Distraction, as a coping mechanism, is about as American as apple pie. We see it all the time. You have a bad day at school; your mom makes cookies. You have a bad day at work; you go out to dinner. You have a fight with someone you love; you go to a movie. You have a miserable marriage; you bury yourself in your kids, educational pursuits, or new hobbies. And the purpose of these distractions? TO TAKE YOUR MIND OFF IT.

Distraction is taught as a coping mechanism everywhere, parent-to-child, teacher-to-child, therapist-to-client, friend-to-friend, advertiser-to-consumer. It’s what we know. How often is a child told to think about something else to avoid feeling sad? How often is a woman, struggling with empty nesting, told to get a new hobby, join a book club, or find a volunteer opportunity? How often do marketers encourage us to eat, drink, travel, or otherwise treat ourselves in some way after highlighting our fears and insecurities? Do you know why they do that? It works. We are practically hard-wired for distraction.

The trouble with distraction as a coping strategy is that it’s not sustainable. Sustainability is a popular concept these days and is also relevant to our health and wellness.

Emotions are processed by the limbic system, also known as the mid-brain. When emotions are extreme, the thinking part of the brain goes entirely offline. What does this mean for us? When we have surpassed our ability to cope with a situation, due to fear, anger, sadness, or overwhelm, our limbic system will react, rather than respond, firing off an old behavioral pattern.

Typically, it goes like this. A situation triggers fear, anger, or an extreme emotion. We react, meaning we do not choose to respond, but rather, the reaction takes over us. We lose control, then feel embarrassed or badly after.

Now listen carefully here. Unprocessed emotions are stored in the body, creating and reinforcing those neural pathways. So, all that distraction to avoid feeling sad, to avoid feeling hurt, to avoid feeling scared is merely a short-term fix. Those unprocessed emotions are stored in the body to be dealt with later. And how do they present themselves? As physical and emotional symptoms…and after long enough, as disease.

I’ll freely admit, I was once the master of distraction. I have three board certifications, five kids, numerous other certifications, and, at one time, did extensive volunteer work. Something was going wrong? I chaired a new committee, got a new certification, or took up a new hobby. If you’ve read my story, you know how that worked out for me physically.

I have to say, giving up distraction and choosing to be in the present moment is the best thing I have ever done for myself. I feel sad? I cry. I feel scared? I listen to, then soothe that part of me that is afraid. I find that it’s typically a much younger self that is triggered. The great thing about being in my 40’s is that I’m a whole lot more resourced now than when I was little.

Stop distracting yourself and draw your attention inside. You may be delighted with the results!

“Imagine a life in which your mind, body, and spirit are in alignment, in which you are thriving rather than surviving, radiant with well-being, and knowing that you are living your destiny. That is sustainable…Sustainably You.”

Release the Symptoms. Free Yourself.

What is your favorite distraction pattern? From what are you distracting yourself?

Originally published at melissakaltmd.com on May 2, 2017.

Originally published at medium.com