A student watching TV on their laptop in the Buchanan building
November 28, 2018
3 mins read

Escapism: How to snap back to reality

Hi, my name is Joanne and I’m a chronic escapist.

The world wide web has become my virtual safe house away from real-world obligations.

Just last week, instead of working on my paper, I retreated to a realm of bottomless Wikiholes, Insta-scrolling despite the “You’re All Caught Up” message, and letting the autoplay function lead me to that part of YouTube—anything I could do to slam the door on my responsibilities.

But we all know we can’t run away from our problems forever.

What is escapism?

Escapism isn’t a negative thing; it’s defined as a diversion of the mind to escape from reality or routine. Daydreaming and doses of fantasy are great ways to manage stress and there are plenty of positive ways to take a break (like a riveting read or those VR games of the future). But when that behaviour becomes excessive or obsessive or negatively interferes with your daily life, that’s when it becomes unhealthy.

But sometimes you don’t realize it. I was using escapist behaviour as a form of procrastination. For me, it took a dozen “Are You Still Watching?” prompts and a very blank Word document to discover I’d crossed from ‘treat yourself’ territory into overindulgence.

Procrastination—the cousin of escapism

There I was, camped in my Internet safehouse, caught in the eye of a procrastination hurricane. It may be blissful and quiet for just a moment, but overindulging your instant gratification, as a lot of us know, is not guilt-free. Escapist tendencies are often a symptom of procrastination—but they’re not necessarily the same.

Procrastination, like escapism, doesn’t need to be an inherently bad thing—all it needs is a deeper look into why it’s happening so you’re better prepared to manage it.

How to snap back to reality

1. Ask yourself why you’re running

For me, I wasn’t running from the task itself—I was running away from something bigger: the fear of failure. Tackling my paper wasn’t the scary thing—it was tackling my expectations of creating something perfect. According to this study, a lot of students procrastinate, not because they don’t like their work, but because they don’t know how to get started.

Understanding procrastination and why it’s happening to you is one of the first steps in grounding your reality (and your productivity) in a manageable and healthy way.

2. Recognize the signs

I’ve learned to recognize the starting pistols that send me running: an overlooked deadline, feeling stretched by everything I said yes to, or a blindsiding feeling of inadequacy.

But I can’t outrun my reality. Instead, I stop to pinpoint my stressors and view them like nothing I couldn’t get over before. When I write down my to-dos and rank their priorities, they look a lot smaller on paper than when they’re this amorphous stress-cloud looming over my shoulder.

3. Take mindful breaks

Sometimes, feeling the need to escape may be your subconscious screaming for you to take a break.

For the longest time, I conflated taking breaks with wasting time. How could I justify downtime given everything I had to do? But that mentality proved to be entirely counterproductive. I’d burn out and avoid my work—I didn’t understand the value of proactive breaks.

There’s a difference between breaks that recharge you and breaks that may lead you down a further downward spiral. Taking a lunch break with a friend is different from justifying one more episode at 4:00 am. Carve out intentional time to clear your mind: go for a walk, reconnect with a friend, or do something that makes you happy—guilt-free.

4. Look beyond your to-dos

Perspective is everything. Instead of looking at my to-do list as things I have to do, I try to see it as things I want to do. I want to finish this assignment because this topic is interesting, or I want to see a project through because I care. If it’s something you really can’t stomach, imagine your world beyond it. For instance, to get over my public speaking nerves, I like to think about how good it’ll feel when I put that mic down.

Looking at your tasks as more than just work, but stepping stones to something bigger and greater can make those once overwhelming tasks feel tiny relative to the grander scheme of things.  

Escapist tendencies are natural, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s a lot easier to lose yourself in a season of Bachelor in Paradise than face the reality of having to make your own tough decisions. If you find yourself retreating to the point of avoiding friends and the parts of your life that used to bring you joy, you may want to seek out help.

Life can be a messy potpourri of good and bad, but remember: you have more agency than you think. Plus, running away from the bad can mean missing out on the good, too!