How do you escape? Do you know? It may not be anything you spend a lot of time thinking about, but it’s a really important thing to know about yourself! Why? Because many people don’t know what they are doing when they are doing it. When your mode of escape is conscious, it can be a more effective tool for coping with whatever you need a break from.
This may make more sense with examples, so let’s start by looking at some ways that people escape. Here is a short list:
- doing nothing
- doing too much
- playing sports
- playing video games
- becoming ill
- playing music
- using intoxicants
- watching tv
So, let’s say that my mode of escape is playing video games. If I am not aware that this is the function that playing video games serves for me, I might just think that I am a lazy, antisocial slacker. This could make me feel ashamed and want to hide or defend my behavior. If I see playing games as adaptive, I may interpret my reaching for the Xbox as a sign that I need a break. I may indulge in game playing fully so that I give myself a chance to feel restored. I may actually spend less time playing games because now I view it as purposeful. So I may stop once I realize that the purpose has been achieved.
Playing video games is certainly not the worst thing in the world, but let’s say that my mode of escape is something more destructive. Maybe it’s cutting or unleashing a torrent of verbal abuse. There are some really negative consequences for those behaviors. One is self-destructive. The other destroys others.
If I become aware of the underlying need for the behavior before it happens, I can choose something that is a bit more healthy. I can honor my feelings without indulging in things that hurt. Let me give you an example of how you can transform an unhealthy escape pattern to a more adaptive one.
Before – The Unaware Escape Pattern
Ron asks Dave when he will receive the estimate that Dave promised him yesterday. Dave starts to feel frustrated because he feels Ron is pushing too hard. Dave screams that Ron doesn’t understand the amount of work Dave has to do each day or how hard it is to get his people to perform. Ron yells, “I want that estimate by the end of the day!” then storms out. Dave turns and yells at his employees before going into his office and slamming the door behind him. Instead of working on it, Dave starts checking his email. At the end of the day, Dave finally remembers the estimate and gets wound up all over again.
After – The Mindful Escape Pattern
Ron asks Dave when he will get the estimate that Dave promised him yesterday. Dave starts to feel frustrated because he feels Ron is pushing too hard. Dave tunes into his body and his feelings and realizes that he could use an escape from the pressure. He agrees to get the estimate to Ron by the end of the day. This is a totally reasonable timeframe, but Dave is too keyed up to work on it right that moment. He knows he will feel better if he can get centered first, so he consciously chooses to switch gears and responds to some emails. After about fifteen minutes, he realizes that he’s no longer anxious and can work on the estimate. He turns his attention to that and gets it to Ron well before the deadline.
Stress happens. We all get tweaked by big and little things. We all need to escape from time to time. Sometimes we just need a few minutes. Sometimes we need a few days! The person who is aware that he needs a break is more likely to take one in a healthy way. The person who has no self-awareness may do whatever he can to relieve the pressure – even if it means creating a trail of destruction along the way.
If you know, “I do X when I am stressed,” you’re more likely to acknowledge your sensations. You are also more likely to view your stress relieving activity as something beneficial. You may even be proactive about reducing the frequency or intensity of the trigger that is creating the stress in the first place.
Mindfulness has many practical uses. Using it to learn how to cope with stress and escape in a productive way is just one of the ways it can help you.