The level of stress we live with, day in and day out, is far greater than we, as humans, were designed to experience. And, like all living organisms, when you are put under stress that is greater than you are designed for, for longer than you are designed to handle, something has to give.
Look around. Depression rates are at an all-time high. As is anxiety. And heart disease. And cancer. And suicides. I don’t believe stress is the number one cause of these issues, but I do believe it is the number one underestimated contributor to these conditions.
As our stress levels increase, we look for a way to push that stress aside. These ways in which we try to get a moment away from stress are called escapes. We seek escapes to unwind, relax, and break away from real life.
I believe seeking escapes is natural, understandable, and often necessary. The question is… is it healthy? What’s the answer to that super important question? Well… it depends on what it is you are doing to escape.
If the escape of choice causes harm to your body or mind, then obviously it is not a good idea. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, or doing drugs can distract you from your current state of affairs, but the benefit of disconnecting from the stress is offset by the harmful effects these have on your body. They can cause damage to your organs, tissues, and cells, leading to much bigger problems… and increased stress… down the road.
It’s not just drugs, alcohol, and smoking that can backfire when attempting to disconnect from the daily stressors. Many turn to other means of escape, such as shopping, watching pornography, binge watching Netflix, or surfing the internet for hours and hours. These may not directly harm your physical body, but have other negative implications and ramifications.
One of the biggest escapes people turn to is eating. We reach for whatever we can get our hands on in an effort to decompress, disconnect, and get a quick shot of pleasure. We are wired to crave sugar, fat, and salt when we are stressed, for quick bursts of energy. (The stress our ancestors had was much more real than ours, usually requiring them to actually escape; thus, the need for quick energy foods.) We also reach for the fastest foods, which are usually the least healthy.
The above-mentioned escapes all come with negative consequences. Many people combine them, compounding their ill effects (i.e., drinking, smoking, while eating a bag of chips).
I suggest trying to substitute bad escapes for healthier, more productive, ones. Vigorous exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, reading, cleaning, home projects, or a hobby are all means of disconnecting and reducing stress. I know they don’t have the level of impact some of the negative escapes have, but they will help you disconnect from daily stress that’s bogging you down. And as a bonus, they not only won’t cause your body or mind harm, but will instead provide positive side effects.
Think about this… what are you doing to escape? Why are you doing it? Is it harmful or helpful? And could those things be replaced with healthier, more positive alternatives? Or could you start with simply making your bad habits a little better? Maybe one glass of wine instead of the whole bottle. Maybe watch one show a night instead of four. One or two cigarettes instead of pack.
Obviously, it would be best to swap out those bad escapes for better, healthier ones. But ideally, start creating a life you don’t need to escape from. Think about that. What would it take to have a life that you don’t need to, or want to, escape from. Now go start working on creating THAT life!