Added: Alannah Petersen - Date: 06.09.2021 09:53 - Views: 26020 - Clicks: 8020
Distraction is the modern day equivalent of avoiding the dangerous or unknown in ancient times. Uncertainty makes you feel anxious. Anxiety urges you to do something — most often that is to gather information.
Your brains quickly learns that distraction is a pretty solid alternative. Its survival The problem is that, distractions can lead to unhealthy habits, and even addiction, that are hard to break. His business has never been busier. Several other patients have been ing the growing ranks of Netflix binge-watchers as a way to distract themselves. Whether your vice is food, alcohol, social media, work, or television, when faced with increasing anxiety, why does your brain urge you toward distractions?
Biologically, your survival brain was set up to scan territory for both food and danger. When your ancestors found a new food source, their stomachs sent a cascade of als to their brains that resulted in dopamine firing. They then formed a memory about where the food was located to help them understand how to find it in the future.
The same is true Looking for something distracting danger. Uncertainty helped them, and therefore people, as a species, survive. There is a caveat, however — and this is important to understanding the relationship between anxiety and distraction. Once a place becomes familiar to people, whether it is dangerous or not, that uncertainty decreases.
This means that only after your ancestors revisited a territory again and again were they able to relax. Shifting back to what this means for the present day, and for you: when you become more certain, your brain uses dopamine differently.
Instead of firing when you eat food or spot danger, for example, dopamine fires in anticipation of those events. Once a behavior is learned, it has been most consistently associated with cravings and urges to act. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Once your ancestors knew where their food source was, they had to be prodded to go and get it.
In response to the pandemic, my patients are demonstrating exactly this same process. Whether addicted to a substance or a behavior, they have learned to associate a particular action with an outcome. That restless contraction in your stomach or chest. It lets you know that something is off. To you, looking at cute puppies on YouTube again may seem like a strange choice when you still have a big project to do. Think of it like this: Distraction is the modern day equivalent of avoiding the dangerous or unknown in ancient times.
Anxiety urges you to do something. In theory, that urge is there to drive you to gather information. Your brain quickly learns that distraction is a pretty solid alternative.
The problem is that, often, distractions are not healthy or helpful. No one can binge on food, booze, or Netflix forever. You brain will become habituated to these behaviors. What to do? Reading this article is a good first step. Only when you begin to understand how your mind works can you begin to work with it. This involves noticing the trigger anxietythe distraction behavior eating, drinking, watching TVand the reward feeling better because you are distracted from the trigger. Once you identify your typical anxiety-distraction habit loops, map out when they show up.
Is it in a certain context or at a particular time of day? Next, begin to explore how rewarding these habit loops actually are. Your brain chooses between different behaviors based on their reward levels. Instead of trying to force yourself not to stress eat or check social media, focus on the mental and physical of your Looking for something distracting.
What does the brief relief feel like? How long does it last? Are there other effects that have boomerang consequences, like getting more anxious because you have not completed a task? It is important to note that not all distraction is bad. It becomes a problem when the reward you seek stops being rewarding. You can explore what binging on five versus two episodes of your show du jour feels like.
When you pay attention, you will likely discover a classic inverted U-shaped curve, where the pleasure of distraction plateaus and sends you sliding down, back into restlessness and worry, leading your mind to search for the next best thing. Because your brain chooses more rewarding behaviors, you need to identify behaviors that are more rewarding than your bad habits. Sometimes it means stopping your current one when the balance shifts from it being helpful to harmful.
If your goal is to step out of your habit loop entirely, then you do need to explore BBOs that are different behaviors. For example, if you are anxious, you can use mindfulness practices to work with the anxiety itself, rather than needing to distract yourself from it. Treating the anxiety at the source of your distraction is analogous to having some pain in your body and getting at the root cause instead of taking pain killers to temporarily numb yourself — which masks the symptoms of the problem, and can cause you to become dependent.
In the end, this process really boils down to knowing your own mind. Self-knowledge is always power, but it is particularly effective when it comes to working with our brains.
When uncertainty abounds, step out of anxiety-distraction habit loops by bringing forward what you have evolved to do best: learn. If our content helps you to contend with coronavirus and other challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources. You have 1 free article s left this month.
You are reading your last free article for this month. Subscribe for unlimited access. Health and behavioral science. But you can break the cycle. on Health and behavioral science or related topics Mental healthPsychology and Stress management. Jud Brewer MD PhD is an addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist specializing in anxiety and habit change. Partner Center.Looking for something distracting
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