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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Depressed? The Sacred Art of Distraction

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 29th 2010

depressedIf you follow my writings, you probably have a good sense that I am highly in favor of people integrating mindfulness into their daily life. Mindfulness is the ability to be more present to the direct experiences of the moments we are living. However, there’s a time and a place for everything and when we’re feeling particularly depressed, becoming mindful may not be the most skillful endeavor. When the brain is locked into automatic negative thinking it’s pretty difficult to drop into a nonjudgmental awareness and that very difficulty feeds the cycle of perceived failure. Enter the art of distraction.

A while back I was interviewed by Therese Borchard, author of the popular blog Beyond Blue and she had told me she struggled with using mindfulness when she was depressed. She then asked if it was Ok to still use distraction as a way to work with depression.

The fact is, when you’re deep in a depressive episode that is very difficult or near impossible to do. The ability to focus and concentrate is just thrown out the window. Now, many highly experienced practitioners who suffer from depression may argue that mindfulness supports them during their episodes, but this would take great skill that would come from lots of practice. For those who are less practiced or find it just too painful to be present when in a depressive episode, I think distraction is a good way to go, just be intentional about it. The truth is, if you’re being intentional with the distraction, in a way, you are present. So the distinction here is between being deep in an episode versus working with mindfulness to help prevent relapse. Research that led to the creation of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) groups have supported this conclusion. There’s a reason why we interview people before coming to any Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) group for depression relapse.

The fact is, when we’re depressed our thoughts that “nothing in life is ever going to change, no one can help me, and I can’t help myself” may just be too sticky to try and be mindful of.

So it’s important to grab onto things that have been helpful in the past. Although it’s hard to think of these when the mind feels like it’s moving through a thick wall of mud.

So I suggest getting out a pad of paper when you’re feeling well and writing on it activities that have been helpful so you don’t have to think about it when times are more difficult. We’re looking for activities that give a sense of achievement or pleasure for the most part, but it can also be anything to distract from your thoughts if those are too challenging.

Examples that many people have written include: Getting outside to go for a walk, taking a shower, cleaning a part of the room, going to the post office, going to the store, working out, cooking or if any of these are too difficult you can switch on the tube or surf the net.

The current of automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) can be very strong in a state of deep depression, so distraction does not fly in the face of mindfulness, at times it may be the most skillful thing to do.

What helps you when you’re depressed? Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
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    'Depressed? The Sacred Art of Distraction' Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - akash007 - Nov 30th 2010

    thanks for sharing information for your blog and very nice blog site i really impressed and want some more stuffs again for this post .

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