Coping skills versus distraction techniques
We teach classes on both distraction techniques and coping skills, and for some of our young men, include them as part of their goals and objectives in relation to the things they are trying to improve upon.
So what is the difference between the two? I always explain the difference as such:
Coping skills are something you do that help you overcome a symptom and make you feel better. An example is someone who is having difficulty with depression, journaling their thoughts in a journal with a structure that provides positive thoughts and affirmations designed to improve their cognition about themselves or their situation. This will not just distract them from the symptom, it will cause symptom reduction in both frequency and intensity of the depression (or at least is intended to).
Distraction techniques are as the name implies; a way to distract yourself from the symptom you are experiencing. The technique is not designed to actually reduce the symptom or target the problem, but instead is essentially a time-out from your symptom. If we use the example of a person suffering from depression, many times illogical thoughts, or unhelpful thinking habits, called cognitive distortions, are at the center of how they feel, because many times with depression and anxiety there is a profound feeling that the intensity of the symptom will not diminish, but in reality they do when you focus on something other than the symptom itself. So a distraction technique can be something like coloring, going for a walk, listening to music, weeding a garden, even watching TV. Often times at the end of that distraction you find that you feel better than you did prior to that distraction, and are then in a place mentally/emotionally where you can graduate to a coping skill designed to improve your situation and ideally reduce the intensity and frequency of experiencing that symptom again.
Rory McLaughlin, CEO