Teen Talk with Renée: give me a break!

Check out this letter from your Teen Services Librarian Renée! This week she is writing about using distractions to overcome start-of-school-year stress!

I’m as guilty as any parent in the history of parenting when it comes to demanding my kids pay attention “when I’m talking to you!” I frequently say very adult things like, “hey, I need you to focus” and “tell me what I just said.” Maybe us adults want your undivided attention because we think what we have to say is just that important. Or maybe it’s because we understand how hard it is to pay attention and rarely do it ourselves! Truth be told, unless I am really in the zone, I’m like my dog–any distraction is like “Squirrel!” and my brain is off in another direction. It so easy to let my thoughts wonder when they are not supposed to, yet sometimes I can’t get thoughts out of my mind!

Distraction is a funny thing; it can be both bad and good, harmful and helpful. When studying for an algebra test, distractions will make the concepts harder. Being distracting by a squirrel while using a wood chipper, well, that can be dangerous. However, if thinking about life after high school keeps you awake at night, or scrolling through the latest news makes you anxious, taking a walk for a distraction is helpful and healthy. We all know how important it is to focus, but today let’s talk about the importance of distractions.

Here is why distractions are so, well, distracting – as amazing as our brains are, they really are not very good at multitasking. Yes, we can multitask, but we give up quality in the process. You may think you can give 100% to your math homework while Snapchatting, but sorry, nope. Your brain can’t give more than 100% (you’d know that if you paid attention in math!), which it would have to do to both complete your math homework and Snapchat. When studying for your finals, taking that drivers test, or working with a wood chipper, you really don’t want to give up quality by multi tasking or distracting your brain. But, let’s say you can’t stop focusing on stressful or unpleasant thoughts. Here is where that whole “I can only give 100%” is awesome – distract some or all of your brain.

Studies have shown that distraction works so well, it can be used to help relieve pain (“Distraction Reduces Pain”). Next time your little brother kicks you in the shin (I’m sure it was an accident), try this out – rub the shin that WASN’T kicked. Your brain can not give more than 100% (seriously, pay attention in math!). If you are rubbing your not hurt shin, your brain says something like this: “Wow! My shin really hurts! But wait, now I feel my other shin. I’m kind of confused. Which shin should I think about?” Ok, maybe it’s not quite like that, but I think you get my point. Distraction techniques are commonly used for people with chronic pain.

Distraction also works for stressful thoughts as well as feelings of judgment or self doubt. If thoughts of life after high school have you tossing and turning, try distracting your brain with a good book (check out Scythe, recommend by TCC member Sanjita); or if your IG news feed has you feeling overwhelmed, give your mind a break by heading outdoors and just listen to the birds for a bit. Actually count the different songs you hear. Your brain can’t concentrate on both counting songs and focusing on the state of the world. Using imagery is another great way to distract your brain from what’s going on around you. When my eldest son first started running cross country for high school, he would imagine he was being chased by zombies to keep his mind from letting in thoughts of self doubt! Sounds crazy, but it worked. (His facial expressions were priceless.)

Distractions can be a very helpful tool for those thoughts and feelings that you can’t seem to escape, but remember to pick distractions that don’t add to your already burdened mind. My go-to distractions are: reading a good book, knitting, going for a bike ride, or watching the Walking Dead (we’re a zombie-loving family!).

Now friends, I think you are ready for my distraction quiz!

Which of the following is an appropriate time to allow your mind to be distracted?

Which of the following are good distractions for your mind?

Answers will be in next week’s blog. Answers to last weeks mindfulness quiz: D, no thoughts of judgment and D, when using a chainsaw, focus on the chainsaw!

Until then, if you are looking for a fun distraction, check out Jason Reynolds “Write. Right. Rite.” video series. He’s got a lot of cool things going on. Now go take a break!

All the best,

-Renée

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