Many people struggle with procrastinating and the act of avoiding something in their lives. Whether it is big or small, often clients come in for therapy identifying “avoidance” as one of their main coping skills when they are stressed or distressed. They often come in for therapy because this coping skill is no longer working for them when it has been extremely effective in the past.
According to the dictionary, avoidance means the act of keeping away from or not doing something; it means not facing up to things. We often avoid doing or thinking about things that cause us distress only to bury them deeper and deeper inside where we would like for them to remain. It seems like a good way to not suffer from the pain that may be caused by such an act or thought. Unfortunately, these thoughts, feelings or acts, sometimes have mysterious ways of creeping back into our lives (sometimes unconsciously) and continue to cause suffering in different forms. When we avoid, we choose to not return to the thought or act as a way to protect ourselves.
Distraction, on the other hand, can be a helpful way to cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, or acts.The dictionary definition of distraction is: something that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. It is often recommended that if a person’s stress level is intensely high, no important decisions or actions should be made until the stress level is lowered. Distraction can be a time-limited, useful tool to help lower stress levels. Our brains experience emotions in the back side close to the base of our heads and when this is highly activated in a negative way, the front, more logical part of our brains is not able to function as well. We are operating with our “emotional mind” instead of our “logical mind” at this point. The goal is to consider both emotions and logic and use our “wise mind” to make healthy decisions. Distracting ourselves for a finite period of time helps calm our emotional mind to better access our logical mind and afford us the opportunity to access our wise mind.
There are countless ways to distract oneself and lower stress levels. Here are some suggestions (in no particular order):
Take a walk
Take a bath or shower
Listen to music
Play a game
Talk to a friend (caveat to this is that you want to talk about something light, not something that will increase your stress level)
After engaging in a pleasurable activity that provides distraction and lowers your stress level, it is important to then return to the unpleasant thought or act that needs to be addressed so you can deal with it more effectively (or deal with it at all). So, the main difference between avoidance and distraction is your intent. Ask yourself: Am I planning on coming back to this? If so, when? Why do I feel the need to do something other than deal with this particular situation? Am I avoiding it to not deal with it or distracting myself to better be able to handle it?
If you would like to discuss this further to see if a professional therapist could help you end procrastination, contact us at Gaithersburg Counseling Center, at 240-274-5680 or Admin@HealingLLC.com. Or you can visit our website for more information at www.HealingLLC.com.
By Sara Rothleder, Director of Operations, Gaithersburg Counseling Center &
Amy Hooper, LCSW-C, CEAP, Director, Gaithersburg Counseling Center