by: E.B. Johnson
Many of us have used escapism over the years to avoid everything from paying our taxes to facing up to our fears. When we engage in escapism, shut off our brains for a little while and take a step out of whatever circumstances are causing us to feel anxious, stressed or otherwise up against it. It’s a powerful coping mechanism, and one that is especially invaluable now, but it’s important to master escapism consciously lest it come to rule your life.
By cultivating a deeper understanding of the ways in which escapism can both benefit us and hold us back, we can use it as a tool to promote calm and tranquility in our lives. Turning away from the painful things we cannot control is how we get refocused on the things that we can control. It’s also the means by which we find ourselves again, and the way in which we strengthen our resolves and the determination we have to keep moving forward — despite it all.
Escapism in the age of COVID-19.
Though it often gets a hard time from self-help gurus, escapism can be an invaluable tool when it comes to surviving times just like these. Escapism occurs when we engage in activities that pull us away from the stress or negativity in our lives. It’s a type of prioritization and a type of reset that can be especially helpful when we’re feeling as though we’ve lost sight of what we need to do or what’s important.
Much as a computer can become over-stressed or reheat, so too can our brains when we heap on too much mental or emotional hardship. If you’re feeling as though everything is a mess and you just can’t cope anymore, escaping it all might be just what you need to recharge.
Stop looking at escapism as something to be avoided, and embrace the power of “doing nothing”. Though we’ve been told that enjoyment is the path to vice and failure, nothing could be further from the truth. Giving ourselves the space and opportunity to reset is a kindness that we owe to ourselves and our wellbeing. If the pressure of social distancing is wearing you down, read on to learn more about escapism and how it could provide precisely the door you need to access your joy in this new age of chaos.
How escapism works.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand how escapism adds value to our lives in times of crisis. Sometimes, the pressure to survive is just too great for our conscious brains to withstand. That’s why it’s important to allow ourselves to be distracted, so we can encourage easier thinking and a shift in perspective that opens up new avenues of opportunity.
On the most basic and superficial of levels, escapism offers us distraction and a way to turn our minds (and emotions) from the things that are causing us stress, panic or tension. Escapism means doing things that you enjoy, and that can refocus the brain in positive ways that make dealing with physical and social distancing that much easier.
Beside giving us a much-needed distraction, escapism works through relaxing our minds and alleviating the stress we’re experiencing. This allows us to think through things more balanced and effectively, and look at things a little more rationally and logically (from time to time, at the very least). The more relaxed we are, the easier it is for us to think through things.
When we allow ourselves to relax and detach (both emotionally and physically) from a situation, it can help to shift our sense of perspective or the way we’re currently experiencing things. Negative experiences have a way of keeping us hyper-focused in way that causes us to lose sight of all the other opportunities waiting for us. Allowing your brain to turn off and recharge is a great way to come back to the table with a new perspective when things start to get serious.
The benefits of balanced escapism when you’re socially isolating.
Social isolation is scary, not only because it separates us from the people that we care for, but also because it removes the illusion of control we have over our lives. We now no longer have the power to go outside or go where we want. Escapism, however, can give us back that sense of control and provide a number of other welcome benefits that help boost our resilience when times get tough.
Escapism is a great way to relax, and it’s one of the most low-effort forms of relaxation we can tap into. Getting out of your discomfort for a little while can be as simple as watching a movie you love, or playing a video game you haven’t had a change to focus on in a while. You can literally escape the misery of COVID-19 isolation from the comfort of your own couch with a little creativity and very little effort.
One of the reasons escapism is so addictive is the quick results it provides. When you engage in escapist activities that are enjoyable, they provide an instant boost to your happiness and can dramatically improve your mood in a matter of minutes. These quick results work in conjunction with dopamine hits, which is what makes getting away from it all such a pleasurable and easy way to clear your mind.
Though escapism gets a bad rap, we all need to give ourselves a break from time to time. Stepping away from the stressand the drama of life is what can keep us sane and provide an outlet for the negative emotions we don’t quite know how to deal with. Turning your brain off is downright therapeutic, and can make the difference between life and death when you’re feeling frazzled or pushed to the edge. It’s all-access therapy for everyone, and you don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to.
Escapism isn’t something that has to be done alone — even in the age of social distancing. There are a number of ways we can use connection to creatively escape the pressure and stress of a life lived apart. Playing video and board games together is one way to bond while getting away from it all, but you can also engage in pastimes as simple as video chats and phone calls. Escapism is a great opportunity to reconnect and focus authentically on other people.
When you feel like you can’t get ahead, or you’re trapped in a negative loop of emotions and focus — it can be hard to feel as though you’re getting any joy or satisfaction out of life. Escapism can help combat those feelings, and provide the sense that we’re getting what we want from life, or that we’re in charge of important aspects of our lives. If you’re not feeling satisfied in any other aspect of your day-to-day, escapism can provide the key to…well, escape.
The best ways to creatively escape it all when you’re quarantined.
There are a number of ways you can creatively escape it all if you’re quarantined indoors with nowhere to go. Social isolating doesn’t mean you have to be cut off from your joy. Check out of your misery and start checking into experiences that can keep you calm and help promote an air of peace in your life during this moment.
Binge it all
Binging on your favorite TV shows or Netflix documentaries is a great way to cut your mind off from the current stress and detach from your emotional instability. Our television sets can provide a window into another world, but they can also serve as a substantial database of knowledge and freedom. The choice ultimately is up to us and the way we decide to distract ourselves.
Been thinking of doing a re-decoration? Painting your living room or personal spaces in warm or soothing colors is a great way to create an atmosphere of calm and escape it all for a little while. Painting stills the brain, and puts us in a distraction-free zone where we can vibe and just be quiet and with ourselves for a little while. It’s a great way to check out while not thinking about anything important at all.
Exercising your pets
Taking your dog on a walk is another great way to give yourself a break and detach from the current state of crisis that’s permeating all our lives. Go on a walk each day and allow both of you to just be yourselves in the moment. Breathe in the fresh air, drink in the sunlight and remember there’s still a big wide world out there waiting for us. Be present and enjoy this quiet time you get to spend outside of the office. It won’t last forever.
There are some who claim escapism is a waste of time, but it can actually be extremely beneficial when you know how to use it effectively. Engaging in skill-boosting pastime that improve your overall well-roundedness are beneficial to your self-esteem, but also your physical and mental health. Cooking, drawing, writing, and even crafting provide a great opportunity to boost your skills and increase your confidence in who you are and what you want from life.
Not all escapism has to be about benefiting your life or adding some type of higher quality to it. Our brains are like computers, and sometimes they just need to be powered down so they can restart on a more healthy and level plane of thinking. Literally turning your mind off to let it wander aimlessly provides precisely this, and can be extremely helpful when you’re feeling as though you’re about to break.
Even though you might be stuck indoors, getting serious about your fitness is still a very real possibility. There are a number of indoor fitness options you can take advantage of, and they go a long way in helping you to detach from the current reality and focus on something beneficial for a while. Plus, you get the added benefit of an improved body and health when all is said and done.
Green thumbing it
Noticed that the weather seems to be improving? Gardening is great way to get outside (while keeping a distance) and it’s also a great way to boost our physical health and improve our mood. Get out in the fresh air and put in the vegetable patch you’ve been talking about, or just take a few minutes out of your day to get to those weeds that have pestering your for ages. When you garden you shut off your brain and get lost in the process. It’s great way to check out while still doing something healthy and beneficial.
How to use escapism without crossing the line.
It’s important to note that not all escapism is created equal. It’s not only possible to take your escapism too far, it’s extremely easy to do. When we get too invested in doing on the things that distract us, it pulls us away from the important things that still need to get done. Escape the drama and the trauma of right now, but do it smartly. Utilize the following basics to ensure you don’t take a good thing too far.
1. Figure out the boundary line first
Before you jump feet-first into something that could potentially overwhelm you, it’s important to know where the boundary lines are. This means knowing how much time you realistically have to “escape” as well as knowing when enough is enough. Even in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, there are still things that have to be accomplished in a day. Allowing our escapism to get in the way of those things can just cause more heartache down the road.
Draw the line before you engage in escapism and know when it’s time to snap out of it and get back to unpleasant discomfort of reality. Build up an “Escapist Schedule” that clearly outlines when you have free time to waste, and when you don’t. Prioritize things that have to get done and bump the things that don’t. Escapism is good, but only when it’s used wisely.
If we don’t figure out our boundary lines ahead of time, we risk waking up one day to realize we’ve caused ourselves even more stress and discomfort by ignoring the things that matter. This includes our romantic relationships, the care of our friends, family and animals — and even our own personal care. There can be a real difference between escapism and self-care. Know where your lines are and know when you’re wasting time and creating valuable time for yourself.
2. Look for necessary wins
Though escapism that is completely unrelated to your reality is effective in helping you deal, it can also be beneficial to use your escapism as a means to benefit your general circumstances. This can be done by looking for necessary wins, and opportunities to intersect your passions with your skills. Things like learning a new language, mastering that new coding language or investing in those DIY projects are all great examples of ways we can do this.
Tapping into necessary wins, or small things that add considerable value to our lives, we can make our escapism a tool that helps us to thrive. Not all escapism has to be vegetative. Find things you love that also provide a boost to your mental, physical and emotional intelligence.
Gardening has nothing to do with a high-pressure job, or the fight that’s going on inside the house. Do it every day, however, and you’ll find your physical strength growing and your emotional pressure lifting. There’s a silver lining (and great double benefits) to so many of the escapist tools we use, we just have to learn to look at the bright-side and focus on the things that add value, joy and fulfillment to our lives.
3. Get friendly with your nearest timer
We get lost in the things we enjoy and we get lost in the things we’re passionate about. That’s the point, and that’s the reason escapism works so well. When we get too lost, however, we can find ourselves off track and even further from where we want to be. Just because the world has temporarily closed does not mean it has stopped spinning. We still have to maintain a life that we can rely on when this is all over, and that means not getting lost in our great escapes.
Get friendly with your nearest timer and use it to ensure that you’re not crossing the line between obsession and enjoyment. Every time you jump into an escapist activity, set a timer and don’t allow yourself to exceed it. Give yourself enough time to relax and shut down for a while, but not so much that the whole day is goneand you stop doing your laundry for 3 weeks. It’s a fine line, and you’re responsible for walking it.
Start easy, by giving yourself big blocks of time to check out — so that you feel as though you’re “getting your money’s worth”. If you’re playing a video game, give yourself the first day to completely veg out. Then, start restricting the time you spend on the game, and balance it against the tasks you have to get done. Give yourself daily tasks and make checking out a part of that routine. The more regularly you practice these timed bouts of brainless enjoyment, the more calm your state of thinking will become.
4. Use accountability buddies
Because escapism can be a (relatively) social affair — we can also use our friends and virtual buddies as accountability partners that help us tread the line between healthy-escapism and losing ourselves. We don’t have to go it alone, and we can absolutely include our friends, our families and even our partners on our journey to get back to balanced. After all, the strength of others provides a new perspective and the motivation to keep going.
If you’re worried that you’re spending too much time escaping, or that you’re losing yourself in the mix, reach out to a friend you can trust and enlist them as your accountability buddy. Lean on them when you play video games; when you go for a run. Check in with them every day and open up to them about how you’re feeling and what you need to do next.
We’re going through difficult times, and part of surviving that means relying on the people that matter most in our lives. Don’t think you have to go through this alone. Social distancing is really just a physical distance. Keep the lines of communication open and keep your heart open too. Enlist the help of your friends on your escapism journey and make the experience that much better by increasing the joy of all parties involved.
5. Have a goal in mind
Although drawing the line before you start escaping is important, so is having a clear goal in mind. Just as specific goalscan help us to achieve success in our professional lives, they do the same in our personal lives and escapism is no different. Before you jump into an 18 hour video game session, or decide to completely overhaul your garden know how you want to feel on the other side of it and know (ultimately) what you hope to achieve from getting away from it all for a bit.
Know what you’re running from, and have a point and a purpose before you escape — even if it’s just “escape the COVID-19 doomsday reports for 15 minutes”. Spend some time on your own and really dig into your feelings. How are you feeling right now in this moment? How is your body responding to the stress? Compare that against how you wish you felt, and focus on those positive feelings you want to create.
Giving ourselves a clear and specific reason for cutting off helps our brains to re-gear in the direction we want to take them. Intention is everything, and that is especially true when it comes to our escapist pastimes. Set an intention before you engage and don’t get lost in the shuffle. Without knowing why you need and want to detach from reality, you’ll find yourself wandering aimlessly and standing (uselessly) with nothing accomplished when this mad world finally calms down. Know why you’re escaping and have a clear goal of attachment ready and waiting on the other side of your calm.
Putting it all together…
Escapism can be a powerful tool when you’re going through exceptional times such as these. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and overrun by all the negativity and the high-pressure nature of our lives, and it’s even easier to allow ourselves to get trampled and run-down. That’s why it’s necessary sometimes to turn off our brains and allow them the chance to reset and recharge in a way that is more in tune with their natural state of joy. If you’re struggling to keep your head above water in this new age of social distancing, take heart. Escapism might be just the tool you need.
Understand how escapism works and understand the various benefits it can bring to your life. Escapism only works as a benefit when we use it wisely. This takes having specific goals and knowing where the boundary lines are before we dive into the deep end of the pool. Not all escapism is good. It’s possible to take a good thing too far. Lean on accountability buddies and make your nearest timer your best friend. Escapism is good, but it’s only a benefit to us when we leave time to keep achieving the important things that are still going on in our lives. Look for necessary wins, and use your escaping time as a “two birds, one stone” situation that improves that overall quality of your life (while still helping you to check out). We’re going through hard times, but we can get through them together when we get committed and stay true to our authentic sense of joy and passion. Escape it all for a little while and drop the guilt. There’s nothing wrong with resetting, and there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a chance — no matter what that looks like.