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by Rachel Fagan, M.Ed, Samaritan's Life Coach

Joe sets aside an hour of designated time to work on a project at his office, only to be interrupted fifteen minutes in by a coworker who stops by with a “quick question,” one that requires him to send an email. While in his account, he notices the list of unread emails that will “just take a minute to respond to,” so he does. As he sits back down to work, he receives a text message on his smartwatch from his wife asking if he can pick their daughter up from swim lessons that night while she runs errands. Joe responds and returns to his work, his mind now swirling with lingering thoughts about his coworker’s question. He can’t even remember where he left off on his project, and he’s now tired and has completely lost interest in the task at hand. He steps out to grab a coffee from the kitchenette to help reset. Sixty minutes have passed, and very little has been accomplished in terms of what Joe intended to focus on.

While the example is fictional, it isn’t far-fetched. In fact, it likely underrepresents the number of interruptions and distractions that the average person experiences, something glaringly evident even for myself as I write this article. We are living in a culture of instant gratification and a general expectation of being available “on demand.” However, constantly being “available” is not typically sustainable over long periods of time. Furthermore, there are increasing numbers of research studies that indicate that distractions are quite costly in terms of productivity, efficiency, energy, attention, communication, comprehension, and overall performance.

Why It Happens

According to Dr. David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute, our “attention is a limited resource.” Focusing attention on something costs us energy, and the more our energy is drained without being restored, the more difficult it is to focus. Furthermore, every time we become distracted, we move our attention to focus on something else (also known as task-switching), and this costs even more energy (Rock, 2009)

When people think of distractions, external triggers are often what first come to mind. These originate outside of us, such as people, objects, noises, technology, etc. Our bodies are equipped with senses to make us aware of our surroundings, so the more people and things we allow in our surroundings, the more our senses will have to filter.

Internal triggers, on the other hand, originate within us from our own thoughts or emotions, and for this reason, they can sometimes be tricky to identify (Distractions, 2022). Self-doubt is a powerful internal trigger that creeps in when we lack confidence in ourselves and our abilities, making us second-guess our next move. Another internal trigger is mental clutter or having too much on our mind, causing us to frequently task-switch mentally, leading to fatigue, stress, or feeling overwhelmed. “Shiny object syndrome” occurs when something else seems more interesting, appealing, or worth pursuing than what is currently underway (Gardner, 2017).

What Can You Do About It?

The good news is that we can eliminate and prevent some of the distractions in our lives with a little intentional preparation.

Plan Your Environment-Our environments largely influence our triggers, so tidying up your surroundings is a great place to start. Be sure to have all necessary materials in place before starting on a task, and remove temptations (snacks, people, pets, games, devices, etc.), or at least make them inconvenient to access.

Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle-Physical discomfort is distracting in itself, so it should come as no surprise to hear that fueling your body with nutritious foods, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and exercising are all great steps to take toward boosting your immune system and supporting your mind to manage distractions when they are unavoidable.

Communicate Clearly-If you have not “trained” others how and when they can have access to you (and sometimes even if you have), people are going to proceed to get your attention however and whenever they choose to. Non-existing or unclear expectations and boundaries are often the cause of interruptions from others, so it can be helpful to communicate ahead of time exactly what you need and why, as well as options of what they could do while you are unavailable. This may include asking others to send you an email or schedule a meeting with you if they need your attention instead of “stopping by.”

Plan for Progress-Distractions kill productivity, and sometimes the way we approach tasks can lead to distractions. Set specific goals and deadlines, break large tasks down into less complex steps, and approach them one at a time. Designate specific periods of time for focused work, free thinking (where distractions and mind wandering are permitted), and breaks to recharge, and remember to set time limits for each. If you are easily distracted, aim for 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break.

Unplug from Technology-Almost all forms of modern technology seem

to have a notification system, from the devices themselves to the programs they run. Some can be very helpful, but I often wonder if we sometimes go further than necessary with technology. I honestly cannot think of an instance where I would need to be notified when my cats enter and exit their litter boxes, but this technology exists. Just because we can be notified doesn’t mean it’s necessary. Take advantage of notification preference settings and unplug when you can. If you do not find value in a mailing list or channel that you subscribed to, UNSUBSCRIBE. When all else fails, Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb work great.

Mind Your Mental Health-Being aware of your thoughts and feelings may very well be half the battle to combatting distraction, but tuning in takes some intentional practice. It may be helpful to keep track of your distractions for a few days to see if you notice any patterns. When you become aware of being distracted, immediately take action to redirect yourself. If you are distracted by self-doubt, work to build self-confidence. Start by recalling times in your past where you’ve felt valued or experienced success. Write these down and consider keeping them in a “Feel Good Folder” for days when you need a boost. If you have a lot on your mind, try doing a “brain dump,” where you write down everything without sorting or judging, and use this as a working task list. Track your progress for more challenging tasks so that you can see how much you are accomplishing. If you are confused or feeling overwhelmed with a task, ask for clarification or help. Finally, support good mental health by managing stress levels, keeping your brain sharp with concentration games and puzzles, and strengthening your focus stamina through meditation or practicing with short blocks of focus time followed by a “brain break” (Gardner, 2017).

Do you know what competes for your attention? Distractions may be all around us, but we can learn to work with them with a little intention. The key is knowing what your triggers are and having some strategies to counter them.


Gardner, M. (2017, October 13). 4 types of inner distraction and how to eliminate them. Medium. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from

Rock, D. (2009, October 4). Easily distracted? Why it can be so hard to focus. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2022, July 25). Distractions. Learning Center. Retrieved February 25, 2023,

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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

A lot of counseling centers talk about caring for people spirit, mind, and body. What does that mean, and how do they do this? It is something that’s deeply part of Samaritan’s vision.

There’s a reason I became executive director of Samaritan. For over 25 years I recognized Samaritan as a leader in offering counseling that includes the spirit—that isn’t just about psychological health, but also about spiritual health.

As executive director part of my drive is constantly asking how we can do better in the integration of spirit, mind, and body. As a counseling center it’s hard to address the body part fully, but it’s still part of what we do. We make sure that our clients seek psychiatric care (a psychiatrist is a medical doctor trained in the connection between brain chemistry, hormones, physicality and mental health), as well as medical care from their primary care physician, when it’s clear something physical is impacting their mental health. We also make sure that we don’t just psychologize problems, but take into account how diet, sleep, exercise, and more impact it.

Where we excel is in integrating the spiritual into our practice. Our therapists are trained in understanding spiritual issues that arise in therapy. But we don’t just apply a bland form of spirituality. We take into account our clients’ backgrounds and faith traditions. We don’t treat all the same. We treat them as they are, with whatever religious or even non-religious background they bring.

Over the past number of years we’ve endeavored to do even better integrating the spiritual and psychological. I’m a trained spiritual director, so I am part of this effort. Over past year we’ve taken even more steps.

In 2022, we hired a new life coach, Rachel Fagan, to help people who may not need therapy, but who do need guidance on how to cultivate a healthier life and develop skills that help them to flourish. Rachel has been a tremendous addition to our work, working with clients throughout Western Pennsylvania, while also serving as a resource for our therapists. What’s the difference between coaching and therapy? Therapy helps clients function better. Coaching helps them to flourish. As a master certified life coach, Rachel empowers people to uncover their strengths and use them to grow to live happier, more meaningful, and fuller lives.

In 2023 we’ve also added a new spiritual director, Dr. Amy Armanious. Amy was trained in a two-year spiritual direction program at the Pneuma Institute. Through her training, professional, and personal life she’s developed extensive experience working with Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches. Amy has Doctor in Nursing Practice and served as a registered nurse for 35 years in a variety of hospital specialties, home health nursing, hospice care, and parish nursing in a church. She became a spiritual director to help people grow in areas often neglected.

So what is spiritual direction? It’s a discipline that helps people become more aware spiritually of how God, the Holy, the Divine is acting in our lives to bring healing and health, and how we can become more spiritually open in ways that leads us to become healthier.

The key in all of this is that while many places talk about being spirit, mind, and body focused, we’re actively working to be a counseling center that deeply integrates all of these areas so that we can bring healing, mentally, spiritually, and physically.


The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

It’s late in the month to be talking about New Year’s resolutions. By now you’ve either made one or not. And if you made one, you’re either feeling successful, struggling, or have failed.

So here I am in mid- to late-January writing about New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because I want you to rethink them. For the most part we make resolutions that have to do with something physical such as losing weight, exercising more, sleeping better, or personal attributes such as being kinder, being more honest, being less critical, etc...

I’m encouraging you think a bit differently using a concept I’ve come across over the past year, which is adopting a guiding word as a resolution rather than adopting a resolution. The word can serve almost like a mantra that we repeat over and over to ourselves, and that over time shapes and changes our thinking, acting, and more in ways we want to change.

For example, instead of resolving to lose 20 pounds by going on a diet, choosing a word like “moderation,” may have a huge impact not only on losing weight, but on life. If we choose to moderate in all things, we may find that we’re not only moderating our food choices, but also moderating how we interact with people, the amount of television we watch, the degree to which we do too much stuff that doesn’t matter and not enough of that which does.

Think of what the impact of following words such as “kindness,” “generosity,” “appreciate,” “healthy,” “others,” and more might have on your life.

A one-word resolution can also have an impact on our lives spiritually. For instance, choosing a word such as “aware” might help us become more aware of God’s presence everywhere, and how every part of life has spiritual meaning. “Gratitude” can help us become more thankful and appreciative in life, making us more positive and enthusiastic. A word such as “compassion” can help us sparkle with a greater sense of care for others.

The key is taking time to assess our lives to get a sense of what could be enhanced, and if we have a spiritual bent, asking God in prayer what word we’re called to adopt. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve often spent time looking honestly at my life, thinking of all the things I’d like to make better, and then just ruminating on what one word captures it. Eventually a word seems to emerge.

For example, the word for me this year is “engage.” What does that mean? For me it means making sure that whatever I embark on that I’m engaged in it rather than just participating in or doing it. It means bringing passion, consistency, resiliency, perseverance, and more into my life. This is a highly personal word for me that has more meaning that I can really convey here. It’s a word that came to me while walking in a mall several weeks ago as I reflected on what word captures what I’m seeking.

So, I’m encouraging you, for your physical, mental, and spiritual health, to consider a one-word resolution, even if you’ve already made your resolution.

As always, if it leads you to seeking help from us, we’re always here with compassionate counselors, coaches, and spiritual directors.

Be blessed!

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