Distract yourself

It’s not unusual during withdrawal from a psychiatric drug to feel completely fixated on your symptoms at times, whether it’s physical pain, emotional numbness or volatility, mental fogginess, or a host of other possibilities. One of the more commonly reported withdrawal experiences, in fact, is ruminative thinking—obsessive, looping thoughts that become so all-encompassing that one forgets that these thoughts are a temporary symptom in and of themselves.

Some people find that ruminations about their symptoms, imaginings of imminent catastrophes, or worries about being permanently "broken" seem to take over, with no apparent way to stop them. These thoughts may tell them that all is lost, or that even though other people might heal they themselves are too far gone. As such thoughts and feelings spiral further and further out, they may elevate stress and escalate symptoms, setting up a vicious cycle. Overwhelmed and feeling totally at the mercy of their minds, some people find themselves at a point where they can’t imagine a reason or a way to keep going.

At times like these, it can be helpful to have a reliable “tool kit” of distractions to escape to—even if just for thirty seconds at a time. Diverting yourself from obsessive thoughts or mental darkness may help (at least temporarily) to interrupt those looping cycles and offer some respite. There are, of course, an infinite number of distractions to try out, and everyone is different: While some people can only allow themselves to be distracted by things that they also believe are “good” for them such as educational documentary films, others are only able to forget themselves in “guilty pleasure” television viewing. Still others find the frequent light changes on electronic screens irritate and aggravate their symptoms rather than distract from them, and they need some kind of non-electronic pastime. In the end, the best diversion is simply the one that works for you. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the particular distractions and diversions that people in the withdrawal community have frequently reported as being helpful.

A long list of possible distractions

  1. Bake or cook, especially foods your body may be telling you it needs, or discover new recipes
  2. Be in nature
  3. Build a Lego structure
  4. Clean out your closet and arrange clothes by color
  5. Color—try an adult coloring book or a book of mandalas
  6. Connect with someone else going through withdrawal to offer mutual support
  7. Count something—leaves in a tree, prayer beads, squares on the ceiling
  8. Cuddle with someone you love
  9. Dance
  10. Do a guided body scan (there are many free ones available online)
  11. Do puzzles, like Sudoku or crosswords (start with the easiest if need be)
  12. Do a household task, especially one you’ve been putting off, maybe while listening to some good music
  13. Do some gardening or repot a plant
  14. Do repetitive movements, such as rocking
  15. Do some needlepoint, knit, or crochet
  16. Do some physical exercise
  17. Do yoga poses
  18. Follow a guided visualization
  19. Get a massage—book a session, ask a friend, or do some self-massage
  20. Get support from an online mutual support group
  21. Get yourself feeling really cozy in bed
  22. Give someone you love a back massage
  23. Go for a bike ride or a long drive
  24. Go outside and touch or hug a tree
  25. Go to a “paint your own pottery” studio
  26. Hang out with a dog (yours or a friend’s)
  27. Have a cup of decaf tea
  28. Hit a punching bag (be sure to wear boxing gloves!)
  29. Hug someone
  30. Learn a new language
  31. Learn about and try out essential oils
  32. Learn how to do origami
  33. Learn how to do tapping (EFT)
  34. Learn how to play a musical instrument
  35. Learn self-hypnosis
  36. Learn tai chi
  37. Light a Himalayan salt lamp
  38. Light some incense
  39. Listen to an audiobook when you’re in the car, or at home
  40. Listen to interesting podcasts, maybe while walking outside
  41. Listen to Madness Radio
  42. Listen to music
  43. Look back at old journals to remember when you felt better
  44. Make a collage
  45. Make some bracelets
  46. Meditate (try downloading the free Insight Timer or Headspace app)
  47. Pace
  48. Paint (perhaps pick up a “paint by numbers” project if you don’t feel like starting from scratch)
  49. Play a board game
  50. Play cards or solitaire
  51. Play chess
  52. Play computer games
  53. Play video games
  54. Pray
  55. Put together a photo album or scrapbook
  56. Question your beliefs
  57. Reach out to someone who’s struggling and offer support
  58. Read a children’s or young adult book (such as Harry Potter)
  59. Read poetry
  60. Read stories of people healing from psychiatric drugs
  61. Redecorate a room or do some house renovations
  62. Repeat a mantra
  63. Repeat an affirmation
  64. Sing
  65. Sleep
  66. Socialize
  67. Swim
  68. Take an Epsom salt bath
  69. Take photographs (some like to look for beautiful things)
  70. Try sensory deprivation (such as a flotation tank)
  71. Visit a museum
  72. Visit encouraging websites, such as Beyond Meds or Recovery Road
  73. Volunteer at a local nonprofit or charity
  74. Walk
  75. Watch a movie, a Disney movie, or TV show, especially a light-hearted one
  76. Watch documentaries on issues that interest you
  77. Watch TED talks
  78. Work on a jigsaw puzzle
  79. Work part-time
  80. Write—whether free-flow writing, in a journal, or a short story or poem