Action vs. Distraction

Kelly Coffey
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When you’re stressed, sometimes the hardest thing to do is, in the end, the least painful.

You’re on your phone right now to mindfully catch up on the important people and things in your life, right?

Or maybe you’re mindlessly scrolling because you’ve got So Much You Need To Do and every time you think about dealing with something, five other things get up in your mental grill like “Oh, hey, and don’t forget about me!” and before you know it you’re one email notification away from suffocating from the pressure to do and fix and accomplish everything now, well, and without breaking a sweat.

That suffocating feeling sucks – hard – and when you feel like your drowning in modern life, your phone  – specifically social media  –  doubles as a general anesthetic, distracting you and numbing out unsavory feelings with clever ads, images, and random blog posts by personal trainers in New England.

Oh, hi.

The phone is like a remote control. With it you can change the channel in your head to something new. Different. Less personal. Less YOU.

Compulsive overeating and bingeing can have the same effect. So can alcohol. And weed. Let’s not forget TJ MAXX.

Eventually you look up from your phone. Or the ice cream is gone. Maybe you wake up in the first minute of the day with a hangover. The Mountain of Shit You Need To Do is still there, still undone. Waiting. And now, on top of your stress and overwhelm, there’s guilt. Or worse, all that numbing out has nudged you over the line into addiction. Depression builds. Anxiety flares. You feel hopeless.

Or maybe you’re just hauling around a few extra pounds.  

Maybe, like 18 year old me, it’s 150 extra pounds.

18 was a rough year. So was 19. And 20. 21. 22…

Eh. Details.

Checking out when life feels hard is the most tempting option, for sure. At least until all those binges, drinks, and the hours you burn mindlessly scrolling make life feel much worse.  Make you uncomfortable in your body. Make you feel like a stranger in a room full of “friends.” Make you wake up one day wondering, “Where the hell did the last 5 years go?”

Thankfully, there’s another option.

Remember the original Choose Your Own Adventure books?  I loved those. I relished the freedom to choose which door I walked through.  

Similarly, when you’re stressed or overwhelmed 1, you’ve got two major choices – slam a distraction, or take action.

When life feels like too much, you can choose the distraction door – the one that takes you away from your life for a minute or two. But, a few steps in, you realize there’s nowhere to go. You’re just banging your head against a wall. You have to go back. 

Soon you’re back where you started, feeling even worse.

Then, there’s the other door – the one that actually goes somewhere. Moves the story forward. It feels like the hardest choice to make but, in the end, it’s often the least painful. By a mile.

To choose the other door, just pick one task, one thing from The Pile of Things, and deal with it.

  • Make the appointment. 2
  • Return the email. 3
  • Take the walk. 4
  • Open the bill. 5
  • Ask for forgiveness. 6
  • Call a friend, get honest about what’s been going on, and ask for help. 7

Prioritize what you’ll deal with in the order that they’re killing you. 8 Which thing feels the heaviest? What can you do to relieve some of that pressure? Even the biggest problems can be dealt with, one action at a time. Even if it’s not a problem you can “solve,” just doing what you can has the potential to make everything feel more manageable.

When life feels too heavy, remember that every caring action takes some weight off. 9


  1. Or sad. Or scared. Or angry. Or bitter. Or bored. You get the point.
  2. Remember not to make it on your birthday. Unless it’s a massage.
  3. Read it three times before you press send. Four if it’s to your ex.
  4. Yes it matters.
  5. Knowledge is power, and at least then you’ll know.
  6. Be specific about what you did wrong, and let the other person’s mistakes wait for another day.
  7. She loves you. And it’ll make her feel important. You know how she loves feeling important.
  8. Or feel like they are, anyways.
  9. Like what I did there?

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