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On Healthy Escapism

Jay Serrano, Editorial Director

September 13, 2021

Escapism gets a bad rap, understandably so. It’s often perceived as someone running away from their feelings by refusing to engage with reality–an unhealthy coping mechanism. Conventional wisdom says that the Right Way™ to deal with negative emotions is to feel all of it and work through the weeds of it. Maybe you talk it out with friends, have a good cry, or draw a bubble bath.

I’ve tried all that. It makes me feel worse.

I remember my life in media phases–kindergarten was Yu Yu Hakusho, 5th grade was Linkin Park. 10th grade was Agatha Christie. 12th was Terraria. Media interests serve as time capsules for me; escapism has always been my most useful coping tool. When times get especially difficult and I’m too overwhelmed, I don’t want a goddamn bubble bath or to talk about it. I want to shut my brain off and rewatch anime I liked as a child.

Oftentimes, what happens is that once my stress comes down, I can actually examine my feelings without imploding. I’ve regulated myself back to a baseline. I need to calm down to get perspective, and one way to achieve that is to be distracted by a story that has nothing to do with the here-and-now.

I won’t pretend it hasn’t ever been dysfunctional. I find it’s extraordinarily effective–perhaps too effective. All coping strategies must be tempered. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Ground rules must be set. These are my personal guidelines:

  • Set aside specific amounts of time. Schedule your escapism. For some people, this looks like playing half an hour of their favorite video game every day. For some, it means blocking out a whole day to get all their escapism in.
  • Choose media that will regulate you. If you’re immersing yourself in media that you used to like, but now reminds you of your mean high school friend and creepy boss at McDonalds, it probably won’t comfort you much. It’ll get your mind off the here and now, but do you really want to go there?
  • Don’t feel guilty. As long as your responsibilities aren’t shirked and you’re in one piece, you’re doing fine. Too often, we’re made to feel guilty for not being productive. But you don’t have to be productive. You don’t have to justify your existence.

If you process your feelings best by sitting quietly and thinking about them, fantastic. If talking it out with your friends and being surrounded by people makes you feel better, great. But if you’re like me and you know that letting yourself fall apart will do more harm than good, don’t feel bad about needing a few hours to get away from everything.

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