The Line Between Distraction and Escapism

March 12, 2024 Michaela Jarvis

Times get tough, and I'm not immune to wanting to shut the world out when it feels too loud, too heavy, or simply too much; that's when distraction and escapism come into play. Sometimes, a little mind vacation is needed. Just like physical vacations, it can be helpful to mentally check out momentarily to rest and reset. But as with most things in life, there is a balance, and tipping the scales can have harmful consequences.

What Is Distraction, and How Is It Used?

I'm throwing out the dictionary and sharing what distraction means to me: taking a mental break when overwhelmed. Sure, there are distractions, such as a text during a meeting or seeing a dog while driving, but I'm focusing on the practice of distraction to combat distress.

When I feel overstimulated, or my emotions run high, I heat up and get flustered. My fight-or-flight kicks in, and I'm not acting my best or making great decisions. Logic goes out the door, leaving only panic. Distraction is a great way to regain some mental control.

Visual, auditory, and social outlets can be great distraction tools. My preferred distraction is reading or taking walks. Others prefer comfort shows, calling a friend, or music — there are many things you can use to take a break from the anxiety and decompress.

What Is Escapism?

In my mind, escapism can look like a distraction, but looking closer, it's hurtful. Instead of using a task to check out and calm down momentarily, it's used to avoid the problem.

With distraction, the goal is to get back to a healthier mental spot to tackle a challenge. With escapism, the goal is not to have to face the challenge at all.

There are obvious escapism tactics, like drug or alcohol use, and there are ones that seem harmless, like hours of social media scrolling. There are even tactics that could be seen as "healthy," like incessantly working out. The point is that the task doesn't need to be sinister, but if it becomes a habit used to avoid difficult emotions, it's a problem.

Avoid Letting Distraction Become Escapism

There's no doubt that it feels good to slip away for a while, but the line between distraction and escapism can be easily crossed without noticing.

The difference is intention. "I'm going on a walk before answering this difficult email" is a lot different than "I don't want to think about it, so I'm going to open a bottle of wine and scroll my phone."

There's nothing wrong with a glass of wine and checking social media. There is something wrong with not wanting to face emotions. Getting into the habit of pushing off emotions creates a snowball effect. Those emotions don't go away, and they don't get easier later.

It feels nice to continuously stow away emotions for later — trust me, I've been there. But it's not healthy in the long run. Distraction is a tremendous tool to re-center and regain control, but it comes with intention and self-discipline. Learning the difference between when I was distracting and when I was escaping helped me put my recovery back on track.

APA Reference
Jarvis, M. (2024, March 12). The Line Between Distraction and Escapism, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Michaela Jarvis

Michaela Jarvis is continuously on her road to self-improvement while managing bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the life challenges that come with being in your 20s. Find Michaela on Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.

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