You’ve probably been there before—your work is finally done, the kitchen is clean, the kids (if you’re a parent) are in bed, and you’re finally able to relax.
You could start reading that self-help book you’ve been putting off, but all you really want to do is get lost in a fantasy novel. Or maybe you just want to binge watch reality TV. In one way or another, you crave an escape.
But then a little voice inside says you shouldn’t give in to this urge. After all, “escapism” has a negative connotation, suggesting we’re running from reality to live in a fantasy world. If you give in and escape, you might end up feeling guilty and thinking you made the wrong choice.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
All of us—myself included—need times to hit pause in our busy lives and step away from constantly being on duty. It can be very healthy for our minds and spirits to get away from our real-world stresses and responsibilities, whether through travel, entertainment, or other means.
So when is an escape a “bad” thing? I think of it in shades of gray, not black-or-white. Think about the costs and benefits of your escape. Here are some clues that it might be costing you more than it’s worth:
Other people complain
If the people you care about start to complain about the time you’re devoting to your escape or to express concern about whether it’s good for you, it’s worth considering their perspective.
You spend all your time thinking about your escape
An escape can turn into an addiction, and one of the features of addiction is spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about, planning for, and consuming the addictive substance or activity.
You need an escape from your escape
One of my recent escapes is listening to podcasts. I have a few favorites that I cycle through, but at some point I get sick of having my headphones in, no matter how fascinating the topic might be. That’s a good clue to me that it’s time to pause in my podcast consumption.
You never feel bored
When your mind is free to wander it’s more likely to come up with creative ideas and solutions; constantly using an escape to provide distraction and avoid boredom gets in the way of this process. So if you’re like me and do what you can to avoid being bored, consider the advantages of letting yourself be under-stimulated at times.
Your escape starts to crowd out other important parts of your life
Alcohol is an easy example—many people do fine with an occasional drink to “unwind,” but alcohol use can easily turn into abuse that gets in the way of work, relationships, and other important parts of life. Beware if your escape starts to morph into a malevolent force.
Finally, keep in mind that seemingly “good” activities like reading literature can turn into unhealthy escapes, and seemingly less virtuous activities like playing video games may be a very healthy escape for some people. Only you get to decide if your escape is a healthy one.