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What is Escapism?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Escapism is a way of refocusing one’s attention on pleasant or enjoyable things, as opposed to the hard realities of the everyday world. It can be a healthy means for not getting completely depressed by reality, or in extreme forms, can result in obsessive behaviors that make people completely ignore reality to their detriment.

Healthy escapism is probably one of the first practices of the developing human species. Who can evaluate such things as cave paintings or the first works of artisans without suggesting that people sometimes needed to focus on things that were not mundane or entirely useful? Little usefulness might be derived from painting a cave painting, or from looking at one. There may have been some practical impetus behind artistic intent, such as teaching people how to slay a mammoth. In reality, however, the focus on something other than the mundane was likely a relief.

Modern escapism in a healthy sense could include reading a favorite book, watching a sports program, watching “mindless” television, or playing a few hours of Tetris. There is very little harm in the occasional escape from reality in such forms.

Some argue however, this mindset may ultimately become addictive. For example, current studies are now focusing on the emerging condition of Internet addiction. In Internet addiction, people may spend most hours of the day and night surfing the Internet. They may do so in preference to working in the world, or in preference to having “real life” relationships with other people. What begins as a mere search on a topic, may end in a life lived in front of a computer monitor when the issue becomes extreme.

Some people argue that those who get excessively involved as fans of certain television shows or series of books are pursuing an unhealthy level of escapism. For example, people look to Trekkies, or comic books fans that dress up or attempt to live as their favorite characters, as having lost themselves in their respective "universes." In their defense, many devoted fans live very normal lives, and have children, relationships and regular jobs. However, they may spend their weekends attending conferences to escape into an idealized world that seems a better substitute than exploring the hard truths of this world.

Activities perceived normal, like eating, sleeping or sexual activity may also be deemed as escapist when they are practiced in excess. For example, sleeping over half the day to the point where one cannot pursue a normal life is termed escapism. Such sleeping may be caused by illnesses that creates exhaustion, or may actually be symptomatic of mental illnesses like depression. Often the person uses sleep as an escape from a life filled with emotional or physical pain.

It is not too difficult to guess why we all need to occasionally practice escapism. A glance at a morning newspaper tends to reveal literally hundreds of deaths, as well as articles about kidnappings, child abuse, and major disasters. Additionally, work inside or out of the home can be stressful, and this activity is a way to avoid feeling constantly under stress.

However, when the activity runs rampant, it prevents us from living in the world as truly engaged. It can lead to addiction, breakdown of relationships and inability to actually survive in the real world. Moderate escapism, on the other hand, may actually make us more effective participants in the world, since we allow ourselves to take mental breaks that reduce our stress.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon986326 — On Jan 24, 2015

Good luck keeping your sanity without escapism.

By anon963962 — On Aug 01, 2014

I had to learn personally that escapism is really a luxury and shouldn't be used as a way to avoid life's ills (procrastination). Not every day at least. Take care of business first, then make escapism a "treat' for completing the task(s). I had to that learn the hard way.

By anon349529 — On Sep 26, 2013

So, I want to have my beliefs about escapism put into this torrent of prideful argument. I do believe most people who post on these kind of controversial subjects do so just to get a response. That is not the point; the point is escapism.

I am an escapist, not a full-on, hardcore, completely checked out one, but that doesn't change the fact that I am one. My first observation is that people want to look at escapism as black and white. You are either all in or all out, but the world is a grey area. I live in that grey area, as do most of you. If someone imagines an idealistic world to momentarily live in, then there is nothing wrong with that.

My second observation is that people don't seem to know what is in these idealistic worlds. There is more, in my case at least, than perfectly cut green grass and people who like you and shower affection over you. It brings things to life that don't and never will exist in the real world. It has people who help you grow and show you what a person should be like -- people who keep their moral values, and fight for what is right. Those people are hard to come by in the real world. There are adversaries, there are people who are against you, but there you can relive a moment as many times as you need to. You can learn how to face problems, how to face your fears. This is especially true when you escape into a world someone else created, where you have these storybook characters, and an idealized version of yourself living your ideal life.

Yes, this can make it hard to face reality. It is because you know you aren't ideal, and neither are the people around you. But if you take from what you experienced in this idealistic world and apply it to the real world, everything is so much more beautiful. You will see life where others see death, and face challenges head on. That's what I believe about escapism. That is can help us grow as human beings. I am proud of my escapism, it's kept me afloat -- that and my religion. I am a Christian, and I don't believe that God is a form of escapism. That would imply he is something that doesn't exist, and won't exist. The truth is just the opposite. He does exist and will always exist. I hope you took something form this.

By anon319717 — On Feb 14, 2013

Several making comments seem not to have read the article. Perhaps they are merely reacting to its title and the word, escapism. Post 20 seems to ignore the nuanced way "escapism" was described in the article and treats it as having only one set of characteristics. I thought the writer did a fine job. I wonder, though: how many who have a problematic kind of escapism are likely to recognize it?

By anon310900 — On Dec 27, 2012

@anon203864, you hit the nail on the head. I like escapism because I am all too aware of how bad the world is. However, because I'd like to live in an ideal world I want to help other achieve that world. In the end, if you can break out of your fake world to help others, escapism is a good thing.

By anon306502 — On Nov 30, 2012

Escapism is always more fun when you do it with friends.

By anon301978 — On Nov 06, 2012

I don't know if I could survive this world without escapism. Reality just makes me feel so bored and depressed. I love reading, music, television and films. I also tend to escape into the news, if that makes sense. I like reading about world events because its distant from my personal reality.

By anon298984 — On Oct 23, 2012

If your life's mission is to uncover every natural phenomena, then perhaps escapism is not for you. But I cannot help but wonder if such a devotion adds any more worth to life. If you go down the rabbit hole and find things you cannot handle and end up living a depressed life, then in my opinion, it's not worth it.

That is not to say that we need to be in touch with reality. I would much rather live to be 80 in a semi Matrix than live a miserable existence in Zion -- and that is not to say that the Matrix is a happy place. Essentially, I believe we all need to find a balance that brings the most happiness to our lives.

By anon294563 — On Oct 02, 2012

God is escapism the same way that esprit de corps is ineffective. The idea of god, regardless of your spiritual beliefs, is run by the idea of esprit de corps. Those who are part of it benefit by looking out for one another in ways they could not alone. Those who are on the outside, generally, need to be brought into it (the larger the group, the more tools that are available) and that those who threaten to render it ineffective need to be put out.

Escapism is choosing, consciously or unconsciously, not to face what is at hand, by ignoring it and/or doing something else. This can be easily associated with almost any addiction. This can be good when people are not strong enough mentally to deal with a situation. If they find their only alternative is to snap mentally and kill themselves or others, or escape to ignore the problem until they are strong enough to face it. However, it becomes problematic when people continually choose to never deal with a problem.

For example: "I am sad because my family member died and through drinking I can numb the pain." For this specific situation, aside from the physical effects of prolonged heavy drinking, they will never be able to face reality. What started as "the pain of my lost family member", becomes "the pain of my family member, my job because I was too (fill-in-the-blank) to make it to work on time, and the rest of my life that falls apart because of my ignoring it in order to not have to deal with a singular event that occurred some time ago, but has now fed into an addiction to anything under the sun".

The fact is, not facing any of your problems is in some form escapism. Forgive my pragmatism, but face your problems when they're still little crap and all the crap that follows, is little crap. Nothing is outside your grasp. If you need help, find it. The only time you are helpless is when you allow yourself to become overwhelmed and allow yourself to feel that there's "no way out", because you can always clean up a mess.

By anon285060 — On Aug 13, 2012

One word: Facebook.

By anon249889 — On Feb 23, 2012

The law of causality rules this world.

We have nothing to depend on but our crude understanding of reality, through probability and statistics.

Religion - a grand delusion.

Anything that lets you forget your pain and sorrow is escapism. Anything that gives you hope is escapism. Anything other than diving into the painful depths of reality, is escapism.

By CatchyTitle — On Sep 18, 2011

Couldn't agree more with the previous Poster (Number 26).

All life, on Earth, and most probably beyond, adheres to a will to dominate, a selfish need for survival and a brutal determination.

Those who survive only do so at the expense of those who do not, even at a potential level - this is the way of evolution.

But don't get all nihilistic either. There may not be a meaning to life, and certainly nothing after clinical brain death, but there is always a purpose.

Leaving behind a better world for all life to enjoy is my purpose. What's yours?

If you manage to swerve religion, irrational and illogical beliefs, materialism, and humanity's arrogant superiority complex, you might just have a chance.

Good logic. Good empathy. Good luck.

By anon203864 — On Aug 07, 2011

I don't understand why people always claim escapism is some horrible mental defect or addiction. If anything, escapism is the response of people who are all too aware of reality. Just pick up a newspaper; the entire world is red in tooth and claw. It is a vicious, heartless, nasty place full of people who will either use you, abuse you, or ignore you, and full of other living things that wouldn't hesitate to rip you apart and eat you. And there's not a damn thing I or any of us can do about it. It's the way the world just is, it's always been this way and it'll always be this way. Life came out of a universe incapable of caring or forethought, so life had to be nasty, brutish and short.

And you all are trying to tell me that the healthy response is to want to be a part of that? You're either delusional, demented or in denial.

By anon181914 — On May 31, 2011

I actually wanted to find out 'How to fight escapism', but it seems there aren't any articles available on that topic?

I tend to think in principles, and I'd like to either classify escapism as beneficial and theoretically consider indulging completely - or classify it as a waste of time and attempt to fight it as much as possible, ideally eliminate it completely.

Previously, I've spent most of my life on video games, watching movies and listening to music, but recently I started feeling that it seems sort of pointless and it occurred to me that maybe I was doing it to escape dealing with philosophical questions and personal issues, and improving how I live my life interacting with people, learning, helping, etcetera.

While some comments say it's necessary to regain focus, I don't see why that time can't necessarily be spent in a more productive way. I am, instead, guessing that the key is diversity. That you can focus on learning mathematics one moment and maybe escape into socialising or doing dishes and then go back to math. But sure, it's a big question what you think has value in life, and what you define as escapism.

I'm inclined to think in terms of how stimulating and developing an activity is. Definitely an area that deserves more investigation. From what a lot of you say, it makes me think of someone leading a life they essentially aren't very happy about and therefore need to escape from. That doesn't seem very healthy to me, regardless of the amount of escape necessary.

By anon107193 — On Aug 29, 2010

it all depends on what one is escaping from.

For 5437 and 18172, numbers 1 and 2.

Generally escapism is talked about in reference to escaping from things such as a boring job, a lifestyle one considers boring, unpleasant etc. Therefore, anything that constitutes an escape from this will be considered escapism. Then again, the word increasingly has connotations of engaging oneself in a fabricated reality which does not actually exist, such as a movie or a sitcom.

By anon107030 — On Aug 28, 2010

Escapism is, in a very bittersweet way, a large part of my life. I have realized that I will always have a large escapist streak, and what matters most to me is fuelling that escapism with spending time in the real world, for instance, working for money for a new computer or games console.

I play computer games, watch movies and anime, listen to music and sleep a lot, but all of these lose value when there is no antagonist from which to escape. I only work hard because I remain passionate about my escape.

By anon105119 — On Aug 19, 2010

This article says people engaged in escapism can still live normal lives. So escapism is just doing something that is not normal? You don't conform to what others do and that is termed escapism?

I can understand how work is a hard reality of life and avoiding work is escapism. You need to work to eat and you need to eat to live.

But how is having children a hard reality of life and how is avoiding children escapism? You don't have to have children and having a child is not a hard reality of life, but rather a decision one makes to produce a child. You have a child because you think it will fulfill you.

Having a child may be seen as escapism since you have a child to escape from loneliness or insignificance because your life will mean nothing when you die and you want your children to live on your behalf into the future.

By anon101913 — On Aug 05, 2010

Well, escapism cannot be compared to stress reduction. It is not the same thing. Escapism is harmful and is similar to an addiction in that it keeps you from taking care of every day business, situations and issues. That is the "reality" of life on planet Earth.

However, whether one decides to deal with reality or escape from it is a matter of choice. You cannot judge the journey of another. You've not walked in their shoes nor do you know their personal path. Namaste

By anon86383 — On May 24, 2010

So what isn't escapism? What is our normal reality once we remove all the diversions? Is it simple biological functions: i.e., eating sleeping, procreation, and all other activities that allow us to continue with these basic functions? Is it being bored? Is it only eating, reproducing, raising children, and then dying? Is it helping others? Christian charity?

Do normal everyday things become escapism only when done in excess? Can we consider work escapism? What if we are forced to work long hours to provide for ourselves and our families?

I mean, how do you define something such as escapism without first answering difficult metaphysical questions first? How do you label something escapist when you don't even know your purpose or even if you have a purpose?

By anon78716 — On Apr 19, 2010

I can clearly tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Sometimes I keep going back to the same made up world. In this fantasy world I have numerous siblings.

It is hard because the time I spend in this world is tending to increase. Especially if I feel depressed. The amount of time spent in fantasy world is starting to interfere with the actual world. I am 22 now, but start this make believe world when I was like 12. It has changed, but kind of remained the same. I want to spend more time here in compared to there. --CS

By anon66631 — On Feb 20, 2010

I see smaller things as escapism, like using a smoking habit as an excuse to remove oneself from a social situation, or maybe playing video games for hours on end. Escapism comes in many forms, and anything that becomes a habit is a sign that the person is perhaps not leading as proactive and synergistic life as a person would like.

By anon61168 — On Jan 18, 2010

20256 - reality is your perception - nothing more, nothing less.

Religion can be included in this, even though I am not religious, because your beliefs are part of your perception.

By anon61166 — On Jan 18, 2010

Escapism is very healthy - the alternative is living a "normal" life, which, here in America, isn't very healthy or beneficial, to anyone.

By anon57670 — On Dec 26, 2009

in truth everyone is guilty of escapism. end of story.

By anon57250 — On Dec 21, 2009

Escape has many levels. Giving your mind a break or your physical body a break can be very healthy if it does not impede promises made or responsibilities you have committed to. If you want more escape, make fewer promises and take on less responsibility. It's your choice.

By anon50956 — On Nov 02, 2009

you could take any task or any belief and call it escapism.

the argument that religion is a form of escapism is an interesting one and seemingly very plausible one. not only christianity - any religion. in fact, it could be seen as the ultimate form of escapism, escaping the question of who we are, where we came from, why things happen. by accepting certain religions and the beliefs instilled by them, you ignore all scientific and logical reasoning countering those belief systems. you're not necessarily ignorant. you're simply escaping from something you choose not to believe.

By anon41234 — On Aug 13, 2009

Technically, religion is escapism. However most people can live moderate escapism, thus many religious people living seemingly normal lives. As anything, there are always exceptions. Overzealous relgious fanatics are letting their benign existence become ruled by "god's missions". That is an extreme form of escapism through religion. If anything god is the greatest escape from reality imaginable. You really have to look at it from an arbitrary standpoint though.

By anon37539 — On Jul 20, 2009

sorry, to clarify, christianity is not a form of escapism. otherwise you're saying everyone who believes in a religion is indulging in escapism. God is a belief and not a means to run away.

just my opinion, but God is real, how can you look at people made up of a miniscule cell, the world, the big bang, the golden ratio, etc and not see the beauty of creation? feel free to disagree, only an opinion, but God is the only way to salvation :)

By anon32721 — On May 26, 2009

@29581: God is just another form of escapism.

By anon29581 — On Apr 04, 2009

I have to wholeheartedly agree with anon5437. I am a pro escapist- pulling off a major, life-altering crisis about once every 7 years. The last one was really bad! --because upon returning to reality, not only was the original problem still there, but now new problems and consequences were piled on top.

I returned to reality after 6 months of living in "checked out" mode-- this was 3 years ago. I am still picking up the pieces. God is good to me, in showing me that I can stop the escapism if I will call it what it is (a very unhealthy, harmful habit) and submit to Him. I have not mastered this, but have managed to stay with reality by prayer and obedience to God. -ML

By anon26349 — On Feb 11, 2009

I'm there with anon21641.

I love to read to get away and am very interested in manga, reading it constantly as well. I attend conventions with like minded people, one point of reality I tend to stand, seeing as people are generally accepting and I could certainly go on about how much kinder and more accepting the people are.

I can't stand thinking about reality to the point of... well, you understand, I'm sure. I constantly am reading or daydreaming... or wishing I'm doing one of them. I don't really know whether I should stop and risk depression or continue and become constantly less satisfied.

To actually comment on the topic: This article is consistent with everything else I've read and could certainly be a good source for some.

By anon21641 — On Nov 19, 2008

well, i've been searching the internet for quite a while now, cause i think i have some form of mental illness which i guess has to do with escapism and depression. :( as bittersweet as it can be, i kind of find it crushing at times and its getting worse. i clearly CAN tell fantasy and what is real apart, and maybe that is why it hurts so bad :( never heard of anyone else having the same problems - thanks for the article

By anon20256 — On Oct 28, 2008

can someone please define reality in one sentence for me?

By WGwriter — On Sep 19, 2008

Interesting comments from anon5437 & anon18172,

I'd have to say that escapism in the form of a harmless mental trip is not likely to be that damaging to a person's psyche. In fact when people go into great stress or shock, the mind turns off for a while, suggesting there may be an evolutionary basis for escapism. Certainly it can be carried too far, but a moment or two of indulging in fantasy may help refresh the mind and increase focus. Case in point: When I get stuck on a writing topic, I often take a few moments of doing something else that isn't all that productive (playing Sudoku for instance). J.K. Rowling also discusses how she would play a few video games when she got stuck writing (Mine Field I think), especially when she quit smoking. Playing a video game for a few minutes isn't going to get your writing done, but at least I found that it does help me come back to a project with renewed focus. It doesn't seem to have damaged Ms. Rowling's success as a writer, either (though I'm certainly not comparing my writing to hers)

I like the questions raised by anon18172. Can you escape from things by doing chores, meeting with friends, etc? I guess this could be a form of escapism if you're preferencing chores over something you really have to do first? It's an interesting comment!

Thank you both for your comments and keep them coming!

Tricia EC

By anon18172 — On Sep 16, 2008

The matter of fact is that escapism is neglect of everyday problem solving, foolish time consumption and escape from everyday duties and responsibilities, ie. cleaning places, washing dishes, studying, meeting with friends etc.

What about those who chose these everyday duties and responsibilities, ie. cleaning places, washing dishes, studying, meeting with friends etc, as forms of escapism???

By anon5437 — On Nov 25, 2007

Escapism actually doesn't reduce stress or anxiety but suppresses it. Escapists forget real life problems and challenges by escaping into imaginary worlds. What escapists leave undealt behind, they will have to face sooner than later. The stress is still there, the anxiety is still there, escapists are just suppressing their feelings by not dealing with their negative stress or anxiety or even pain.

Sure escapism helps people to unwind by focusing their mind away from stress and anxiety factors, but that sense of relaxation is only temporal escape which does more harm in the long run.

The bottom line is, there is no "healthy escapism". The matter of fact is that escapism is neglect of everyday problem solving, foolish time consumption and escape from everyday duties and responsibilities, ie. cleaning places, washing dishes, studying, meeting with friends etc.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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