Both mindfulness and distraction can be helpful strategies when coping with distress. However, the effectiveness of each will depend on the way in which you respond to your worries.
If you are the sort of person who tends to think about every possible scenario when faced with a problem, worry, or a stressful situation (‘The over thinker’) you may find distraction quite helpful. It is best to choose a form of distraction which involves some sort of physical activity as this is very effective at calming our minds and has a positive impact on our physical health, which is great for our overall wellbeing. You may find that doing something active such as going for a walk with the dog, clearing out the garage, or running in the park may be the best way to step away from your busy mind, even if for just a few moments. So, the next time you find yourself worrying about that difficult conversation you need to have with your boss, the upcoming exam, or the bills that are piling up, take a break a find something fun and active to do. Keep in mind that when anxiety and stress take hold, the last thing you may want to do are these activities. However, this is exactly the time to do them. You may find that even a short active distraction may ease your anxiety, clear your mind, and make your worries more manageable.
If on the other hand, you notice that at the first sign of tension you do everything else other than think about the source of your anxiety (‘The head in the sand’ person) mindfulness might be a useful strategy for you. I remember very well how my house never looked cleaner than when preparing for my exams. Yes, I stuck my head in the sand, did not think about my worries of failing, and just cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. At some point though there was nothing left to clean and I had to face my worries. Mindfulness can therefore be helpful when distraction no longer works for us or when we find ourselves absentmindedly reaching for distractions without fully engaging in them. (This applies to those of us who scroll through Facebook without really reading the posts.) Mindfulness can help us reconnect with the present moment, stop running away from our worries, and instead acknowledge them and let them pass.
On a side note, we all tend to have moments in the ‘over thinking’ or the ‘head in the sand’ camps. It is completely natural and in fact it is one of the ways in which we manage to cope with our often-difficult lives. The trick is to recognise when these strategies no longer work for us and try something new. So, give it a go and let me know your experiences of using these strategies.