Distraction as a Bipolar Coping Skill

November 17, 2016 Natasha Tracy

Recently I’ve gone through a really nasty bipolar mixed episode and one night I was reminded that distraction is a major bipolar coping skill that I use. I do it without even thinking about it much of the time. My brain just purposefully shifts from agonizing emotional thoughts to unemotional ones. Activities at that time are similar. Distraction as a bipolar coping skill is incredibly useful.

Why I Need Distractions in Bipolar

When I’m in an episode – particularly a bipolar depression – my brain seems to purposefully look for thoughts that will make me more depressed. Certainly, we all have things in our lives that don’t make us happy and these things can get hugely exaggerated with a depressed bipolar brain. For example, I don’t have much of a love life. I can simply look at that as an objective fact, or I can look at it as my personal failure and proof that no one will ever love me. Depression chooses the latter every time.

So if my depressed bipolar brain looks for things to beat me up with and be more depressed about, I want to force it to think about something that it can’t do that with. I want to distract it from what it naturally wants to do.

Using the Bipolar Coping Skill of Distraction

Like I said, I’ve done this so much throughout my illness that now it is second nature; however, when I’m really, really sick, I have to make myself do it. I tell myself to stop and thought-switch. Sometimes my depressed brain is so powerful that I actually have to say, “Stop!” out loud to make it pay attention. Sometimes I yell it. And then I force it to think about the weather, or a television show, or my kitty-cats. Whatever I find completely unemotional at the time is what I force it to think about. I also force it to do things that are unemotional as well.

What Kind of Distractions Work as Bipolar Coping Skills?

Distraction can be a useful bipolar coping skill when dealing with difficult mood episodes. Learn how distraction as a bipolar coping skill works. Read this.

Distractions are going to vary person to person, of course, but here are a few distractions – both thoughts and actions, that work for me.

  • My number one distraction is doing my nails. Maybe this sounds weird, I don’t know, but for me, focusing on filing my nails, selecting a color (or multiple colors) and then focusing on the actual application and dry time of it, really helps me think of nothing else. Similarly, putting on a facial-type facemask can work but it takes less time so it’s not as good.
  • Talking to friends on the phone about non-depressed things is helpful. I find that when I talk to someone who is supportive and likes to talk, as long as I’m talking about non-emotional things, it can distract me from how I’m feeling probably because I’m focusing on the other person and what that person is saying.
  • I also like to pet or brush my cats. My cats love this, of course, and so they purr. That action of petting and that thought of their being happy while hearing their purr is infinitely relaxing to me.
  • I watch Project Runway. I think that most contest-reality-type shows would work here. I find these types of shows unemotional, and thus non-triggering, and yet entertaining enough for me to focus on. (I also really like Top Chef.)
  • Sometimes repetitive housework is good. This doesn’t always work for me because I hate housework, but, sometimes, doing something really repetitive and simple, something where no thinking is involved, like loading/unloading the dishwasher, scrubbing a bathtub or doing laundry can be a helpful distraction. (Of course, sometimes the bipolar has made me so tired I can’t employ this one.)
  • I look at recipes and make lists of what to buy so I can make them later. Recipes seem so unemotional to me and flipping through a cookbook is brainless. Even if I don’t pick out a single recipe to cook and just read a few it’s helpful.

The point is, all of these things are unemotional (to me) and all of them are simple and not harmful to me or anyone else. (I could make a list of negative distractions as coping skills, too, but the point is not to choose these.) Writing is, perhaps oddly, not on the list as I find I have to be in touch with some emotional part of me to do it. Others may find creating something like art helpful, though.

Now, I know that you, my readers, will have many distractions that work for you as a bipolar coping skill so, please, share them here.

Check out Natasha Tracy’s book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar and connect with her on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Image by Nurasko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2016, November 17). Distraction as a Bipolar Coping Skill, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

December, 1 2016 at 12:20 am

I have been struggling with bipolar, GAD, and I'm suspecting social anxiety disorder for over 20 years mostly unmedicated. The mania has gotten easier to control throughout the years, but the depression seems deeper and harder as time goes by. I am usually depressed about 3 months, manic/ hypo for 3. A week or two of what I assume is normal and then the cycle of 3 months depression and 3 months manic to finish the year. When depressed the thoughts are so negative and pervasive. It's unbelievable. I occupy myself obsessively with Words with Friend, Pokémon GO, and Cookie Jam (games on my phone and Ipad). But I just believe I was actually able to trigger myself out of the depression by forcing myself to exercise! No fancy equipment necessary. I started by making myself stand up out of the recliner and do 30 squats. Then I did 30 jumping jacks (just the arms). Throughout the evening, in between gaming, I did stiff leg soldier march. The next morning I woke up sore and more irritable than ever, but, as the day wore on, I decided that I, and I alone, HAVE to get myself out of this funk! Nobody can do it for me! I exercised again and started to clean house some....I know that sounds really flip and simplistic. So many times I try to pull myself up by my bootstraps and fail.....but, sometimes it works! Hang in there. Distract yourself, try to eat healthy and move as much as possible. Three solid months of negativity coming from your inner self is so hard to bear. I sure wish there was a cure. This blog sure helps. Thanks so much!

camille lance
November, 26 2016 at 3:17 pm

i have bipolar real bad. i take medicines for it. it makes me calm down and relax. if i don't take my psychic meds. i will slam doors, get agatate, slam doors, hit people.

November, 25 2016 at 8:40 am

If I am able to focus enough, reading can sometimes be a good distraction for me. It can't be too demanding but interesting enough to be absorbing.
I have also found Instagram and YouTube to be good ways to distract myself...vlogs, animals, artists, photographers...I have really lost myself for a good couple hours.
I will sometimes lie down in bed with the TV on and try to take a nap. I'm not sure if that counts as a distraction or rather an escape...

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