Shift your focus

Our minds have problems focusing on more than one thing at a time. Just try the old schoolyard trick of patting your head and rubbing your belly – you may soon find you’ve started rubbing your head and patting your belly and your hair’s become a bird’s nest!

But when you’re in pain you can use distraction to your advantage. By focusing your attention on something other than your pain – something enjoyable, entertaining or distracting – it can help you manage your pain for short periods of time. Distraction can be particularly useful if you have to do something that you know will make your pain worse – e.g. sit for an extended period of time, climb stairs or undergo a medical test or procedure. It can also be helpful for the period of time after you’ve taken pain relieving medication and you’re waiting for it to take effect, or when you’re trying to fall asleep. Distraction can also help you if you’re feeling anxious or stressed.

As with most pain management techniques, distraction takes time and practise. And sometimes you may find that your pain is at a level where distraction isn’t enough. But it’s a great skill to have up your sleeve.

There are a great many ways you can distract yourself from pain.

Here are some simple examples

Simple mind games:

  • Count back from 100 by 3s – e.g. 100, 97, 94, 91 etc.
  • Try to remember all the words to a favourite song.
  • Name a country, animal, plant, town or whatever you like, for each letter of the alphabet – e.g. antelope, bear, cat, dog etc.
  • Name the winners of the last 20 Grand Finals.
  • Work out your Christmas, birthday, holiday shopping lists.

Activities that distract:

  • Reading listening to music/radio/podcast/audio book
  • Watching TV/DVD/online video/movie
  • Playing with your pet
  • Puzzles – e.g. crosswords, jigsaws, Sudoku
  • Art and craft – e.g. drawing, knitting, painting, writing, woodworking
  • Mechanical work – e.g. working on or restoring a car
  • Gardening
  • Talking with someone – in person, on the phone, in an online forum, via social media
  • Going for a walk
  • Visualisation

Personal perspectives

I’ve become a huge fan of podcasts. When I need distraction, I grab my iPod, plug in my headphones and listen to the latest episodes of ‘Serial’, ‘This American Life’ or ‘Stuff You Should Know’. It takes me away from my pain for a while and I learn something new. 

– Lisa 

I go to the movies. There’s always something on that will take my mind off my pain for a few hours. 

– Michael

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