May 20, 2020 – As Mental Health Awareness Month continues and I reflect on how we can live our best lives, I am drawn to the topic of substance abuse.
No, I don’t’ have any “just say no” or “this is your brain on drugs” messages. I am interested in starting a larger dialogue about why some of us may turn to drugs or alcohol.
Beyond peer pressure, I think there’s one big reason we turn to any addictive habits or unhealthy coping mechanisms: escapism.
Escapism is an avoidance behavior where we dive into fantasy or try to get out of our own head in order to avoid reality. Whether it’s video games, television, books, food, endless internet browsing, or drugs and alcohol, we are all guilty of escapism in one form or another.
Why? Because the real world is tough. But it’s important that we don’t rely on running away from our problems; otherwise, the problems are never solved. So how can we practice confronting our problems instead of escaping from them? I am far from an expert, but here are some recommendations I have discovered through research and what has worked in my life.
Take time to recognize how a situation is making you feel. Before running for the hills, stop and address how you feel and why you feel that way. Journal if that helps you get your thoughts down. Make a strategy to deal with your problem, even if that strategy includes just taking some time to wind down and relax. The important thing is that you don’t use hobbies or interests as a way to permanently ignore a situation. If you take the time to respond to problems, you’ll find your life is less in need of escaping from.
Ask for help and accept help. Life is tough, and we aren’t meant to do it alone. When life is hard, we need to reach out. Depending on the nature of the issue, try reaching out to a friend, a co-worker, a family member or a counselor. Find someone who can support you, help shoulder the burden and assist in problem-solving the issue. If you are struggling, reach out to School Behavioral Health for resources and help.
Find a healthy – but temporary – escape. I find that taking time to do something I truly enjoy – like watching an episode of the Office, taking a 5-minute run, playing with my guinea pigs, or reading a book– puts my mind at ease and allows me to face my problem with a refreshed and renewed mindset. The key is making sure your escape is physically, emotionally and mentally healthy. Also, make sure that it is temporary.
Tackle it – FDR famously said that you have nothing to fear but fear itself. Whether it’s a daunting homework assignment or work project, or dissatisfaction with your current status in life, the fear of dealing with the situation soon becomes greater than the situation itself. The more time I obsess and think about it, the more stress I have, and the more I’m driven to go play video games or binge on Netflix instead. But when I finally tackle it, making a game plan and dealing with it, I’m rewarded with peace.
What are you guilty of escaping from? What are some strategies that have helped you confront your problems? Remember, you can email your thoughts, ideas, and responses directly to me at [email protected]. Check back each week this month for more Mental Health topics.