Mental Platter: The Power of Positive Distraction

Shenica R. Graham
10 min readMar 31, 2021

The Power of Positive Distraction

We have all been advised to avoid distractions because they can leave us wasting productive time on things that will not contribute to our wellbeing or the greater good. In this world of constant interruptions and an increasing population of people with mental health challenges, we need to understand that distraction done in the right way for the right reason, can be a healing hand. Distraction as a tool is like money: it is neither here nor there in terms of morality. The important thing is what you do with the money or the tool.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a distraction is: 1.) “A thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else”; 1.1 “A diversion or recreation”; and 2.) “Extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.” Although distraction can either be a “diversion” or “recreation”, when something is deemed a distraction, it is typically put into the negative column. An “extreme agitation” also sounds negative; however, this could also be a jolt of positive energy that forces the mind and emotions to change course. Distraction is temporary. It is understood that you will return to the original situation after some interval.

Distraction is apparently influential in regulating emotions related to anxiety disorders such as PTSD, depression, and chronic pain. Scientists have found that the amygdala (part of the limbic system of the brain that is recognized as responsible for memory and conditioned fear response) is over-stimulated in people suffering from PTSD. It appears that positive distraction is able to decrease the activation of the amygdala. Negative distraction is avoiding the question for a prolonged period, like numbing (avoiding feelings of feeling discomfort by taking action to dull the emotional experience).

A Summary of The Research on Positive Distraction

Positive distraction is defined as, “an environmental feature that elicits positive feelings and holds attention without taxing or stressing the individual, thereby blocking worrisome thoughts” (Ulrich, 1991, p. 102). It aims to create distance from emotional distress, allowing you to process uncomfortable feelings. The strategy of positive distraction is also…

Shenica R. Graham

Shenica Graham holds a BA in Psychology and BA in General Studies. She teaches courses in mental health disorders and behavior modification.