Focus & Refocus
Since experiencing the agoraphobic condition along with panic disorder I have, over the years, employed the method of ‘distraction’ to avoid, or escape any feelings of anxiety and/or panic. Although distraction has served me on many occasion to decrease the feelings of anxiety, I have found it has limited effect and has only helped to ‘take the edge’ away from the ‘unwanted’ thoughts and feelings . ‘Distraction’, in this case, is of course, looking for something to keep one’s mind occupied to force one’s mind away from the thoughts and feelings of panic and anxiety. Most of us know how hard it is to try not to think about something, which maybe fearful, disturbing and so on. Distraction takes a lot of mental energy and the ‘unwanted’ thoughts/feelings pretty much always return.
I have always felt uncomfortable with the term ‘distraction’ as relating to a method to ‘deal’ with anxiety and here’s the reason why: To me, distraction suggests an avoidance, a ‘running away’ from, an escape from your thoughts and feelings and essentially an escape from your own self. The conscious mind seems only to have a limited amount of power to override any thoughts and feelings which are stored in the ‘automatic’ thinking part of the subconscious/unconscious mind. On a more ‘down-to-earth’ level, it may be easier to understand the automatic thinking part of the mind as a program, or an assortment of programs (see the post entitled: Retraining, Installing and Reinforcing Thought Patterns & Behaviours) which have been learned over the years.
Instead of using ‘distraction’ or avoiding unwanted thoughts and feelings which is in effect still focussing on what you ‘do not want’ and in essence keeping the thoughts and resulting feelings alive, I have found focussing on what you ‘want’, is far more effective. Look for things which excite you and interest you – something which is more interesting than the thoughts and feelings which promote anxiety. For example, think of all the positive attributes you have, what positive activities you want to do, where you want to be, what makes you happy, etc. Immerse yourself into an interesting hobby or topic and take it with you in your mind and if you can, into the situations which provide a stimulus for anxiety. For me, when I go out and push through my own boundaries, I think of where I want to be, what I want to do and the life I want to live. Alongside this, choose something which is interesting to take with you while you go out and about or are faced with situations which provoke anxiety. For instance, I have started taking a camera out with me, while pushing through boundaries. I can find something interesting and take photos of what I find interesting and focus on using the camera itself and at the same time, reminding myself of the life I want to live.
There is a difference between ‘distraction’ and ‘focus’. It may appear as if the focus method is the same as distraction, but there is a huge difference. In this case, distraction is avoiding, whereas focus is embracing. Focus is concentrating on what you ‘want’ whereas distraction is focussing on what you ‘don’t want’. So, focussing on what you don’t want, gives you what you don’t want and focussing on what you want, gives you what you want.
I have found, after years of using distraction methods, that the ‘unwanted’ thoughts or thought patterns do not change, but focussing on what is wanted does create new thought patterns, or programs. This is a skill and like any other skill which is to be learned, takes practice and repetition. Gradually, through effort and repetition, the new thought patterns, programs, neural pathways – call them what you will, will strengthen and override the old non-self serving thoughts, creating thought patterns, programs, neural pathways, etc, which will serve you!
Have a wonderful day!
PS: Will soon post a simple mind exercise technique which illustrates how your mind will give back to you what you feed it.