Mental Platter is syndicated on medium.com (https://shenicargraham.medium.com/) and published periodically in the PATH Program newsletter of Broadlawns Medical Center.


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 choosing to take up a task or activity that keeps one from overly processing a negative thought. This can help you to avoid rumination – mulling over a negative thought for an extended period of time. Thus, the hallmark of positive distraction is positive feelings and a lack of the typical stress that negative distraction elicits. There is strong evidence that positive distraction helps reduce pain perception.

Research by psychologist Susan Nolem-Hoeksema shows that using the distraction method makes one less likely to experience anxious and depressive symptoms. This includes rumination – mulling over a negative thought for an extended period of time. Dr. Jane McGonigal describes in her book, SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully, how distractions can be a powerful tool for reducing the impact of painful or negative experiences. Positive distraction may be a useful coping strategy for helping people to be more resilient in the face of challenges. It replenishes energy levels lost during an initial stressor and buffers from the negative emotional and fatiguing consequences of a second stressor.

The LAW of Positive Distraction

One of the common threads in the positive distraction experiences is waiting: those who would make the transition from psychopathology to mental health, need to progress through what I call the “LAW” of positive distraction: Leverage And Maintain. While you wait for your situation to change, you leverage the progress you are making right now by taking steps toward your total healing and recovery. These steps are anchor points to which you can fall back if any step proves to be too wide to maintain. But as long as your footing is steady and the anchor is strong, you remain willing to take the next step in your journey while you wait for deliverance.

It is vital to understand that waiting for deliverance is an active, not a passive experience. While you are waiting, you should be setting new anchor points and working to solidify the one at which you are currently standing. Thus, you move forward by leveraging and maintaining, and leveraging and maintaining, and leveraging and maintaining… The film and entertainment mogul, Tyler Perry describes a related process of curing yourself from anxiety. He explains that you should “… climb and maintain…” (the climbing is prayer and the worship is maintaining) that should be implemented along with the LAW of positive distraction because anything substantial that you want to accomplish should have the Creator in it. Since you fortify each anchor point, you actually should not have to fall back. This active participation of leveraging and maintaining moves you forward in your life and purpose while you wait for your healing and full recovery to manifest.

Distraction Techniques

The Beauty After Bruises blog provides a list of 101 Distraction Techniques divided into three categories of increasing mental and physical effort. There are tasks for: 1.) when you have low energy and a lack of focus; 2.) when you can handle more effort and can start a new activity; 3.) when you are ready to undertake something complicated in order to make a shift in your situation. This list is a good start, but mental fitness is like physical fitness: it requires a personalized approach to deal with intense stress that can have “a multitude of detrimental effects on the psychological and physical health of an individual.”

My Testimony of Positive Distraction

I don’t need statistics to know that chronic stress may lead to psychopathology including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. I have been dealing with abuse related chronic stress for over 35 years, and I have experienced all of the aforementioned mental health issues. My discovery of positive distraction was not due to research.

Recently, I was talking to a good friend (J.A.) about how drastically my life has changed in the last two years since I was released from a psych ward after a near-death experience and subsequent mental breakdown that manifested in a hospitalization lasting about twenty-two days in 2019. While on the ward, I started focusing on re-building my faith. I searched for and found a Bible. Three months after my release, I had no sign of the panic attacks that had previously monopolized my days in five and six instances a day prior to my mental breakdown.

When J.A. asked me what had changed, I explained the antidote as “positive distraction.” Having not previously heard of this phenomenon, I thought that I had coined the phrase myself. I now know that it was a divine revelation.

“… flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17

J.A. asked how I was spending my time. I recounted my weekly regimen of a part-time job, part-time business, a quarter-time second-job, and a side music project. He shared my progress with the PATH program director and she asked if I would write an article about positive distraction. I mentioned earlier in this article that waiting in an important part of healing through positive distraction; and that the concept of waiting is an action in this context. So what does active waiting look like?

In 2020, I applied for a Management position with my current employer. I did not get that position, but they offered me a different job with an extremely lower pay. I took the job because I was waiting for my change [in situation and circumstance] to come. While I was waiting, I leveraged my then-current experience to increase my spiritual and financial situations so that I would be ready to take whatever would be the next step for me in Godly purpose.

After a few days of working, I was going through some of my papers and found an application to that same employer, dated 2014. This was six years later. The Bible speaks of the year of Jubilee, the seventh year, when all debts are cancelled, and the blessing is poured out from heaven like never before. I thought, O.K. LORD, maybe this is where I am supposed to be. I struggled to pay bills while I worked that job for minimum wage.

Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

So, I worked that job for a year at minimum wage, although I have two college degrees. The enemy said, “They are playing you. They are never going to make you a manager. You should just quit now and go somewhere else.”

But I remember the Words of Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

I had to repent because although I felt led to stay there, I started making plans to leave after I got my tax return. Well, I filed my taxes in January and I still to this day, have not received my return. God closed doors that no man could open, so that I would not abort my blessing. I know you thank God opening doors for you; but you need to thank God for closing some doors that could have led you to losing your blessing. During the year that I worked at my previous job, another manager was hired over me. Satan started laughing at me. He said, “See. I told you, they don’t want you.” I was so upset. I was even angry.

But the LORD said in Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” And again, the Word says, in Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:” So I swallowed my pride, and I stayed there.

Then, just last week, I told my mother; I said, “Mom, if I don’t get my refund today, I am going to apply again for the Management position” (with my current employer). So I started checking my bank accounts. No deposits. I said, OK, LORD. I will trust you. I filled out the application on Friday, March 26th, 2021. I was told the next the day that I would have to wait until Monday for a decision since it was already the weekend.

When I told my boss that I had applied for management, it came out in our conversation that I had originally applied for management online a year ago. She was obviously shocked. She said that she had never received my first application. Satan does not know your future, but he can see your potential and recognize the theme and the season that you are in based on thousands of years of experience watching the people of God. I believe that Satan started fighting with my angels, to hold up my blessing. And many people were hired after me, but the Bible says in Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”

I want you to know today that 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;”

On Friday night, my Boss called me. And effective Monday, March 29th, in the year of my Awesome GOD 2021, I will be a new Manager. My Brothers and sisters, remember Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” And then, “Trust.” Somebody say, “Trust.”

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

And after you have made your request; and while you are trusting in and waiting on the LORD, just do Psalm 37:4, “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

A lot of us think of that scripture as meaning God will give you whatever you want. But the deeper meaning of Psalm 37:4 is that when you delight in the LORD, GOD will make your desires become the desires of His own heart. He will give you what desires that your heart should have. And when your desires match up with what God desires for you, He has no reason to deny your request. Indeed, you shall have the petition that you ask of Him.

So, as I step into this new chapter of my life, I decree, and I declare that this is the year of Jubilee. Everything that has been stolen my family by the enemy, it shall be restored, in the name of Jesus. And now, I’m going to put a praise on it.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Glory to God! Thank you, Jesus!


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About Mental Platter

Mental Platter is a collection of #lifehacks, tips, and anecdotes by Shenica R. Graham that have helped her conquer the mental health madness in her own life. It is a derivative of a course in behavior modification from My Psych Teacher University. Here, you will explore hacks for improving upon the sometimes mundane, albeit necessary processes of life. If you complete the series, you should be able to take practical steps toward personal fulfillment and improved wellbeing.


References

Beauty After Bruises. (2019, May 26). 101 distraction Techniques: Tools for INTRUSIVE Trauma Symptoms. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.beautyafterbruises.org/blog/distraction101

Dabrowska, M. (2020, December 01). The role of positive distraction in the patient’s experience in healthcare setting: A literature review of the impacts of representation of nature, sound, visual art, and light. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://smartech.gatech.edu/handle/1853/64195

DISTRACTION: Definition of distraction by Oxford dictionary on LEXICO.COM also meaning of distraction. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/distraction

Eyal, N. (2017, June 08). When distraction is a good thing. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/automatic-you/201706/when-distraction-is-good-thing

How to fight negative thinking with distraction. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.happify.com/hd/how-to-fight-negative-thinking-with-distraction/

Matthew Tull, P. (2020, November 27). How to cope with emotions using distraction. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-emotions-with-distraction-2797606

Williams, C. (2017, September 14). Distraction, not denial: How to cope the healthy way. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-to-practice-healthy-coping-strategies

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