The reality of escapism

What is the scariest thing in the world? The thing we are always trying to escape from, and the one thing that crushes us anyway with its suffocating weight? It is reality — though perhaps not terrifying in the way that we fear clowns, spiders and the dark, it is just as anxiety-inducing.

Defined as the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, escapism is a detrimental habit that worsens issues when avoided. It can vary from the harmless pursuit of hedonistic tendencies to the avoidance of imminent and pressing issues. Unfortunately, escapism in itself is addicting and tends to be the one thing we ironically can’t escape from.

Sometimes when a task is too difficult or ominous, the last thing we want to do is face it directly. That’s why procrastination is often synonymous to escapism; we avoid the reality of our responsibilities. According to social psychologist Hal Hershfield, who observed the neural patterns of subjects, this is because we tend to think of our future selves as a completely different person from our present selves. Thus, the person suffering the consequences of escapism seems disconnected to prompt a change in our bad habits. Why it’s so difficult to set long-term goals and understand the harm of procrastination until it’s too late? Probably because our brain itself is wired to do so.

With the advent of a technological era, media has also become a tool to escapism. When hard times arise within our personal relationships, we tend to avoid difficult conversations and confrontation until it’s too late. Ghosting, after all — the social phenomenon in which one person suddenly cuts off all communication instead of ending a relationship directly — is becoming more and more common with the commitment-free, guiltless use of social media. Similarly, the term “slacktivism” has arisen to describe the minimum effort exerted on social media platforms when promoting a social cause, avoiding tangible change that requires significantly more commitment than a simple post or share.

So how do we face reality? It begins with understanding a problem even exists, as too often escapism is rooted and adopted into our daily routines. In addition to identifying the problem, making the task seem less foreboding is also an effective way of generating motivation. Forgetting about our problems with the temporary bliss of a video game or Youtube binge is tempting — and is completely healthy in controlled doses — but it is important to visualize the consequences it will have on your future.

Too often we are hounded down by the progression of time and its deadlines, so let’s make an effort to practice direct, open communication and responsible management of our daily lives. Reality may seem scary, but in the end, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

By Angela Cao, Copy lead
Editorial cartoon by Jason Yen