Healthy Escapes Habits that heal and create growth BY: Troy Murphy | September 2016
We struggle. It’s a given, relationships stumble and fail, children disappoint, finances dry up, and fears of the future haunt. We repeatedly focus on disturbing realities while ignoring the positive, the relationships that support, the children that succeed, the finances that flourish, and futures full of promise. Life simultaneously has both—the good and bad, the bad is just more salient, forcefully demanding attention. The child with legal and drug problems frustrates positive-feel-good attention directed to the other child quietly and successfully working towards a college degree. We don’t need to ignore the difficulties to enjoy life. Life requires attention to some of the vexing problems; attention proceeds positive action and desired change. We do, however, need to direct attention to the positive; both the positive happenings, as well as, implementing positive activities. We need the positive for balance.
Biologically our bodies respond to unfavorable input. Emotions urge defensive responses possible threats to safety and stability by directing our attention to danger. The biological responses combine with cognitive memories, social structures and learned explanations to feelings of sadness, anger, shame, fear, guilt, or a combination of these feelings. Our biological structure doesn’t welcome trouble with gratitude; the body responds to trouble with discomfort. Our habits of thinking may magnify or reduce the discomfort but except for a few extreme cases thinking habits don’t completely relieve the normal displeasures of living.
We don’t have to be pugilists. We can seek pleasurable escapes—both through the mind and through activity. Too much anxiety, too much sadness, too much anger, or too much pain overwhelms the system, pushing us beyond our capacity to process and effectively respond. We must stand as a sentinel guarding against these paralyzing rushed of emotion; when overwhelmed we become victims to our own anger or drawn down into helpless depressions.
Knowing personal emotional limits and common triggering events, we can actively prepare for and avoid many of the negative-life-defining moments. We will still be challenged—not because we are weak but because we are human. We will make choices, encounter situations, and bond with people that cause pain. Emotional maturity assists with these individual battles. But when emotional challenges surpass our abilities, we need different tools; instead of working our way through the emotions, we find healthy escapes.
We need mental-health escapes from problems; escape from the drudgery of day to day life, and escape from moments of extreme emotional demand. Escapes must be engaging or they wouldn’t have sufficient power to distract. Engaging in activities recharges energy and rejuvenates self-discipline. They provide strength to re-engage in life. The torments lose their sting with these momentarily escapes, recharging vital energy.
Not every distraction has equal value—distraction alone is not the goal. If all we seek is distraction, a regular trip to the local bar would be sufficient. Some distractions contribute to living skills; others do not. Like all activities, they can nourish or diminish our lives. When mental-health escapes increase valuable life skills, the breaks provide both escape and nourishment—exercise, reading, or meditation can serve this dual purpose.
Five Mental-Health Escapes to explore:
Exercise- Simple exercises such as a walk or Five Minute Chi Boost rejuvenates and replenishes minds and bodies. There’s no perfect exercise program, find the one that works for you.
Reading- Find a topic of interest. Becoming an expert. Reading can unveil a new passion.
Television and Social Media- Television can be mind-numbing. Thoughtlessly flipping through channels is a waste, without notable benefits. Carefully choosing what and when to watch television allows television to rejuvenate. Social Media also distracts either positively or negatively. Social Media offers countless groups of interest. Sharing stories, thoughts, and connections on-line create relationships, expand learning, and multiplies resources. The Flourishing Life Society page provides an escape and emotional healing for me.
Any healthy escape can be an obsession—diminishing the mental-health benefits. The healthy aspects lose effectiveness when escapes become the focus instead of a momentary rest. Most problems need addressing and not simply avoided. Obsessions—even when based on healthy activities—create imbalance. Because escapes are enjoyable, being lost in flow is pleasurable, we may compulsively avoid real life. Proper balance requires regular evaluation and occasional adjusting to best use escapes as a positive element in our complex and dynamic lives.
If you don’t have escapes, find some. If you have escapes, evaluate the impact they have on your lives. Make the adjustments needed. Life is tough but we don’t need to constantly suffer. We can find enjoyable, life developing activities that provide a much needed escape.