“We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality; we create it to be able to stay.” – Lynda Barry
Try this short visualization exercise:
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and go back to a magical moment in your life.
- Remember all the sights, sounds, fragrances and people in your surroundings in vivid detail.
- Take a few moments to soak in the blissful emotions and sensations within that experience.
- Open your eyes whenever you’re ready.
Didn’t that feel wonderful? Without having to go anywhere or do anything to alter your reality, you were able to generate pleasant feelings by simply going within. You found a portal to escape reality.
Human consciousness is malleable and therefore allows us to access different paradigms of existence every time we focus on alternate versions of reality through our thoughts. With some tact and self-awareness, we can enhance our inner experience and conjure up the perfect emotional diet.
We engage in escapism whenever we intentionally detach ourselves from the real world so that we can take a breather from our circumstances. It gives us an opportunity to recharge our batteries before we can get back in the game. Without escapism, we would burn out a lot faster and take on a cynical approach towards living. Life can be tough, and escaping it now and then may be just the ticket for us.
In fact, escapism is one of our basic needs. That’s why we have dreams when we sleep. It’s our mind’s natural way of disengaging from the realm of conscious living so that we can enter a space where all things are possible and escape from the clutches of our current limitations. When we dream, we have the chance to get lost in an imaginary landscape of fantasies that we’d love to live out in real life.
The entertainment industry thrives on our need for escapism. Some of the highest grossing movies of all times are movies that take us to exotic worlds and stretch our imagination, such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and several animated films. Unfortunately, industries of less innocuous forms of escapism, such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco, also take advantage of this need.
I’m certainly not advocating the weak escapist tendencies associated with hallucinations, naiveté, delusions, intoxication, or any other prodigal behaviors that perpetuate being out of touch with reality and avoiding responsibilities The classic examples of ignorant and weak escapists includes anyone who tries to numb it out, such as alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, drug addicts and emotional eaters.
While these negative manifestations of escapism are definitely out there, I don’t advocate demonizing the concept of escapism because I see it as a potential source of enjoyment and growth, if handled effectively. Whenever you feel bogged down, you can take advantage of healthier outlets of escapism that allow you to step away from a situation and return to it with a fresh and balanced perspective.
As a society that thrives on busyness, cramming our lives with time-crunching to-do lists that steadily cut down on our down time, we’re in dire need of constructive ways to check out from our hectic lifestyles. Too much seriousness and overdosing on real-talk can fry our nervous system and dampen our spirits. No wonder that the average person in the modern world is stressed, overwhelmed and overmedicated more than ever before.
Thankfully, there are many forms of positive escapism on offer for us. Escapism can be seen as an emotional treat that you give yourself once in a while, and an essential part of the attitude of an emotionally intelligent individual. It should be like a hobby that you can pick up and put down at your will, which you can moderate effectively without getting hooked on it and forgetting your priorities.
The key is knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy forms of escapism and having the willpower to keep things balanced. Learning when to engage and disengage from our feelings of escapism will ensure that we stay in control the whole time, instead of allowing it to control us.
Here are some important points to keep in mind whenever we wish to immerse ourselves in escapism:
1. Wean out the unhealthy forms of escapism: Of course, escapism, like anything else, can go too far. If you’re someone who is addicted to unhealthy forms of escapism or you overindulge in harmless sources of pleasure, it’s a clear indicator that there are some dysfunctional core beliefs and emotions that need to be addressed. Some symptoms include having problems at work, loss of willpower to pursue goals, damage to personal relationships, and sometimes cutting yourself from socializing. You have to first acknowledge that you have a problem and understand that avoidance of reality is not the solution to your problems. Address the root of what’s causing the dysfunctional patterns with the help of a licensed counselor or coach. As you get stronger, you’ll find it easier to let go of this behavior.
2. Know how much escapism you require and when to stop: Escapism is like salt and sugar – if you sprinkle the right quantity on top of life, it gets better, but if you put on too much, it can ruin everything. In other words, it’s the dose that creates the poison. So if you’re unwilling to give up the occasional glass of wine or spending an evening watching re-runs of your favorite TV show, you don’t have to give up these things altogether. There’s nothing inherently wrong in these activities, and if you’re inclined to occasionally indulge in them, you just have to know when to stop. The minute you sense that escapism is disrupting your sense of inner balance, it’s time to get your head out of the clouds and ground yourself into the practical aspects of living. You’ll have to wake up your reverie and smell the coffee, so to speak.
3. Replace with healthier forms of escapism: You can occasionally enjoy some guilty pleasures as long as you know how to moderate your intake. You should also focus on developing healthier forms of escapism simultaneously. Now there are lots of shades of gray when it comes to classifying which activities are good for you and which one’s aren’t, but it’s safe to say that there are some that are beneficial if you make it part of your lifestyle. Examples of such activities include meditation, exercising, playing sports, listening to or sharing stories, creative hobbies, stimulating conversations, reading inspiring and educational materials, spending time in nature, etc. Choose whatever fulfills you and make an effort to regularly practice these activities. I speak from personal experience when I say that once you get used to these wholesome rituals, you’ll find that you don’t need the escapism provided by sources that aren’t as nourishing for you.
4. Remain conscious of your emotional needs: Managing your needs for escapism all comes down to your ability to determine your emotional needs. Like a thermostat, you need to be able to regulate your internal climate and know when to intervene to keep things optimal within you. Most of our emotions are fleeting and temporary and sometimes, waiting it out is all that’s needed for the tide to subside. But occasionally, when you’re going through a rough patch and feeling overwhelmed, you will need to intervene by disengaging for while. Reading those Harry Potter novels or playing games on your Xbox will help you cope with the harshness of reality in smaller doses that are easier to handle. You can add escapism tactics to your tool box and use it whenever you face an emotional slump.
Whenever you do let yourself go, I urge you to enjoy every bite out of your experience. Think of your time as a decadent piece of chocolate. Admire the shape and color, smell the sweet aroma, relish the smooth and creamy texture in your mouth and most importantly, enjoy the rapturous sensation that each bite elicits.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you believe that escapism can be healthy? Which forms of escapism appeal to you the most?
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