Most of us like to take mini vacations from stress and responsibility, just get away from it all for a bit during our day. Sometimes it looks like scrolling Instagram, having some wine at the end of a workday, playing a game on a device, watching beloved television programs, or exploring online. There’s nothing wrong with this practice. In fact, this kind of self-care behavior can help boost our resilience so that we’re able to keep up with our commitments. If we approach and engage these practices in a balanced way, they can have therapeutic value.
Depending on our own social and emotional resources and what’s happening in our lives, it’s easy to slip into escapism. The things that used to help alleviate stress or provide a bit of soothing can become problem behaviors that amplify our stress. Sometimes we catch it early and cut it off at the pass. We’re able to veer back onto our preferred course. And sometimes we notice the shift, but feel unable to stop. Sometimes we don’t notice it at all.
It’s understandable why we seek out these behaviors and become dependent on them. They’re fun, and they help our brains release various amounts of dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter). Who doesn’t want to feel good?
But, as with anything, we can overdo it. What once made us feel good now doesn’t give us as much of a high. We need more. It would be bad enough if it stopped there, but it gets worse.
We become accustomed to a certain amount of dopamine that is released, and we need more to make us feel as great as we did before. We’re chasing the dragon. Then, we start to feel less motivated to do other things because it appears to our brains that these activities have lost their appeal. We start processing things differently. We perceive usual tasks to take more effort and believe that they have less value to us. This usually means we need more of our escape activity to offset our increasing discomfort. Over time, we can train ourselves to increase the dread we experience connected to certain activities through the use of our escape tools.
The thing about the human brain is that it loves to learn new things. It’s a little adventurer. The dopamine boost that our brains get from learning something new and completing the pattern of information is incredibly valuable. Our brains are constantly seeking the next hit of new information.
A few escape tactics are fine if they are kept in check and balance. If we rely on them too much, we’ll experience increased depression and decreased motivation, which will take a toll on our self-compassion and self-efficacy. It can be a pretty tough pattern to break.
Try a little experiment. Dedicate a week to addressing your life without using your escape tools and see what you notice. If you want to try this, but aren’t sure how to start, or you tried and failed, let’s tackle it together. Sometimes we just need a little support and accountability to make the transition.
Love and Be Loved,