You won't be surprised to know that distraction techniques are techniques designed to distract you from thoughts or feelings that are proving to be unhelpful, distressing or damaging to you.

Sometimes mental illness can seem all encompassing, but there are a number of techniques that you can use to take your mind off whatever is bothering you. Whether that's negative thinking, thoughts of self-harm or you can just feel the beginnings of a depressive episode. One of these might just be what you need.

There are a number of different techniques, which we've gathered together below. This is nowhere near a complete list, but merely a collection of ideas that might help you.


Distraction techniques cover a whole range of topics and can help in a number of different ways. Some will definitely float your boat, others maybe not so much. Some take no effort at all, others might need a little preparation, but that's ok too. The point is that they are all here to help. They can be a great addition to your self help toolkit. 


Some of these can be used directly as a distraction for thoughts of self-harm,

but can equally help anyone.


These techniques are designed to offer you comfort, just when you might need it most, like a pair of comfy slippers. They include:

  • Taking a hot bath (you know, like Chandler in Friends)

  • Having a sleep.

  • Watching your favourite movie or TV show.


These are all about making good use of your time, whilst distracting your mind and focusing on doing 'something'. You can try:

  • Reading a book.

  • Tidying your man-cave / man-draw.

  • Calling a helpline.

  • Gardening.

  • Organising (alphabetical/chronological/size) your room, blu-rays, DVDs, photographs, CDs, vinyl, games, etc.

  • Do that project around your house you've been putting off (you'll no doubt score brownie points with your other half too).


You might not think of yourself as a 'creative' person, but you are. Everyone is. No-one says you have to produce work to compete with the grandmasters, just as long as it helps you. You could try:

  • Writing poetry, a blog, short (or long) stories.

  • Doodle.

  • Sing (or scream) along with your favourite song.

  • Learn or play a musical instrument (yes, the spoons count as an instrument).

  • Draw or paint.

  • Create a mixtape (if you don't know what a 'tape' is, ask your Dad!).


Displacement techniques are those that are designed to work for when you're feeling like you want to hurt yourself. That's never the answer. Displacement is a way of shifting your proposed target onto another target, in others words, displacing the focus of harm. Things like:

  • Placing an elastic band around your wrist and snapping it to remind and refocus your mind into more positive thoughts.

  • Drawing on your skin with bright red marker pen.

  • Putting plasters or bandages on the areas you want to self-harm.

  • Bite a chilli pepper (not a big girly mild one mind you).

  • Eat an ice-cube.


Nothing feels better than having some fun. There's a quote from George Bernard Shaw that says "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing". Fun is something we all need to have more of and we can use it to help distract us too. Stuff like:

  • Play some video games.

  • Do some puzzles; crosswords, sudoku, etc.

  • Colouring in (they do them specifically for adults now you know!).

  • Listen to some music.

  • Surf the internet or browse through eBay for the most random things you can find.


These are all about getting into touch with yourself and the world at large. Try:

  • Meditating.

  • Yoga or Tai Chi.

  • Cloud watching (or star gazing).


These are techniques used to reinforce why you should not harm yourself, or why continuing down the path you're on isn't a good idea (which it isn't). Consider:

  • Not wanting to go to hospital.

  • Not wanting any marks or scars to be visible in the summer.

  • Set time targets in which you can not harm yourself, i.e. 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Then once you reach it, set a longer time and try to beat it. You can do it.


We've talked a bit on this site about how much exercise can help. Using physical activity as a distraction technique doesn't have to be fitness-based, it can also be:

  • Playing with a stress toy.

  • Swimming.

  • Punching a punchbag (shouting Rocky Balboa quotes is optional, but recommended).

  • Balling up your socks and throw them at the wall.

  • Turn the music up and dance like no-one's watching. Dad Dancing doesn't count.

  • Sit-ups, push-ups, squats, etc.


If being on your own isn't helping, it's time to get out and about with family and friends. This can include:

  • Phoning a friend.

  • Going to a public place (library, park, coffee shop, etc.)

  • Visit friends or family and have a catch-up.

  • Hug it out!

Take these away with you, or share your own with our awesome community on our Facebook page or via our social media links below.