03 Jul Escaping the Everyday: Healthy Ways to Cope with Life Stressors
We all need rest to function well in each area of our lives. Sleep, exercise, video games and spending time with loved ones are a few examples of activities commonly used to recharge. But sometimes, what you think is a break is actually a form of escapism that saps your time and energy.
CHRIS 180 clinical experts Chris Haider-Bardill, LPC, CPCS, and Rob Collins, LCSW, LSSGB, discussed escapism and its role in our lives during a Lunchtime Live episode in May 2021.
What is escapism?
Typically, escapism involves engaging in an activity to distract yourself and avoid tedious or stressful parts of life. In this digital age, these activities often come in the form of fantasy and entertainment. Escapism is usually the result of being overwhelmed by all that life throws at us – things like work, family, news, the COVID-19 pandemic and your own emotions. The trouble with escaping is that it can cause you to leave life’s necessities to the wayside. Dishes pile up in the kitchen sink, relationships are neglected, bills are left unpaid and it all amounts to a bigger problem later down the line.
“With escapism, we’re avoiding what we should be doing or something more beneficial that we could be doing,” said Haider-Bardill, Program Manager of CHRIS 180’s H.E.R.O Project. “We get into a problem area when we are messing up our sleep hygiene, healthy habits and ability to be our best.”
Is escapism all bad? It depends.
After reading about what escapism is, you may be thinking about cutting down your phone and Netflix usage. But screen time does not automatically mean you are escaping, and it’s not the only activity used to escape. Our experts suggest asking yourself, “What am I getting out of this activity?”
“It’s important to look at the function of the behavior and consider what purpose it serves,” said Collins, Lead Trainer and Operations Manager of the CHRIS Training Institute. “There are so many things you can learn online but also many distractions. We need to strike a balance and recognize when screen time is expanding our mind or building relationships versus when it’s a method of pushing away the trouble and ignoring what’s happening in the real world.”
Playing a game with family, going for a run and engaging in your favorite hobbies are always ways of escaping everyday realities. However, when avoiding and escaping reality are not the purpose and goal of the activity, they are not harmful or unhealthy forms of escapism.
Escapism could also be a response to traumatic events.
“The classic trauma responses are fight, flight and freeze. You may be in a space where you need to freeze or dissociate and kind of check out to protect yourself or get through the day. It’s important that we validate that as a survival tactic rather than seeing it as a weakness,” Collins said.
How can I stop my escapism?
Identifying your escapist behaviors is the first step to positive change. The next phase of changing that behavior can also be tricky, especially when you’re already feeling drained and overwhelmed.
“Motivation to do something might not be there, but you may have the motivation to start looking for new ways to spend your time, and that can be a starting block,” Haider-Bardill said. “Be gentle with yourself. I am always reminding myself that this life is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Tips to curb escapism
Practice mindfulness: Reminding yourself of long-term goals and pleasant feelings that come with doing activities you love can prevent decision-making based on cravings and instant gratification.
Measure and/or limit screen time: Utilize apps and programs that can track your screen time or even lock down your apps and the Internet.
Check-in with yourself: Take note of the activities you use to take breaks. Ask yourself why you choose those behaviors and what you are getting out of them.
Connect with your community: Your loved ones may notice unhealthy habits and behaviors that you do not see. Spend time connecting with people you trust and try to hear them out when they spot a concerning behavior.
Visit the CHRIS 180 YouTube page to watch the entire Lunchtime Live conversation and join us every month for new episodes.