Escapism is healthy — in moderation

Don’t let yourself get too absorbed by your distractions, but don’t avoid them entirely either

A person is reclining on a couch. The photo is taken over their shoulder, and we can see that they have a book open, a glass of wine, and a TV playing in the background.
There are an almost endless number of ways that people can escape reality. PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By: Twinkle Pethad, SFU Student

Escapism — the use of activities to temporarily transport us into a happier world where we have control over our actions and emotions, creates an illusionary pleasant atmosphere. Though moderation is needed, escapism is rather necessary to survive in this chaotic world where moments of peace can seem rare. 

As humans, we need a variety of activities to escape the monotony of our daily chores and negative situations. These situations can range from break-ups and bad days at work, to the heavier anxieties induced by things like the climate crisis and late-stage capitalism. We escape through unrelated and distracting acts such as reading, watching movies, exercising, scrolling through TikTok for hours, listening to podcasts, among others. 

Whereas most forms of escapism are crucial, positive, and uplifting in nature, some can be detrimental to our health and well-being. Some examples of negative escapism include drug and social media addiction in which we lose track of time and can remain trapped due to the high dopamine activity they cause. After hours and hours of engaging in escapist acts, we snap back into reality. We realize that none of the problems we were avoiding have disappeared. We have postponed dealing with our problems, but we weren’t able to delete them from our lives. After this realization, our anxiety rises. We are perplexed as we expected otherwise; we expected to become happy.

We successfully hide in a warm cocoon for a few hours. In the span of a few hours, our warm cocoon turns cold. Once again, we are shivering.

This isn’t to say that we don’t deserve breaks. We are social beings who need several hours of rest to perform, and we seek entertainment to remain youthful and joyous. However, too much of everything can be disastrous. Often, I lose track of time when I’m stressed about life — all I feel like doing is cuddling in a cozy blanket and spending entire nights binging on Gilmore Girls (my newest escape). What I forget is that all the problems that I am trying to escape remain unresolved. 

So how do we solve our avoidant habits? In my opinion, there is no solution. That’s because escapism itself isn’t a problem that needs to be solved (to identify the problem, we might instead look towards pressures of constant productivity). Escapism is personal to each individual — while I may need weeks of a break to rejuvenate, my friend might need only three hours of escapism to jump back into reality. 

The division between escapism and reality is not always so clearly defined, either. Our personal escape mechanism eventually penetrates and fuses with our reality. For example, while reading is a form of escapism, over the years, it has also become part and parcel of my daily life. This simply means that reading is now an integral part of my daily life. The same could apply to any form of escapism. However, caution is inarguably needed when we start to rely too heavily on avoiding our problems. At the end of it all, we do have some responsibilities to maintain, and their neglect can compound stress. If we continue to struggle in setting boundaries, we might consider seeking professional help to develop a sustainable balance.