Ever since I was a little girl, global catastrophe and chaos has made me very anxious. In 2011, when I was only ten years old, an earthquake and tsunami tragically struck the Pacific coast of Tōhoku in Japan. This natural disaster happened almost 10,000 kilometers from my tiny hometown, but I became fixated on tsunamis and earthquakes. I thought that living right next to the ocean meant I would wake up one morning to a giant wave flooding my neighbourhood and house.

I spent hours researching tsunamis and what to do if you were ever caught in one. I watched countless videos of  tsunamis crashing into the shore and imposing chaos and tragedy onto millions of people. I read about warning signs before tsunamis arrived, the way the water will recede, exposing the oceans floor, or how an approaching wave will make a roaring sound similar to that of a jet aircraft. 

I became obsessed with the only tsunami to ever occur in my area, an event that happened in 1929, convinced if it happened once it could and it would happen again. My teacher also chose this as a perfect time to read Escaping the Giant Wave by Peg Kehret. All of this, compounded with my parent’s nightly viewings of the six o’clock news, filled me with too much dread and anxiety for someone my age.

Now that I’m no longer ten years old, I know how to better manage my stress and anxiety when it comes to frightening and tragic global disasters but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to feeling overwhelmed. 2020 has not been kind to many people and COVID-19 is the latest issue affecting all of our lives. 

If you turn on any news channel you will be hard pressed to find any topic besides the pandemic being discussed. People all over various social media platforms are publicly voicing their opinions, fears, and grievances about the virus and social distancing. If you work with the public in any capacity during this time I’m sure you’ve heard many comments about the current situation we’re in. It is a scary and uncertain time for many people. You might be scared for yourself or your loved ones. You might feel anxious about the uncertainty of the future and desperately want everything to go back to normal. You might be worried about paying your bills or finding a job. COVID-19 has consumed most aspects of our lives and it seems there is no loosening the grip it has on us, and that’s why escapism is more important at this time than ever before.

Escapism is a tendency to distract yourself from boring or unpleasant realities usually through activities that involve entertainment and imagination. You can use different forms of escapism to occupy yourself and divert your thoughts from scary and depressing realities of everyday life. It allows us to take a mental break and focus on the lighthearted and fluffy, if even only for a couple of hours.

During the Great Depression when people couldn’t afford anything, they still went to the movies to seek distraction from their daily lives. Advances in technology have allowed escapism to become more accessible. With all the uncertainty and anxiety people are feeling due to the pandemic it is important to divert from the onslaught of tragedy now and then. If you spend your days glued to the screen and checking virus updates every hour on the hour, you’re bound to burn out. While it is important to stay informed and educated about the pandemic, it is also important to take care of your mental health.

Allowing yourself moments of self-care and a mental break reminds us that we can still be happy, passionate, and optimistic about life during hard times. When things become too overwhelming, escapism is necessary in order to stay sane and distract yourself. It provides relief, even if it is only temporary, from the hardships and stress of these scary times.

The means of escape is different for everyone. For some people it means being creative. By painting, drawing, or writing you can escape into your own creations that are far away from the chaos of your daily life. Some people may use fitness and athletics to escape; perhaps turning their headphones on blast and completing a blood pumping run or escaping through the relaxing form of yoga. 

For others, various forms of content and entertainment provide an escape into a totally different world for short periods of time. You may seek out movies, books and TV shows that you enjoy. For me, escapism comes in the form of playing with my cats, re-reading all the paranormal and vampire books I enjoyed in middle school, and watching the corny Family Channel shows of the mid to late 2000s. 

The mental toll that global crisis can take on you is not to be dismissed, ignored, or undermined. When I was younger, a tragedy that happened 10,000 kilometers from my home turned my quiet, coastal town into a fearful landscape in my mind. The ocean outside my window had only ever brought me peace but because of the onslaught of media and news I was exposed to, it became a dangerous threat. 

In these times, we’re all in the throes of a situation that none of us have experienced before. The constant stream of information about the virus and the pandemic from both news sites and social media is mentally taxing for anybody. When all you see on the news is crisis and the only thing on your social media is chaos, it is okay to escape into a silly sitcom or ‘trashy’ reality show. By indulging in activities that bring us peace and joy, we can forget about these trying times, if only for a little while. 

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Instagram – @jeannerosiersmith

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