Mental Health Moment | Escape
Sep 14, 2022
One of my friends, who is VERY social, recently asked me what she thought was going to be a tough question – “If someone paid you $1 million, would you go to the mountains and live completely alone, isolated, with no other people, in a cabin by yourself, for a full year?” All I could think was, “I get $1 million AND I get to go escape to the mountains by myself for a year?!” It just didn’t seem like a tough question at all. But for her, the thought of isolation away from other people was painful. She takes people with her when she gets her nails done, so she’ll have someone to talk to. For me, the idea sounded like heaven – the perfect escape from all the stress of my current life.
When we have gone through something really hard, or when we have overwhelming stress or negatives in our life, we do tend to want to escape. For some, like my friend, escape may just be a couple of hours somewhere to have a good cry, and then she’s ready to return to her normal life. For others, like me, escape means going somewhere quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, to calm all of the thoughts and experiences, and to remove the interactions and distractions, that are a part of my day-to-day.
If you’ve ever just wanted to “veg out” and sit in front of the TV for hours, completely not caring about what specifically you’re watching, but just changing the channels over and over, or just watching whatever comes on next, that is a form of escape. It’s effective in keeping your mind just occupied enough that you forget whatever it is that was weighing on you.
If you go home from work and immediately grab a beer or other drink, and keep drinking until bedtime, that’s another form of escape. Alcohol and certain drugs numb our senses and slow our thought processes just enough to help us escape from the stress or thoughts that keep us from having peace. We think we’re “relaxing,” but what we are doing, in reality, is “avoiding.” It starts as one drink, and over time becomes several drinks, until it requires more and more alcohol, over a longer period of time, and then it starts disrupting schedules, responsibilities, and any desire to do anything else.
Gambling has become a pretty big thing in a lot of places, and you can find a casino pretty close to almost anyone’s home. Alcohol and drugs can become an addiction, where you physically need more and more, and your body actually becomes “addicted” to the substance and, without it, will cause all sorts of painful or uncomfortable physical responses – detoxing is no fun, and that often keeps people using. Gambling doesn’t become an addiction, but rather a compulsion. The difference is that a lack of gambling doesn’t cause those “detox” physical effects, and your body/physiology remains unaffected if you go without it. Gambling is a compulsion, which means you are compelled to do it. You feel the need, you feel an urge, and compulsion creates an almost “have to do it” need that will only be satisfied by actually following through. Once there, it works like all the other escapes – you can numb your mind just enough to stop thinking about the stress, or whatever is weighing on you.
Sex can be an escape also, and though all of these escapes are short-lived, they can cause long-term damage. Drinking too much, drugs, gambling, and sex – with the wrong people, with too many people, or outside of a committed relationship – may feel like a great solution in the moment, but can cause all sorts of problems long-term. Relationships have been ruined forever by someone’s need to escape their reality, through these and other escapist activities.
There are healthy escapes, though, that accomplish what a really good escape should accomplish. We want to feel peace, we need to lower our heart rate, and we benefit from calming our thoughts. Things that hurt need to be healed, and we need to allow ourselves to properly rest. Healthy escapes are things we enjoy- hobbies, accomplishments, and time with good friends, for example, and they don’t cause any long-term harm. Healthy escapes are those things that add positives to our lives, and give us more of a sense of connection, and purpose, than those unhealthy escapes.
If you find yourself using escape activities, and then feel anxious when the activity ends, or you are forced to face reality, dig deep and get to the bottom of what’s causing the anxiety or the stress, or the unhappiness, in the first place. Look at your thoughts and feelings – especially the ones you have right before you find yourself reaching for those unhealthy escapes. Those thoughts and feelings are what need to be healed, and changed into positives. Once you change the thoughts, the behavior and the escapist choices will naturally change. You will no longer want to self-sabotage by choosing the harmful escapes, and instead you will actually search for things you enjoy that add positives to your life. Do yourself a big favor – figure out the cause, and then fix it, and start enjoying healthy escapes and moments of peace.