Ah escapism. Life wouldn’t be as awesome without it.
The writer Shirly Jackson said “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality”. How correct she was.
And whatever your preferred form of mental junk food – playing video games, reading novels, listening to music, watching movies, socializing with friends, planning and booking holidays, consuming alcohol and drugs, using social media, all the above – you want a Goldilocks amount of the stuff. That’s because the poison is in the dose. Escapism can easily go from being a potential source of enjoyment and happy refuge, to wholesale reality avoidance.
This post is aimed at improving your awareness around the role escapism plays in your life. It also suggests some ways to bring more health to your habit.
So what qualifies as escapism?
In the week I produced this article, I observed myself using escapism (this is an exercise that I’d recommend). What I found was that the intention behind the activity, rather than the activity itself, is the defining feature.
Anything you do for light relief, to give your brain a break or to avoid/delay an uncomfortable emotional/psychological experience, can qualify.
The major ways I escaped the present moment were by fantasizing, listening to music and watching Netflix.
The most significant thing is to question the intention behind the activity. Almost anything can be escapism if you are using it to avoid an unpleasant reality.
It did occur to me however whether my yoga practice had become something I use to escape a grim present reality. I hadn’t considered the possibility that something good for you could also be escapism.
I decided that sometimes I practice out of the desire to escape the reality of a working day alone. There is nothing wrong with that, but it did remind me of some important information.
Are some forms of escapism better?
Escapism isn’t all made equal. A wise choice of escapism will recharge, relax, comfort, uplift or entertain you. The problem is, we can think that something will have that effect when it isn’t really. I am thinking particularly about social media use.
Sometimes, we can wind up needing escapism from our escapism!
Ascertain whether your escapism is fulfilling its role of being relaxing, calming or joy-producing.
Check that your escapism is doing its job.
When is it okay to indulge in escapism?
It’s always okay to indulge in escapism if that’s what you truly want.
But I think most of us really want to be moderate with it and not over-rely on escapism. Otherwise it can feel like you are wasting your time and life.
It is probably okay to use escapism in small bouts throughout the day to rest your brain and divert your attention away from less serious stuff. If it becomes more than that, then you have to ask yourself what is going on with your life.
Escapism is an attribute of emotional intelligence
Recognize that deciding to use escapism when you are in a distressing emotional state is a form of emotional intelligence. It is the skill of knowing when to engage with an emotion, versus when to disengage from an emotion.
However, sometimes it’s more self-compassionate to avoid an emotion, distract yourself, or actively shift your awareness toward a different kind of emotional experience. This is true especially when your emotions take on a cyclical form (I call this a doom loop).
The secret is to remain conscious of your emotional needs.
An exercise to figure out if your escapism habit is healthy
Before you use escapism, ask yourself “what am I avoiding by doing this?” Then ask yourself “why do I want to avoid it?” Mentally list the benefits of not dealing with whatever it is now, versus the cons.
You may find that you lose your reason for using escapism.
Advice if you think you use escapism too much
Just stop it.
Alright, here is a longer version of the advice:
Try being in reality more. Don’t listen to music all the time when you’re out walking; take your headphones off. Don’t stay in every night watching Netflix; go out and meet some people. Being in real life is actually great for most of us. Plus the more you engage, the more reasons you find to do less escaping.
Upgrade your escapism. Make sure it is genuinely relaxing, soothing or uplifting. If you make your escapism more effective, you might do less escaping.
Make a list on your phone of all the things you’d like to do, but haven’t. Each time you want to escape, take a moment to look at that list. Yes it’s uncomfortable, but so is wasting your time and life on things of no significance or meaning.
Take some time to figure out what’s important to you in life. Sometimes escapism is what happens because we are drifting aimlessly.
Escapism should be seen as an emotional treat that you give yourself once in a while. You should feel in control over it, and able to moderate it effectively without getting hooked and forgetting your priorities.
Observe yourself. Be honest. Seek to use healthier forms of escapism.
Develop the self-discipline to be in reality more. And most importantly, build a life that you want to escape from less.