Why Distraction Can Be Just as Important as Action in Times of Hopelessness


On January 1st, I decided to start watching The Office. New Year’s Eve had come and gone and, on the first day of the decade, I was still trying to find peace with the fact my usual desire to set goals for the year had evaporated into nothingness. I’d never watched the show before, but was promised over brunch with friends that morning that it was the kind of show where “nothing bad ever really happens.” It was the kind of show my subconscious knew I needed. I hit play on the first episode and was greeted by 23 minutes of awkward, amusing, regenerative delight—23 minutes I didn’t think about the bushfires.

Australia—my home—is currently experiencing some of the worst bushfires on record. At least 12 million acres have burned, people have died, and experts have predicted we’ve lost over one billion animals, including 8,000 koalas. The fires are devastating and I… am devastated.

Since the fires began, my phone, more than ever, has become my lifeline to home. I spent last weekend attached to it, lying in bed until noon each day, refreshing every social media app, watching live news updates. The more I scrolled, the more hopeless I felt. I donated money, encouraged others to do the same, but I felt myself spiraling so fast I started to find it hard to think of anything but the fires. By the early afternoon, I felt sick. I needed something—anything—that would separate me from my phone, so I went for a run. I ran fast. I ran far. And I felt better. After a morning of action, I had gifted myself a tiny distraction and, in return, just like the deep breath I allow myself to take every time I watch an episode of The Office, it gave me temporary relief from the heartache.

Over the last two weeks, amidst ongoing feelings of hopelessness, I’ve been leaning increasingly on this exchange. And the idea that, as Newton (almost) put it, every action deserves an equal and opposite distraction.

In times of crisis—as it feels like we so often are these days—taking action is imperative. It’s why we donate, march, call our representatives, and support those who need us. But what I’m starting to realize is that with action comes a desperate need for the little distractions that bring us joy and give us space to replenish our emotional stocks. Here are some ways I’ve been putting my law of action and distraction into practice:

Action: Check bank account. Calculate upcoming expenses. Donate more money. Feel thankful to be in a financial position to do so.

Distraction: Watch Season 2, Episode 12 of The Office. Hope that Pam and Jim get together soon.

Action: Find Australian businesses that have been affected by the fires to support. Share mental health resources with friends who are struggling.

Distraction: Take a walk around the block. Listen to a song that makes me want to dance.

Action: Make a list of ways I can lower my carbon footprint.

Distraction: Invite a friend over for dinner. Research vegan recipes.

Action: Call my mum. Ask how she is doing.

Distraction: Text back a non-Australian friend who asked how I am doing.

If you’re looking for ways to take action on the bushfires, I’ve been donating to the Australian Red Cross bushfire appeal, NSW Rural Fire Service, and Wires native animal rescue (here are some other ways you can join the relief effort). And if you’re also looking for ways to reenergize, like me, join me by sharing one of your go-to ways below.

What are the small things that bring you joy in moments of chaos? How are you looking after yourself, so you can look after others?

Graphic by Lorenza Centi.

Gyan Yankovich

Gyan Yankovich is the Managing Editor at Man Repeller.

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