Thursday, 1 January 2015

XI) Escaping Escapism

I have been feeling a bit neglectful of my creative outlets lately,
so I thought I would thrash out a post and see if it helps me feel a bit better about life and the universe.
Today's topic is about escaping the escapism. Its the first thing that came to mind and I have learnt to roll with what is foremost in your mind some times, because it usually means it is most relevant.

Also I like the satyric nod it makes towards my biggest challenge I am facing in my personal life at the moment, and that is the amazing ability to LITERALLY escape from anywhere, that my 5yo daughter possesses, hahaha!

However that is not what I wish to discuss right now, what I want to touch on is what role escapism plays in our daily lives, and wether it is a positive or negative influence or both.

Once again I am writing this as a self help tool for myself and it is not directed at anyone else in particular, I apologise if it comes across altogether too lecturury and know-it-all, but I don't know it all, that's why I keep this blog.
According to the online dictionary;
Escapism is "the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc." or something of similar wording.

You are probably familiar with this concept, as I am fairly certain everyone does this at some point or another, whether you employ this stratagem consciously, because you don't like your current circumstances and are trying to avoid dealing with certain emotions/situations, or because on a subconscious level, your mind could be wandering during moments of peace, quiet, boredom or tiredness, and let's face it, fantasy land can be a pretty alluring destination. 
No matter WHY you are doing it, escapism is using your imagination to recreate the life you are living and make it more tolerable, exciting and/or interesting. I like to do this kind of thing when I can't sleep, and I know I have work or something important the next day to get up for and I am stressing myself out by trying to force myself into slumber whilst simultaneously worrying about the minutes slipping away and the morning looming closer, cue panic spiral. The latter is not conducive to sleep, but day-dreaming about something pleasant often is.

Ok so how is that a problem? Nothing wrong with a bit of imagination, a bit of day dreaming, a bit of fantasy! Isn't that why we watch movies, read books and listen to music? To live in someone elses world for a moment, to leave our worries behind and be transported some place new?
No, it is quite healthy to take a break from reality. 
Statistics collated on state that stress is KILLING US. 
It also claims that stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease!
And what do we claim to be stressed about? well according to this same research, work stress causes 10% of all strokes.
Other reasons for stress cited by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are; commuting or travelling regularly, moving home, divorce, children, marriage, death, extreme illness, exposure to violence, the list goes on. Many of these things, although unpleasant, are avoidable, but they are also part of many of our daily lives, even the most content people would probably fess up that aspects of their lives are mundane. I love my job but sometimes I will find myself looking at the clock and wishing I was someplace else, like in a nice cool pool with a Margarita in hand! 

So stress needs to managed, rather than just simply avoided, it's a matter of life or death, in some cases.
Here is where escapism comes in handy, 
Day dreaming about more pleasant activities whilst commuting to work HAS to be better for you then sitting there running over everything you have to do when you arrive and what happened yesterday at work and what will likely happen today and what exactly you are going to do for the next 8 hours planned out minute by minute as you wait for the train to reach your stop.
Many treatments of stress as suggested on WebMD, involve elements of escapism: Writing, Exercising, Art, Playing with Animals, Music, Gardening, Meditation, even guided imagery.. which is using images of relaxing places and or music/recorded dialogue that helps you imagine you are relaxing and enjoying the scene on display. 
Escapism, is clinically recommended to alleviate stress.

No the negative aspects, come, as with anything else, from using it in excess.
When a relationship becomes unbearable, or a job is feeling dreary, when life is just not ticking all your boxes and things are feeling altogether rather mundane, then escapism feels like the perfect way to make it through.
With today's technology and ADD culture, there are so many methods and ways to escape our own realities, that it is almost too easy. 
Computer and video games, not only provide entertainment and a great distraction, but they now offer a whole new social aspect that they never had before. 
When you have problems at home that you don't feel like working out, why would you ever need to when you can replace those crucial relationships with new ones you form online? If you are not feeling lonely, where is the incentive to turn around and fix any problems you have with friends, family and or significant others?


Not only that, Massively Multiplayer Online communities are growing all the time, and the opportunity to make money is a huge motivating factor for developers to make their games as fun, distracting and addictive as possible. It even became a requirement on some games such as World Of Warcraft, to add in gentle reminders such as to remember to spend time with people outside of Azeroth (WoW's fictional gaming world) as well as people inside the game.
TV shows are another thing. Where in the not so distant past, people used to all tune in once a week to the same show on the same channel at the same time, we now have 100's of channels with hundreds of shows and keeping up with ALL of them is a full time job!
Movies, Games, Television, Internet and Social Networking... those are just a few of the things we buy into to escape from reality.. and if you are in an unhealthy mindset, these things can crawl up the ladder of importance whereby a myriad of other things like family, friends, career, personal hygiene, budgeting, shopping, cooking, cleaning etc etc... can all slowly slide to the bottom rung. 
I don't know if you have ever seen the show Hoarders, or Extreme Collectors? but the names kind of give it away, people fill their lives with unhealthy obsessions to avoid what is going on in front of them, and these are REAL and valid psychological issues, often shaped and nurtured over years from problems and or issues that haven't been tackled in a healthy and head on manner when they first arose. Sure they are extreme examples, but everything starts somewhere, and once upon a time they were leading a 'normal' life until avoidance became their main coping mechanism.

So how do you know if you are an ostrich with your head in the sand, if you are burying yourself in a world of fantasy or simply using your imagination to liven up the often mundane lives that we are expected to live?

Well I am no expert, but I know from personal experience that if it becomes more important to you to be logged onto a game, or have your head in a book then spending time with your loved ones, that's one clue.
If you are turning down social invitations more often than not for 'me time' with your Mysky or to daydream about your perfect romance with some hollywood hottie, that's another!
If you often get caught up in anything but your work at hand such as endlessly refreshing facebook or reading up on celebrity gossip.. then you probably need to pull in the reins a little. There are many ways you can be living with one foot in fantasy land, but only you can really decide if your habits and hobbies are ruling or ruining your life in any form.
Distraction and time out from all aspects of life is GOOD, but avoiding reality completely isn't.

Just remember that much like a garden, the things you feed and water and nurture are the things that grow the most, you need to make sure you aren't letting your garden be overrun by the wrong things because you are too busy watching the clouds roll by. It doesn't mean all fun things are weeds, and you must only grow flowers, it just means you need to decide what is most beneficial to you and what is more detrimental than anything else, try and build a symbiotic relationship between some of your activities if you can, if you like to watch TV in the evenings and unwind, see if you can achieve things in the ad breaks or while you watch if you feel like you aren't getting enough done. If something you do is purely for pleasure and you feel guilty spending so much time doing it, try and decide if it is ACTUALLY a waste of time or if perhaps just getting time out to enjoy something IS a tangible reward making it worthwhile. It might just be that you have to put some limits on the recreational activities or try and add in a beneficial element... can you get paid for a hobby, giving you more income? or can you invite your kids/friends along so that you are spending time with others whilst enjoying yourself? If it's an activity such as heavy drinking that is taking up your time and money, perhaps you could find something that gives you the same rush, dancing or a sport or something competitive.. it sounds lame, because moderation always sounds lame, but activities are what you make them. If you are determined to have a bad time you will, likewise if you decide you are going to have fun with it!
If you are having trouble focusing on what's important you may need to set yourself some guidelines such as the aforementioned. 
If you just can't keep the weeds at bay, ask for help! as with all help, if you don't receive it the first time, ask again ask again ask again.

I am terribly good at becoming easily distracted or obsessed with something new and exciting.. anything to distract from the monotony of every day life no matter how much I love the people in it and some of the things I do.. but I have to remind myself that often the things I am quick to ignore are equally if not more important then those I prefer (like chilling out with my friends or watching TV, reading a book or having a nap).
Unfortunately there is a reason why it's important to get out of bed and do something every day... while holidays and lie ins are nice, too much of a good thing.. is a bad thing, and I become easily depressed if I do not have some kind of focus and or purpose. 

So, my advice to you and myself is to limit your time you spend doing things of lesser importance or at least prioritize them to come as a reward after doing something you don't particularly like doing, I also advise you set aside time to spend doing things that really matter, even if you don't LIKE them, if you don't chip away at these things, they will just spiral out of your control, so tame the beast, one day at a time.
The worst thing in the world is to turn around one day and realize you've let something/someone important slip away because you just weren't paying attention. 

Find time to kick back and escape, but don't let the important things escape... it can be damn near impossible to get them back again once you've lost sight.
If you feel things ARE slipping away from you, if your escapism is keeping you prisoner, DO reach out, because the only way to live life is to face life, to get up and live it.


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