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Can You Distract Yourself from Fear?

At times, you have to distract yourself from fear. Feeling fear isn't always necessary, and when fear isn't real, distract yourself from it. Here's how.

Is it possible to distract yourself from fear? Fear is a basic human reaction, an instinct even, to something we perceive as a threat to our safety or general wellbeing. It sounds an alarm in the brain and kicks the fight-or-flight response into gear. When we are afraid, we want to run from what it is that's making us feel scared, or we want to confront it and do battle. Our instinct typically isn't to ignore fear by distracting ourselves with something else. Can you distract yourself from fear? Do you want to?

Why Distract Yourself from Fear?

In dangerous situations fear is something we don't want to ignore. We want to listen to it and take action for our own safety. Many times, however, we feel fear in situations that aren't truly life-threatening. In such situations, fear revs us up physically and emotionally and causes effects like:

When fear is unnecessary, these effects take a toll on our physical and emotional health. When we feel fear in the absence of a true threat, that sense of fear doesn't have a purpose. And when that happens, distracting yourself from fear is both necessary and possible.

You Can Distract Yourself from Fear

At times, you have to distract yourself from fear. Feeling fear isn't always necessary, and when fear isn't real, distract yourself from it. Here's how.Fear keeps our focus on thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations related to what's making us afraid. With our attention placed on the fear object, we think of little else. We remain in a heightened state of anxiety, which in turns fuels a greater sense of fear.

The way out of this miserable cycle of fear, anxiety, the effects of anxiety, and fear, and more fear is to stop paying attention to the fear itself. That, though, is much easier said than done. When we simply try to stop doing something, like stop being afraid, it doesn't work. The key is to replace the fear. In other words, distract yourself.

How To Distract Yourself from Your Fears

  • Determine if your situation is actually dangerous, and if it isn't, keep reminding yourself of that fact as you distract yourself.
  • Choose something that you have on hand to use as a distraction. Use your phone. Read a book or magazine. Look at something in the distance. The most powerful distractions are things that you can touch, smell, listen to, look at, taste, and/or manipulate (in other words, objects that engage your senses).
  • Focus your full attention on your distraction. Talk about it (even if just to yourself). Think about it. Describe it. Engage with it deeply enough to keep your mind on it rather than on your fear. When your brain once again tunes in to feeling fear, return your focus and attention to your distraction.

The other day, my son had a routine check-up with his doctor. The nurse casually announced that he needed two shots, and his fear response kicked in. When he followed the above steps by reading a sports news article out loud during the process, he was able to endure his shots without fear and move on when the experience was over.

When you distract yourself from your fear, you're telling your brain and your body that there's no real threat. When your body and brain listen, they'll calm down and so will you.

Let's connect. I blog here. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. My mental health novels, including one about severe anxiety, are here.

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2016, August 4). Can You Distract Yourself from Fear?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/08/can-you-distract-yourself-from-fear



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Kay H
says:
April, 28 2019 at 2:58 am
Well, I have been feeling very scared about a few things. But all of these things are "made up" stuff. (e.g. monsters, ghosts) since my cousin showed me horror movies. I tried to refuse but she insisted on putting it on!! And even though i tried to zone out, I still got scared!! it happened before, and I managed to get over it, its just that horror films seem slow real!! how do I cope? Especially when my cousin shows me doll stories!! I get super scared around my sisters dolls!
May, 6 2019 at 12:55 pm
I don't think that stuff is made up. The response you're getting is very real, despite the fact it's a movie. Honestly, if you're that scared, you need to have a talk with your cousin and explain how it's making you feel. The fact she's subjecting you to those feelings over and over again is just not OK.
JohnT
says:
August, 5 2016 at 7:44 am
Anxiety doesn't let the brain rest or allow happiness or enjoyment. Anxiety can and does consume you with all the constant feeds of negativity in the world today. A person does need to be active so that the mind is on other things.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 11 2016 at 1:56 pm
Hi John,
So very true! Anxiety does exactly what you describe, and action/activity is an important way to thwart it. Engaging our mind and body in something we enjoy (or used to enjoy before anxiety took over) definitely gives us a new focus and sense of pleasure. Action actually impacts the brain, so it's not just engaging the mind but changing the brain as well. Thank you for this insight.
Gry
says:
August, 4 2016 at 5:35 am
It feels so scary like you gonna loose control any minute it rushes with so many feeling and sensations and all u wanna do is get rid of them . But yet i am stuck battling 24 /7 with my brain - thoughts if only it can go away . I am miserble desperate and just dont no what to do ! I hate feeling like this one day I have all sort of intrusive thoughts making me sweat in fear and leaving me sonuneasy all I want tondonis sleep and the other I am so detached and out of it my mind is blank I cant focusn- think - or respond on time ! God all I ask is that you free me from this ! I WENT TO ER THEY UPPERED MY EEFEXOR FROM 112 TO 150 UHH FOR ABOUT 1 DAY AND A HALF I THOUGHT IT WAS BETTER BUT NAO I CANT EVEN SLEEP OH MY PLZ ANYONE FEELS THE SAME

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