T3: List of Distracting Activities

Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD Profile Photo
Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on February 5, 2024


When you begin to experience an emotional crisis, there are steps that you can take to prevent the whole situation from becoming worse. We are going to cover the RESISTT technique that will help you cope with this in the next article (Exercise 4). To prepare for that, however, in this article we will work on making a list of distracting, pleasurable activities that you can do when having an emotional crisis. These activities are meant to help you from tolerate emotional distress. These activities will help you to create some space between the problematic situation and yourself, so that you can come back to the problem later when you feel a little better. Have fun with this exercise!

Distress Tolerance: Create a List of Distracting Activities
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Create a list of distracting activities that you can use to interrupt a descent into an emotional crisis. Do this exercise once, and then return to it occasionally as a reminder or to refresh your list.

Step One: Things You Enjoy Doing

First, think of activities that you enjoy doing in your free time. It can be a hobby of yours, something that you usually do in your free time to unwind. Maybe it's reading books, watching movies, playing with your pet, or listening to music.

You want to choose something you can easily do on short notice. So don’t choose cruising the French Riviera, unless you live in Europe and have a boat. You should also not choose things that are unhealthy and that you might regret later. So even if you enjoy drunk texting, maxing out your credit card, or binge eating, they should not be on your list. Take several minutes to think about this, and write down 5 activities.

Step Two: List of Distracting, Pleasurable Activities

To get you started with some more ideas about activities you can use to distract yourself when you are overwhelmed with negative emotions, we have a list of pleasurable activities below. Whenever you feel like you could do the activity below, put a check next to it.

  • Cook your favorite meal
  • Go out and have a cup of coffee with a friend
  • Work out
  • Listen to your favorite music (and maybe dance)
  • Watch a movie at home or a TV show
  • Pick up a new hobby (yoga, Pilates, etc.)
  • Take a hot bubble bath
  • Visit a museum or a gallery
  • Play an instrument, or start learning to play one
  • Simply go for a walk outside
  • Play a game with your friends (Monopoly, Clue)
  • Call a friend or a family member and chat
  • Chat online with your friends
  • Go shopping and browse around
  • Start writing a book
  • Meditate
  • Listen to music
  • Read a magazine or the newspaper
  • Get a massage or go to a beauty salon
  • Watch a sports event (baseball, basketball)
  • Buy some plants or do some gardening
  • Go to the movies or watch a play
  • Read your favorite book genre
  • Play video games
  • Play with your pet or give it a bath
  • Go on a date with your loved one
  • Have a picnic or go for a hike
  • Take a nap or sleep
  • Listen to a podcast you enjoy or the radio
  • Start a diary
  • Do karaoke
  • Eat snacks or something you enjoy
  • Go outside and enjoy the sunshine
  • Watch YouTube or visit a Website you like
  • Read comic books
  • Go for a drive or take the public transportation
  • Create new art that you enjoy
  • Go out and have your favorite lunch
  • Draw a painting, or do some coloring
  • Do some work or finish up some chores
  • Buy a gift for a loved one or a friend
  • Go swimming in the local pool
  • Dress nice and go out
  • Watch stand-up comedy

Step Three:

Now that you thought about what you usually enjoy doing and browsed through the list that we provided, you are ready to write down your own list. Choose 15-20 pleasurable activities you would like to distract yourself with next time you have overwhelming emotions. We will go over this list again in the next exercise (in the RESISTT technique).

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Get down your list of distracting activities. The more specific and prepared you are, the better. Saying you are going to listen to music is okay. Better would be to figure out which songs you are going to listen to and create a playlist. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to use these activities when you need them.

DBT Distress Tolerance: List of Distracting Activities

DBT Distress Tolerance: List of Distracting, Pleasurable Activities

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When should I use the list of distracting pleasurable activities?

You can use the list whenever you feel like you can benefit from distracting yourself from overwhelming emotions and may be triggered to engage in a certain problematic behavior. After you became more distanced from the situation and your overwhelming emotions, you can go back and revisit them. Also, we will use this list that you created in the next exercise - the RESISTT technique.

What if I enjoy an activity that is not very good for me (such as eating too much, smoking, or procrastinating)?

Try to fill your list of distracting, pleasurable activities with things that won't affect you in a negative way. Usually, activities such as addictions or avoidance of things bring temporary relief to the pain that you might feel, but they will not solve the root of the problem. This way you will also practice delaying immediate rewards which is always necessary when we try to accomplish a goal that requires long-term commitment.

I can't think of anything enjoyable, I've been feeling pretty depressed and down lately. What should I do?

Often, when we find ourselves in such situations, we make assumptions that there is nothing that we would find enjoyable. Now, when you're depressed or experiencing low mood, it is realistically harder to do this. Here is what you can do: before trying an activity that you might enjoy, write down how much you assume you'd enjoy it on a scale of 0-100. Then try the activity, and assess how much you actually enjoyed it after. Maybe the second number won't be as high as you would want, but it might be higher than what you assumed before. Try to do this until you find activities that you rate highly and seem to find some enjoyment in.

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Comments About Distracting Activities

  1. I honestly didn’t think i could come up with so many distractions for when my emotions try and get the best of me. Thank you.

  2. I was given a link to this page from my therapist and am finding it very useful. Thank you.
    Please note there is a typo under section 2, “You should also choose things that it’s unhealthy and that you might regret later.”

    ADMIN – Thanks! Fixed.

  3. At first, I thought most of these things are home activities and not practical in the “real world” but the idea of breaking out in karaoke in the middle of an overcrowded, stress-inducing room, has its own distracting value. So the list doesn’t have to be done literally, every time, in order to help

  4. hi everyone i am suffing really bad depression i am at my low and in a really dark hole atm and it seem i cart get out i have family and a friend help me but i just pushing them way because i dont want to gurt then and i want to get over all tbh i could do to have more friends more people to talk to

  5. Hello, I find the activities very helpful. May I humbly ask for your permission if I can make use of this on the psychoeducational module that I am creating for minority stress? Rest assured that proper acknowledgement will be given. It will be my honor if your will approve this. thank you so much.

    ADMIN – Hi Herbert,

    Your project sounds interesting. Please do.

  6. Katie I feel the same way So I understand what you’re going through and My Therapist says is good for your mental health if you have friends or someone to hang out without with so if you ever want to talk, I am here. So I’m seeing so many comments and I just started doing these does it really help?

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