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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Escaping from reality isn't always a bad thing

A refusal to face reality is often seen in a rather unflattering and negative way -- that is, turning your eyes away from what is happening in front of you, throwing away your responsibilities, and throwing yourself completely into the world of your hobbies or daydreams.

However, I don't think that such a "detachment from reality" is necessarily always a bad thing. That is to say, can anyone really pay attention to every little thing going on in the world, accept every problem that is currently plaguing us and cope without letting their guard down? I know that I definitely cannot. When I am feeling down because my work is not going well, I can't always muster up the energy to think up strategies so that I don't fail again. Instead, I'll do things like go out to watch professional baseball games.

There are times when I am enjoying cheering at the baseball stadium when I end up thinking, "I haven't actually solved a single problem." But then I tell myself, "Don't worry about that now. Don't worry," over and over again, concentrating on the excitement unfolding before me. I often think that engaging in this kind of an escape from reality and my problems was a good choice, but there are also times when I regret my actions. Even then, I still find myself going to the stadium or the movie theater the next time I am faced with a problem like I never learned a single thing. If I don't go, I can't keep my mind balanced. That's how I see it, at least.

In my work as a psychiatrist, I often meet patients who feel too strongly that these little escapes from reality are a bad thing. Some say things like, "I have to solve a family problem as soon as possible, but I ended up watching Korean dramas until the middle of the night again yesterday. I'm really terrible, aren't I?" and put blame on themselves.

Even though they watched the program to forget a difficult situation, they believe that they have made a mistake. When I instead assure them, "You really needed to enjoy watching something right now. Wasn't it a good thing?" the smile that spreads across their face even goes as far as putting my own heart at ease.

Of course, that said, people who try to escape reality through drinking alcohol, gambling or compulsive shopping have to be careful so the behavior does not end up turning into an addiction. When you think, "This is definitely a time that I should be avoiding this," but find yourself doing an activity anyway, or if you tell yourself, "I should stop just about now," and are actually unable to follow through, those are big warning signs of addiction. When that happens, it's best to completely remove yourself from the situation.

Lucky for us, there are high-quality novels and movies, music and comics to entertain us, gyms and yoga studios for us to move our bodies and many other activities that allow us to forget about reality for a little while. If we aim to use these resources to our advantage, we can recharge our mental and emotional energy before going out and firmly facing reality again. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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