By: T. Franklin Murphy | September 2016
Life has its challenges. Often the weight of demands drags us down. We need healthy escapes to rejuvenate and lighten our load.
We struggle. It’s a given; relationships stumble and fail, children disappoint, finances dry up, and fears of the future haunt. We focus on the disturbing while ignoring the positive—the relationships that support, the children that succeed, 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 demanding more mental energy than thoughts directed to other child quietly and successfully moving through the challenges of life with dignity. We shouldn’t ignore real problems to enhance enjoyment.
Resolutions requires some attention devoted to the vexing issues; from attention proceeds positive action. We can’t, however, neglect the positive; enjoying the uplifting, as well as, implementing the enjoyable. We need positive, uplifting moments for balance, recharging our souls, brightly coloring our worlds, and giving us strength to endure, and sometimes conquer, the unpleasant.
Biologically our bodies more readily respond to unfavorable input. Biological affects urge defensive responses to threats by directing attention (and energy) to danger. The reactive response conjures cognitive memories and learned explanations to find meaning to the flow of feeling. Our survival mechanisms don’t welcome trouble with gratitude; the body responds to trouble with discomfort—not joy. Our habits of thought add or subtract from the original raw affect of experience, magnifying or reducing discomfort. This is where we construct emotion.
We don’t have to be pugilists. Life isn’t terrible and shouldn’t be dreaded. We can seek pleasurable escapes—both through the mind (enjoying accomplishments and positives) and through activity (hobbies and entertainment). Too much anxiety, too much sadness, too much anger, or too much pain overwhelms, pushing us beyond our capacity to effectively process experience; and we shut down. We must implement protection, placing a sentinel to guard against paralyzing emotions; when overwhelmed, we become victims, losing energy for self-management, responding to trivial events with destructive outrage or helpless depressions.
Knowing emotional limits and common triggering events, we can actively prepare for and avoid many 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 battles; but when emotional challenges surpass our abilities, we need different tools; instead of working our way through the emotions, we can utilize healthy escapes.
Too much anxiety, too much sadness, too much anger, or too much pain overwhelms, pushing us beyond our capacity to effectively process experience; and we shut down.
We need mental-health escapes; momentarily fleeing from the drudgery, and relief from the emotional demands. Escapes must be engaging enough to provide sufficient distraction (Flow). Engaging in healthy activities recharges the soul, rejuvenating self-discipline. The activities provide strength to re-engage in life. The torments momentarily lose their sting.
Not every distraction has equal value—simple escape isn’t the solitary goal; we still must keep on living after are break. Many destroyed lives have begun with avoidance. Distractions have positive and negative impacts; a regular trip to the local bar may sufficiently distract but also disrupt. Healthier distractions develop living skills while we simultaneously rest our minds. Like all activities, escapes can nourish or diminish our lives. When mental-health escapes increase valuable life skills, the breaks provide both escape and nourishment—exercise, reading, hobbies or meditation can serve this dual purpose.
Five Mental-Health Escapes to explore:
Exercise: Simple exercises such as a walk or Five-Minute-Chi rejuvenates and replenishes both the mind and the body. There’s no perfect exercise program, find the one that works for you.
Reading: Find a topic of interest. Becoming an expert. Reading unveils new passions. Reading is a common trait shared by many of the world’s most successful people. Knowledge expands the experience of living. (See list of Books on Well-Being.)
Meditation: Science has discovered a slew of benefits from this ancient practice. Modern studies confirm what Eastern religions have known for centuries—meditation is healthy. Join a group or practice alone. A few Resources to get started: Meditation for beginners, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with your Mind, and Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28 Day Program.
Hobbies: To gain maximum benefit, a hobby must be challenging enough to demand attention, pulling the mind away from the ordinary problems of living. If engagement isn’t sufficient, we continue to mull over worries while our hands mindlessly work. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to losing oneself in an activity as Flow. Find something you love. Explore the many possibilities until you discover the right hobby for you (writing, painting, gardening, photography, politics). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (Masterminds Series)
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 allows television to rejuvenate. Social Media also can distract with positive or negative benefits. Social Media offers countless groups to explore. Sharing stories, thoughts, and connections, expands our learning, and multiplies resources. The Flourishing Life Society page provides a much-needed escape for me.
Any healthy escape can morph from healthy to obsession—diminishing the benefits. Many of life’s problems eventually need addressing and not consistently avoided. Obsessions—even when of healthy activities—create imbalance. Because escapes are enjoyable, we may compulsively avoid real life, constantly lost in the flow of a hobby we may neglect relationships, careers and health. Proper balance must be established and continually re-evaluated (see A Life in Balance). Our strength comes from proper use of escapes to rejuvenate and then address life with more power. The constant adjusting of time keeps positive elements in our complex and dynamic lives in balance.
Find some positive, insert it into your life, and discover healthy retreat from the demanding pressures of living.