What Is Escapism? Is It Bad?
We all need a break from time to time. If we only focused on our current circumstances, we’d all burn out. It’s part of the human experience to desire a brief escape from reality sometimes. However, you can run into trouble when these brief, periodic escapes become frequent or extended and are used for avoidance.
What Is Escapism?
Escapism is the tendency to avoid, ignore, escape or seek a distraction from reality or emotions. It stems from the need to shy away from uncomfortable feelings like stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness or fear. People who use escapism as a coping mechanism typically try to run away from their current reality when it becomes overwhelming or unsatisfying.
Common Escapism Strategies
People who try to escape stressors or uncomfortable emotions may use an escapism activity to make themselves feel better in the moment. They might think they’re practicing self-care, but in reality, they aren’t helping themselves in the long run. Instead, escapism behaviors usually make things worse.
Other individuals might not think they are practicing self-care. They may know that what they are doing will make them feel worse, but they want instant relief from their discomfort. For example, a person might get written up at work and then stay up all night playing video games to escape feeling like a failure.
Escapism looks different for each person, but common strategies include:
- Binge-watching TV
- Drug use
Binge-Watching Behavior and Escapism
Research has identified loneliness and a tendency to engage in escapism behaviors as predictors that a person will binge-watch TV. Advances in streaming services and technology have made escaping into a fictional world through binge-watching easier than ever. It’s become so normalized that the term “binge-watching” is part of popular culture. We talk about what show we binge-watched over the weekend and joke about missing sleep because we watched an entire season the previous night.
Although our society normalizes binge-watching, that doesn’t cancel out the negative impact it has on our physical and mental health. Escaping through binge-watching TV messes with our sleep, takes away time with our loved ones and leads to a less active lifestyle.
Escapism and Addiction
Research has linked escapism to addiction. In fact, it has pointed to escapism as a potential reason for starting addictive behaviors, reinforcing those actions and exacerbating them. Escapism is also consistently associated with heavy substance use.
With addiction, a person uses the substance or action (e.g., gambling, pornography, watching TV) as a way to escape their reality or numb their emotions. Learning healthy coping strategies to use instead of escapist behaviors is a crucial part of treatment for addiction.
Is Escapism Bad?
Escapism isn’t inherently bad. We all like to take occasional breaks from reality, especially when we feel stressed or overwhelmed. There are many self-care activities that allow us to take momentary breaks when needed and then return to our current circumstances feeling more refreshed.
Escapism becomes harmful when it becomes avoidance, and it can involve partaking in unhealthy activities or even healthy ones in excess. For example, shopping isn’t automatically bad. However, if you shop to make yourself feel better and avoid difficult feelings, it becomes a negative thing.
Avoiding your emotions leads to more problems in the long run. One Harvard research study found that avoiding emotions leads to a 30% increase in a person’s chance of dying prematurely and a 70% increase in the risk of being diagnosed with cancer.
When you don’t process and deal with your feelings, they often become stronger and overwhelm you when you least expect it. Examples include bursting into tears at a minor inconvenience or becoming furious when your partner makes a small mistake. Think of it this way: if you stuff your backpack full of things that you pick up over time, it will eventually bust or become too heavy to carry.
Engaging in destructive behaviors to escape also negatively impacts your mental and physical health, relationships, self-esteem and work performance. For example, if binge-gaming is taking up your time, energy and financial resources, you may be too tired to perform well at work, or you may not have the time and emotional energy to support your partner or care for your home.
Self Care vs. Escape Activities
Escapist behaviors may give a person immediate gratification, numb their pain or help them temporarily forget about stressors. The temporary relief from discomfort may lead an individual to think they’re practicing self-care. It’s common to confuse escapism and self-care, so it’s important to know the difference between the two.
Escapism often leaves you feeling ashamed, guilty, tired, disappointed or more overwhelmed. On the other hand, self-care can leave you feeling rested and recharged, put you in a better mood and make you feel confident in how you choose to care for yourself.
There are certain self-care activities that allow you to check out for a bit and recharge without negatively impacting your life. They take your mind off of your current situation or emotions, but they also help you manage stress. The activity should give you a break and help you feel more prepared to face your circumstances.
Try one of these self-care activities when you find yourself needing a break:
- Listening to music
- Reading a book
- Spending time with friends
Want To Learn More? Check Out Our Podcast!
In Episode 9 of our podcast, Dear Mind, You Matter, we talked to Mike Veny about meditation, transforming shame through self-care and the importance of distinguishing between self-care and escapism. Listen below!
If you’re needing support to deal with escapism, the Nobu app is an excellent resource. It’s a free and easy-to-use tool that offers helpful services, activities, guided lessons and more. For an additional fee, you can even speak with a licensed mental health professional for additional support. Find the help you need by downloading the Nobu app, available for free on both Apple and Android devices.
Edited by – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
Written by – Taylor Cameron, LPC
Taylor Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor and mental health copywriter from North Texas. She has worked in crisis services for the past decade in various settings, including a domestic violence and sexual assault emergency shelter, university and local school district. As a copywriter, she has written content for mobile apps, websites, blogs, manuals and print materials… Read More
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
- Jouhki, Hannu; Oksanen, Atte. “To Get High or to Get Out? Examining the Link between Addictive Behaviors and Escapism.” Substance Use & Misuse, November 23, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2022.
- Chapman B.P., et al. “Emotion Suppression and Mortality Risk Over a 12-Year Follow-Up.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, August 6, 2013. Accessed July 2, 2022.
- Gabbiadini, Alessandro; et al. “Loneliness, Escapism, and Identification With Media Characters: An Exploration of the Psychological Factors Underlying Binge-Watching Tendency.” Frontiers in Psychology, December 15, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2022.