We look at the pros and cons of taking a mental vacation when things get tough
Escapism can come in many forms. Perhaps you find it when engrossed in a good movie or maybe when endlessly scrolling funny videos on TikTok. It’s that feeling you get when you lift yourself out of the here and now to somewhere else – somewhere that feels better for your mind.
Over the last few years, I would hazard a guess that more of us are indulging in escapism. Real life can be… a lot. Whether it’s the pandemic, social justice issues or worldwide tragedies, it’s understandable that some of us feel the need to check out mentally from time to time.
I’ve always thought of escapism as a purely good thing; something we need now and then. But is there a point where escapism could be detrimental to our mental health?
Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.
Benefits of escapism:
It can help reduce stress
This is perhaps one of the most common reasons we turn to escapism. Getting lost in a favourite book, daydreaming while listening to a song or playing a video game can all help us switch off, release tension and reduce stress. When things get too much, a little escapism gives you the equivalent of a mental vacation, but it’s important to remember this is only treating the symptoms of stress. To truly reduce stress, we need to identify the root cause.
It can inspire us
Creative pursuits can be a wonderful ticket to escapism. Doodling imaginary scenes, making music, watching films/TV that makes us think, writing stories… it can all inspire us to think more broadly and spark a fire within us. These forms of escapism can be considered productive and often leave us feeling pretty good.
It can keep us motivated
Sometimes we need to step back to recognise where we’re going. Escapism can help us do that. Try daydreaming about a day in your ‘ideal’ life, from breakfast to bedtime, and ask yourself how it’s different from your current life. What small steps could you take to bridge that gap? Holidays can also be considered a form of escapism and these can offer the break in routine we all need to stay motivated when we get home.
Cons of escapism:
It can be a form of procrastination
Have you ever used escapism when you know you should be doing something else? Perhaps you’re binge-watching a series to avoid family commitments or scrolling on social media instead of working on a deadline. Procrastination often comes up when we’re feeling fearful of a task (maybe we doubt our abilities or feel anxious about it) and escapism can help to facilitate this.
It can lead to avoidance
Taking it one step further, sometimes we can use escapism as a way to avoid difficult emotions. I know I use social media scrolling as a numbing tool when I have an anxiety flare-up, for example. Maybe you shut yourself inside with video games when you’re feeling low.
“Escapism is the opposite of mindfulness – that is living in the moment, of living mindfully. It may be that for you, facing reality is simply too terrifying. This is at the root of your anxiety, the fear of ‘doing the living’, becoming frightened of your own existence,” psychotherapist Amanda Perl MSC explains in her article, Anxiety and escapism: a post-traumatic stress disorder.
It can be addictive
Escapism feels good – there’s a reason we turn to it in tough times. But this can give it an addictive quality, encouraging us to lean on escapism as a coping mechanism. The more passive types of escapism especially (like scrolling or watching TV) can become a crutch and start interfering with our overall wellbeing.
Questions to ask yourself about escapism and mental health
As we can see, things aren’t clear-cut with escapism, and there are many pros and cons. So, how can we determine if the way we’re using escapism is good or bad for our mental health? Here are some questions to consider:
What am I escaping from?
Bringing a little self-awareness to your escapism habits can help you dig a little deeper into what may be going on for you. Consider what it is you’re escaping from and whether or not there’s more you can do to address the underlying issue.
How do I feel after using escapism?
If you come away from your escapism activity feeling creative, inspired or simply more relaxed, then that’s great. If you notice you feel low, numb or even afraid to return to ‘real life’ it could be worth seeking support.
Is escapism affecting my everyday life?
How much time is escapism taking up day-to-day? Is it stopping you from functioning? If it’s having an impact on your everyday life, it is worth taking a closer look at why you need it so much and how you can cope with what it is you’re escaping.
If you’re worried about your use of escapism, working with a therapist can be a great way to uncover the underlying issue. This can offer the space to create healthier coping mechanisms, become more mindful or even to use escapism in a more positive way.
Learn more and connect with a therapist on Counselling Directory.