Have you ever had an activity or hobby you pick up when you’re avoiding productivity, a negative experience, or just looking to take a mental break? The APA Dictionary of Psychology’s entry for escapism lists the noun as “the tendency to escape from the real world to the delight or security of a fantasy world.” The American Psychological Association explains this can be in the form of something as minimal as daydreams or can be evidence of serious mental health conditions.
Coping strategies and stress-relieving processes aren’t inherently unhealthy. While your hobbies may start out as a healthy way to relax or detach from the daily difficulties of your work-life balance, there are still ways these activities can turn into a harmful version of escapism. In order to keep a handle on healthy mental health practices, there are ways to monitor your escapist habits.
The Normal and Healthy Side of Escapism
As mentioned earlier, escapism is any practice or habit you turn to in order to detach from the present and find security in your own mind. In many cases, this can be a healthy habit to reduce the risk of stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Reading, listening to music, watching your favorite show, or playing video games are all normal and common forms of escapism. These habits can also give you a connection to a community, giving you an opportunity to expand your support system and talk about your daily stressors. Through online therapy programs like those available from MyTherapist, you can consult a mental health professional that can help you monitor your habits and keep your routine in a healthy zone.
Knowing the Warning Signs of An Unhealthy Coping Mechanism
Escapism becomes problematic when the activity becomes a crutch or even an addiction. While more obvious signs of negative escapism can be seen in the abuse of alcohol or drugs, there may be other noticeable symptoms in a person’s regular habits. If a loved one begins ignoring calls or texts, becomes obsessed with their pastime, or starts to neglect important tasks, they may be slipping into their own world too often. It may start as missing a meeting or a day at work and eventually turn into forgetting basic hygiene in favor of their habit.
Individuals that have an unhealthy escapism habit aren’t necessarily lazy – they could even be throwing themselves into their work to avoid problems at home. Relationships will start to strain, they’ll begin to drop the ball on important dates or projects, and their conversations may solely revolve around their escapism and wishes of being in a different life. Catching these signs early on is important to monitor the intense draw a hobby or activity may start to have on you.
Being Present and Mindful
A bottom line to remember is that escapism isn’t inherently good or bad – instead, it’s something that’s a natural response to get away from stressful moments. While mindfulness isn’t the cure for escapism, regularly centering yourself in the current moment can give you the opportunity to check the time you spend on certain activities. Are you still communicating with loved ones and making time outside of work or the house? Have you reached out for help during this stressful time or do you tell yourself you can handle the problems on your own?
It’s often easier to notice a possible slip into excessive escapism if you’re actively discussing your worries or concerns with your support system. This provides something like an accountability partner that can point out when you’ve been “in your shell” for too long. Escaping to your inner world and a fantasy reality isn’t always negative – it’s when you start to regularly abandon your real-life and responsibilities that the habit becomes an unhealthy practice.
About Author: Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with MyTherapist.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.