Escapism & Setting Boundaries

Healthy escapism requires setting boundaries

Real-life can be a lot. Have you watched the news lately? Many people use escapism to cope with the demands of daily life. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it can cause problems if escaping is your only coping strategy. Therefore, we need to focus on setting boundaries around when and how we escape from reality.

Types of Escapism

When I think of escapism, I think of curling up with a nice, fantasy book, and disappearing for hours. In my reality, it often involves watching hours of sitcoms while eating copious amounts of popcorn.

But, there are many different types of escapism. It’s important to remember that the type itself is not necessarily harmful, but rather how deeply you let the type impact your reality.

People can escape into:

  • Sports
  • Work
  • Drugs/Alcohol
  • Food

Escapism can also include:

  • Books
  • Music
  • Movies/TV
  • Dance/Exercise

There may be a time and a place for any of these coping methods. Given the demands of society, I’m a big fan of escapism as a coping mechanism – even if it does involve avoiding your problems.

Setting boundaries around how we engage in escapist fantasies is critical to protecting our mental health.
Photo by Andres Iga

When Escapism Becomes Bad

Unfortunately, escapism is not a cure-all, and if all we do is avoid our problems, obviously those problems never get solved. On the other hand, it does play an important role in reducing stress and improving one’s quality of life.

So when does escapism hurt more than it helps?

Simply, if you’re coping methods are interfering with your functioning in real life, they might be unhealthy. If you need to use a substance before going to work, if you avoid your homework to watch another episode, or if you neglect other aspects of your health to work out, your coping mechanisms may be hurting more than helping.

Escapist coping mechanisms can quickly become addictive if we are not careful.

If you are only happy when you are distracted, perhaps it is time to consider if escapism is serving its purpose any longer.

Health Escapism & Setting Boundaries

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: escapism can be a very important coping mechanism. Moreover, some coping mechanisms are very healthy themselves (such as reading or working out).

However, we have also touched on how even the healthiest form of escapism can become unhealthy.

So how do we use this coping strategy without hurting our health more?

It all comes down to setting boundaries.

Sometimes, a boundary is as simple as a timer. Maybe you only watch one episode before doing your homework. Perhaps, you commit to only an hour-long workout before cleaning the house.

We also have to remember the role escapism should play in our mental health. Escapism does not solve problems. It allows us to step back, so we are in a better mental space to solve those problems later. It helps reduce stress, but it does not remove the actual stressor. We still have to address our problems and responsibilities.

Therefore, we have to prioritize real life. Maybe, this looks like finishing your homework before indulging in Netflix. Other times, you reward yourself with a soothing bath, AFTER attending an important event.

A third factor involves using other coping mechanisms. While escapism can play an important role in reducing stress, we have to use active coping strategies as well. Time management is key. But, so is eating a healthy diet, partaking in social and spiritual activities, and staying active. These strategies play an important role in protecting our mental health so we have the capacity to face our problems head-on.

Setting Boundaries Takes Practice

In previous articles, I have talked about how setting boundaries is important for mental health in general. Boundaries are also important to how we protect our mental health too.

But they aren’t as easy as just setting a timer or shutting off your phone.

We all have habits, and when escapism becomes a habit, it can be difficult to break, even if we recognize that it is no longer a healthy habit.

In my personal journey, I have learned that mindfulness can play an important part in recognizing our urges and negative habits. By taking the plunge and choosing to be present in your own life, it is easier to recognize when you are crossing your own boundaries.

Likewise, when we first realize that one of our habits isn’t great, we don’t automatically stop. Habits are hard to break. It takes practice. When we practice something, we usually start with a lot of failures.

But I encourage you to not give up.

You are capable of setting the path in your life. And, you are able to unlearn your patterns and habits. I urge you to not get discouraged when you face a setback.

It’s Okay To Escape Sometimes

At the end of the day, escapist strategies are not evil. And, for many people, they are the only way to cope with circumstances that are outside their control. We need distractions.

But we also need to face our problems head-on.

Striking the balance is the difficult part, but it is not impossible. We all have the ability to take control of our own lives.

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