Drinking alcohol. Spending hours scrolling Instagram. Gambling. Playing video games. Overeating. What’s the common denominator between these activities? It’s that people often turn to them as a way to escape the daily stressors of everyday life, a process known as escapism. What exactly is escapism, why do people do it, and how can you resist the urge to engage in these behaviors?
What is escapism?
Escapism involves seeking out activities as distractions from stressful, painful, or boring experiences, thoughts, or feelings. In essence, escapism is about temporarily entering an alternate state that takes you out of your own reality.
Most people engage in some form of escapism, such as having a glass of wine or watching a TV show at the end of a long day. In moderate doses, escapism doesn’t typically pose a threat, however, what starts off as a harmless distraction or way to blow off some steam can easily become an addiction. A glass of wine a couple of times a week can easily become a glass of wine every night, then two glasses every night, and then a bottle. Escapism is a slippery slope and if occasional distractions turn into addictions, a person’s well-being and life can be severely impacted.
What are people trying to escape?
When someone overeats or spends hours on their phone, they’re either consciously or unconsciously, trying to escape difficult thoughts, feelings, and stressors. The source of a person’s stress could come from a number of different things, for example, finances, relationships, children, feeling stuck, a lack of purpose, hardships, or loss.
When life becomes too overwhelming and feelings become too intense, people turn to activities like gambling or excessively playing video games to distract themselves from their worries and numb their pain.
Understanding and responding to your triggers
If you’ve noticed that you have addictive tendencies or a frequent desire to check out of reality, I’d like to encourage you to try to understand what triggers your desire to escape. For example, do you feel the need to pour yourself a drink whenever you and your spouse talk about finances? Or does feeling lonely always seem to lead to spending hours on social media?
Understanding your triggers and becoming mindful of when you’re experiencing a trigger can benefit you in a couple of important ways. Firstly, doing so gives you the solitude to reflect on why you feel the need to escape in a given moment. In these moments, try journaling about your thoughts and feelings or talking with a trusted friend or family member. Once you understand what’s happening internally, you can choose how to address your concerns. Maybe you need a drastic life change or perhaps you need to make peace with things you cannot change. Addressing your triggers at their root can, in many cases, help you reduce or eliminate your addictive behaviors and/or find healthier ways to deal with your feelings.
Embracing healthier forms of escapism
Now, I don’t want you to read this and feel like you should never zone out on a TV show at the end of a long day to relax. That’s not the case! As I touched on above, escapism, when done in moderate doses, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, humans have always had a need for escapism. It used to be by telling stories by the campfire. We need to escape reality for moments to give our overworked brains a break.
It’s important, however, to find healthier ways to relax and blow off steam. Some healthier forms of escapism might include spending time with friends, reading books, watching an occasional movie or TV show, cooking, playing music, or creating art.
Along with choosing healthier distractions, be mindful of your behavior so that you can recognize and take action if escapism is becoming excessive or addictive.
We all escape reality from time to time. That’s natural and expected, especially in our high-pressure society. Problems can arise, however, when escapism becomes chronic or involves engaging in dangerous activities. Don’t give yourself a hard time about watching the occasional movie to relax, but do be mindful of your triggers and if your behavior is becoming addictive.