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Distraction techniques

Having distraction techniques can help you to focus on something else when you’re in a panicked, anxious or distressed state. Although it may seem like a difficult thing to do, it can become a useful and healthy way of coping with the situation. Here are some ideas that you could try out, or ask your close friends and relatives to do with you when you need support:

  • Counting things around you (e.g how many blue things are in your room)
  • Doodling or colouring
  • Counting backwards from 10, then from 25, and then 50
  • Focussing on your breathing, by breathing in for four, holding your breath for four and then breathe out for four (link to meditation tile)
  • Imagine a place where you feel safe, and then imagine the sounds you can hear in that place

Many people, in an attempt to distract themselves from a painful situation or release some pressure, do turn to unhealthy distraction techniques, such as self-harm, and struggle to overcome this habit. If you have felt this urge, it’s really important to speak to someone, be as kind and understanding towards yourself as possible, and remember that you need and deserve support with what you’re going through. The NHS has a free Calm Harm App which encourages users to distract themselves from self-harm, and a GP or mental health professional can recommend healthier replacement techniques, such as holding ice cubes or flicking an elastic band. 


What young people have told us:

'I use my tangle toy a lot to help myself focus on just one object. It calms me down and helps me find a balanced mood.'

'Do anything(safe and rational) that helps you avoid those bad feelings.'

'You have to focus on it and it can help calm you, whether you want to make something beautiful or just scribble until the page is torn.'

'It really did help. I don't know how it helped but it really did.'

'Using distraction techniques helped my mental wellbeing as I feel less stressed in stressful situations. I think it helped because I could take time to just breathe and calm myself down.'


There isn’t much academic research in the area of self-care for young people who are living with mental health issues. We are trying to find out more about what works for different people so we can better advise other young people what to try.

If you’ve tried this activity when you were struggling in relation to your mental health, please let us know if it helped you and how by clicking on the ‘Did this activity help you’ button.