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  • Writer's pictureJasmine Roizman

60 Ways to Distract Your Thoughts: A DBT informed approach

When our mind becomes hooked on a distressing thought, we sometimes try to fight it and forget it. Unfortunately, the harder we try to forget something, the more power we give the thought and the more our brain keeps bringing us back to them. It is almost as if the harder we try to forget something, the harder our brains try to keep the thought alive. While it is impossible to avoid tough thoughts and emotions, we can remove ourselves from that mental space. By distracting our thoughts, we can briefly step away instead of continuing to fight the reality of our situation. Afterward, we can come back in a more refreshed way to whatever challenge we face.

When our thoughts or emotions become too much to bear, we can remember to use distraction techniques through the acronym ACCEPTS.


· Talk to a friend on the telephone

· Go out and spend time with someone you care about, respect, or admire

· Go for a long walk in a park or someplace else that is peaceful

· Call a family member you haven’t spoken to in a long time

· Go shopping (i.e., clothing, food, supplies, etc.)

· Read a book

· Complete a puzzle

· Clean your room or an area in your home

· Watch an episode of your favorite TV show

· Do yoga, tai chi, or Pilates, or take classes to learn

· Take a bubble bath or shower

· Make a list of ten celebrities you would like to be friends with, and describe why

· Turn on loud music and dance in your room


· Call a friend and ask if they need help with something (i.e., chores, grocery shopping, etc.)

· Call up a family member and offer to take them out to lunch

· Go outside and give money to someone in need

· Sign up to volunteer at your local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or volunteer organization

· Donate items you no longer need

· Provide someone with words of encouragement or a hug


· Compare how you feel now to a time when you felt different

· Think about people coping the same as you or less well than you

· Compare yourself to those less privileged or fortunate as you

· Watch reality shows about others’ troubles

· Read about disasters, tragedies, and others’ suffering


· Read an emotional book

· Watch an emotional movie or TV show

· Listen to an emotional or powerful podcast

· Listen to a powerful song

· Watch a scary movie

· Watch a comedy show

· Listen to mediation or relaxation music

· Read old letters

· Look at old photo albums

· Go to a store and read funny greeting cards

· Watch funny/cute animal videos on YouTube

Pushing Away:

· Deny the problem for a moment or mentally push the painful situation to the side

· Build an imaginary wall between you and the situation

· Block thoughts and images of the situation from your mind

· Ruminating? Say “No!” and reject the images or thoughts that are creeping into your mind

· Imagine putting your painful emotions in a box and on a shelf, then walking away from that shelf for a while


· Count your breaths while sitting in a comfortable chair, your hand on your belly, and taking slow, long breaths. When you inevitably start to have your mind drift back to whatever it is that is causing you pain, return to your breath

· Go outside and count the clouds in the sky or branches on a tree

· Count the number of cars that are passing by

· Count the number of sensations you are feeling at that very moment

· Count colors in a painting or poster or something outside your window

· Count or subtract by increments of seven

· Repeat words to a song


· Squeeze a stress ball

· Take a hot or cold shower

· Pay attention to the sounds of the city or nature

· Light a scented candle

· Use scented lotion

· Boil cinnamon

· Taste food mindfully

· Eat your favorite food from when you were a child

· Chew gum

· Put a cold compress on your forehead

· Run your hand along something soft or fuzzy

· Hold ice in your hand or mouth

· Watch a sunrise or sunset

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