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Is Escapism a Healthy Coping Mechanism?

Escapism is most tangible during the toughest of realities. It feels like home for most and a vacuum to fill the inescapable void for others. Escapism can be partaking in hard drugs and alcohol if that’s your style. Or it can be staying up till dawn to claw through the perfect 200-chapter manga you found in the dead of night that has just the right amount of je-ne-sais-quoi.

The American Psychology Association tells us that escapism is the “tendency to escape from the real world to the safety and comfort of a fantasy world.” While this is a relatively good coping mechanism in a rather tumultuous world, a primary issue with it is the over-reliance someone may have when indulging in escapist activities. Addiction fledged from escapist behaviors often leads to a decrease in self-compassion. Those with self-compassion are more capable of accepting responsibility for negative life events. Escapism, much like any construct, falls on a spectrum from low to high. Escapism can be classified as productive or unhealthy.

Unhealthy escapism entails procrastination, psychosis, denial, and addiction. In the denial stage, interestingly, it manifests into the rejection of social norms, a rigid personal stance on life, and isolation. The psychosis stage derives from the need to escape from actions or emotions. Addiction to vices gives one a false sense of relief from their reality. Drugs and alcohol are the most abused because of overexposure to lived experiences. Drugs and alcohol allow you to hide your true self, under the shade of a medicated reality. This can occur with less-abrasive vices as well like engrossing yourself in the internet or any genre of habit to avoid the obstacles and markers to success in your life.

Productive escapism relies on activities that are rewarding for your future self, within the balance of other areas of your life. For instance, through one’s stage of inner healing or simply taking a break from their day-to-day jargon, they pick up the beneficial habits of reading, writing, music, or even meditating. The four areas enhanced through productive escapism are happiness, source of creativity, motivation, and therapeutic. In the case of happiness, or as I like to call it temporary bliss, you are allowed a brief exodus from the harsh cold world and allowed actual mental rest. In other words, you disassociate from your current reality in order to receive a sense of elation. The Source of creativity is as simple as picking up a hobby, you don’t necessarily have to paint the next “Girl with the Pearl Earring” but you can start with mental health walks and music (which works for me). Motivation, a.k.a “your sense of grind,” is simply something that gets you from point A to point B; you don’t necessarily have to reach the end goal each time. Finally, in the therapeutic approach, you can meditate or journal just to get things out of your system. Therapeutic escapism may reduce anxiety symptoms, as it shifts your focus to something less all-consuming.

In short, escapism is meant to be indulged with a grain of salt. It is meant to lessen our burdens, but not to empty our plates so much that we enter another vortex of doom. Take it from me, a grief-stricken, anxious, college student searching for ways to cope with trauma in a better way, as opposed to being on my phone for 9 hours a day.

- Jafnun Suhrawardhy

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