job, move house, are you in a new relationship? It might be that you are simply not being honest with yourself about the situation.
Often, however, escape behaviours are used to hide from memories and feelings of a distant or even forgotten childhood trauma. This can include abandonment, bereavement, and physical or sexual abuse.
But surely this habit is normal?! I’ve done it forever…
“But I’ve done everything on the above list at some point. Surely things like TV watching and texting are normal?”
Short term use of escape habits is indeed normal. Eating a tub of ice cream every night post breakup to distract yourself from crying is a classic example, as is binge watching TV after a hellish week at work. The difference here is that we are completely conscious of what we are doing. We mentally choose to ‘escape’. We actually are not hiding from what we feel, but taking a break.
But when it comes to long-term reliance on distractions?
It depends on how much you are doing such habits, the ways you indulge, and why.
How to know if your daily distraction habit might hide something
If someone upsets me, or I have a ‘bad day’, do I immediately turn to this activity?
Do I use this activity whenever I ‘feel bored’?
Do I feel comfortably numbed out after I indulge this habit?
Does the rest of the world fade back a little, or even disappear, when I do this activity?
Do I often lose track of time entirely when using this habit?
If someone asked me to give this habit up for a week, would I feel anxious?
Have I ever found myself halfway through using this habit before realising I was doing so? Or had a feeling of ‘coming to’ midway, as if from a trance?
Is this a habit I often turn to when I have to spend time alone? Do I perhaps even prefer doing this thing alone?
Has anyone ever accused me of having a problem with this habit but I’ve denied it?
Have I been accused of being emotionally repressed, ‘shut off’, ‘hard to read’, or ‘cold’?
Have I ever lied and said I had something important to do so I could go home and indulge my habit? Like saying I had to work then going home and binge watching TV instead of going to a dinner party?
Is my hobby a secret? Do you overeat in secret, have textathons with an ex in secret, spend hours at night cruising the internet in secret, hide your trashy romance novels from your friends?
If you answered yes to several or many of the above, there is a good chance you are using your habit to escape yourself.
The price of avoidance behaviours
Using habits to escape uncomfortable thoughts and feelings might have been a very useful coping mechanism when you were younger. As a child or adolescent, overeating or playing endless video games might have been the only resort available to things you felt you couldn’t control. The problem is that spending your entire adult life in distraction mode stops being intelligent or helpful.
Using habits of distraction can mean the following:
What do I do if I think I have a problem with distraction habits?
You can start with self-help. Read up about topics like repressed anger, attachment theory, and childhood trauma. You might also find mindfulness hugely helpful when it comes to getting in touch with your long-avoided thoughts and feelings. (Our free, easy to read, and comprehensive Guide to Mindfulness is a great place to start).
Ultimately, the help of a professional is advised. Repressed emotions and memories can be overwhelming to navigate alone, and friends and family can be too invested to be the help they mean to be. It can be a huge relief to have the unbiased support a counsellor or psychotherapist provides.
Harley Therapy puts you in touch with counsellors and psychotherapists who can help you navigate repressed emotions and experiences. Not in the UK? We can also connect you with experienced Online Therapists wherever you are.
Still have a question about daily distractions and what they can mean? Or want to share an experience with our readers? Post below.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and personal development teacher with training in person-centred counselling and coaching, as well as a popular psychology writer. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy