We’ve all got an escape. Whether it’s binge watching Netflix, getting lost in instagram, alcohol, smoking, partying-like-an-animal, going on holiday or just jogging, these can all be forms of escapism. But, not necessarily.

Is it escapism?

Escapism is about taking a break from, escaping, reality. Because it is too difficult or painful. Because reality is not the way that you want it to be. Escapism is at its core then a form of denial or avoidance.

The hallmark of any escapist activity is that it distracts you from everyday life by absorbing you in something else. And, this is often more easily done by numbing conscious attention, may be through intoxication or substance use. But, it is not restricted to dampening conscious awareness. We can equally get lost in a TV show or a video game. We remain conscious, but our attention is hijacked.

Healthy escapism?

Of course, not all escapism is created equal. Escaping reality by abusing substances is not the same as being a recreational gardener. The latter has no harmful health consequences and may even serve as a catharsis or solace. A means to releasing stress and anxieties.

But, no matter how neutral or even healthy the escape activity is, if a return to reality only brings back the same unease and tension, we have a problem. It may serve as a coping mechanism, but it is not truly grappling with the problem.

escapismI want to be very clear. I am not saying that we should or shouldn’t do particular things because they are escapist. Watch Season 7 of Homeland back-to-back if you want to — I know I did. The truth is that the specific activity itself is secondary, because anything could potentially be escapist.

What really matters is your inner state. That’s what determines if something is escapism or not. How aware are you of your own relationship to the activity and when and why you engage in it? What might you be running from?

Looking the demon in the eye

Sometimes, we might not even realise how subtle escapism might be. Someone recently told me about how she felt drawn to compulsively read the news, and how this was starting to get in the way of being able to focus at work. Of course, it soon came out that she was under a lot of pressure in her role. And, that she really would rather be somewhere else. No wonder she was drawn to all manner of things to escape the ordeal, if only momentarily.

Acknowledging the reality of your situation is then the starting point. Truly and deeply seeing what is going on for you and how it is affecting you emotionally and psychologically. Noticing the frustration, pain, sadness or stress.

Going deeper

Looking the demon in the eye is the first step. And, from such a place of deeper appreciation, you can ask yourself, what keeps me stuck here? Why do I continue to stay in a place that makes me need an escape? What am I really afraid of confronting?

The more aware that we become of why we keep ourselves stuck, the more likely new paths and choices are to open up. It is ultimately about looking within.

Find out more about Harsha’s work