“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” — Abraham Lincoln
General anesthesia is a combination of medications used to put an individual in a sleep-like state before a surgery or medical procedure to produce a pain-free state. Likewise, you and I have probably allowed ourselves to self-medicate with an activity that causes a similar numb state–a type of anesthesia. I am not talking about using drugs or medication, but instead I refer to the different ways we may indulge or numb ourselves as a way to escape painful or stressful emotions. What is it, how do we do it, and what are some healthy ways that we can escape reality when things get to be too much?
The American Psychology Association has a dictionary term for “escape from reality,” stating that escaping from reality is “a defensive reaction involving the use of fantasy as a means of avoiding conflicts and problems of daily living.” Though the last 18 months have given all of us plenty of reasons to want to escape from reality, escapism existed well before the global pandemic wreaked havoc on our lives. Escape behaviors include (but are not limited to) online shopping, cooking, overeating, “chilling”, gaming, Netflix binging, endless social media scrolling, overloading on house projects, oversleeping, hyper-focusing on exercise, etc. We engage in these activities and completely ignore the elephant in the room–things that need to be done or need to be confronted. Escapism behaviors have become a way of ignoring or delaying the need to cope with our reality–a kind of anesthesia if you will. While some of these behaviors are more healthy than others, are there better habits we could implement instead of resorting to escape-like behaviors? Below are some ideas for when times get challenging and we just want a little dose of our choice of anesthesia to escape life:
- Clear the mind. When considering escaping, instead we can work on clearing our minds of all the daily noise. One effective way to do so is to engage in meditation—create some quiet time and stillness for the mind and body.
- Go on a drive. Sometimes physically removing ourselves from a place or situation is important. Go on a drive and enjoy the scenery. Roll the window down and breathe in fresh air. Be in the relaxing moment.
- Practice self-care. I have written at length about self-care (go to my blog and type “self-care” into the search engine for ten pages of posts on self-care) because it is a remedy to nearly all maladies. Exercise. Eat a balanced diet. Get a good night’s rest. Do something fun. Get outside. Whatever it is that we choose to do, we need to do it for ourselves because we all need a little healthy outlet and some self-love.
- Read a book. Reading a book could be listed above as a form of self-care, but I am listing it here because it is a powerful and healthy way to briefly leave reality. Anyone who has read Harry Potter knows that reading about Hogwarts and the wizarding world is so entertaining and relaxing that real life is somehow not as bad when we come back to it. Pick up a good book and get immersed in the story line. It is good for us!
- Journal. I know, I know. I always write about journaling. It is cathartic. It is powerful. When we write our thoughts and feelings down, we are more able to process and confront them. Some people write with an actual pen in an actual book; I actually write on my phone into an app. It does not matter how we journal, it just matters that we do.
- Listen to music. Music is a great form of escape. Research has shown that it can help you relax and increase self-awareness.
- Move your body. Get outside and go on a walk, run, hike, stretch, bike, do yoga, etc. Yoga has many health benefits, but mainly it creates relaxation, encourages deep breathing, focusing on the present, and balancing the sympathetic nervous system. Yoga can be very grounding and restorative but really any way you can move your body will serve as a healthy escape!
- Daydream. Studies have shown that we daydream less as we get older, so it should be a habit that we maintain for as long as possible. It is the perfect way to briefly escape reality in a healthy way. We can imagine ourselves in another place doing something relaxing, empowering, or fun. Envision it. Enjoy it. Then come back.
- Vacation. Travel is a great temporary escape as well as an excellent way to change one’s perspective. Often, when we return home from a trip, we have a new outlook on and appreciation for daily life.
- Smaller doses. When we really just want to play video games or binge a Netflix show, let’s just not make a habit of it. Let’s not overindulge to the point that it becomes unhealthy escapism. When applied in moderation–small doses of anesthesia–these activities are not inherently “bad.”
Some individuals choose to escape reality by numbing themselves with substances, including alcohol, pornography, or other addictive behaviors. Whether it is through addictions or other types of escapes, I have seen a great influx of these escape-like behaviors in the last 18 months in all my clients, and in myself. This is the main reason I wanted to write this blog …to provide healthy alternatives for all of us experiencing these crazy times.
Next time we feel overwhelmed and need to escape reality for a minute, let’s pick up a book, go on a drive, practice self-care, daydream, or go on a vacation. And if none of those options work, schedule time to meet with a trained, licensed therapist to work through our need to escape so we do not continue to numb ourselves from life. I am your advocate and your support. Please contact me today!
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
- APA: “Escape from Reality”
- Brainy Quote: “Escape Quotes”
- Cluff Counseling: “#OptOutside”
- Cluff Counseling: “8 Unique Ways to Practice Self-care”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Beauty of Journaling”
- Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
- Cluff Counseling: “Doing the Things You Enjoy Can Help Your Anxiety”
- Cluff Counseling: “Exercise….It’s Not Just Good for the Body!”
- Cluff Counseling: “Intuitive Eating: Giving Your Body What It Wants”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Key to Slowing Down in a Fast-Paced World”
- Cluff Counseling: “Self-care is For Men, Too!”
- Cluff Counseling: “Sleep Like a Baby: Nightly Routines”
- Cluff Counseling: “Yoga: Changing How You See Yourself”
- Exline, J. J. (2013). “Looking for an Escape? The Impulse to Run Away from it All.” Psychology Today. June 1.
- Life Hacker: How to Snap Back to Reality when “Escapism” Becomes “Avoidance”
- Mayo Clinic: General Anesthesia
- Medium: Why We Tend to Try and Escape Reality.
- Raab, Diana (2018). “Escaping Reality to Heal.” Psychology Today. October 25.