43% of American adults reported feeling “nervous, anxious, or on edge” at least three days a week when thinking about the coronavirus outbreak, according to a March study from the Pew Medical Research Center. In the same study, 48% reported feeling depressed at least once a week with regard to the situation.
That was four months ago; the global death toll was less than 40,000, a fraction of what it is today, and most of us still believed the virus would be on its way out before hurricane season arrived.
Right now there’s a good chance you’re not feeling optimistic about it -- or about anything, really. Today’s reality is admittedly oppressive, full of stark and unforgiving headlines, every day a new crisis or crack in the foundations.
But allow yourself a moment in which there is no pandemic. No quarantine. No political corruption, no impending infrastructural collapse; the economy is booming, the environment is healing, and world peace seems more and more like a viable option every day. Your president is not a war criminal and democracy in America works exactly the way it was intended to.
Take this moment to escape. Take a break from watching the 24-hour news cycle -- take a break from everything else while you’re at it. Don’t check your inbox, don’t worry about your bank account. Step away from social media. Detach from the disenchantments of regular life.
There’s no shame in wanting to get away from it every once in a while, and to escape is essential when there’s so much to escape from. Get lost in a book or a TV show, daydream about the future or revisit favorite memories from the past.
Americans spend four years of their life on average engaging in these and other escapist behaviors, according to a 2017 survey commissioned by global travel agency G Adventures.
But this is far from a new phenomenon. As long as humans have been aware of our place in the world we’ve sought a proverbial something else; a better life, one unburdened by the responsibilities of hardship but still noble, spectacular and singularly fulfilling.
As our civilizations have grown, so too have the motivations and means of our escape. We’ve invested in these fantasies through developments in language and technology; made room for them publicly, in our cultures and belief systems, so that we can indulge in them privately, as individuals.
They thrive in the worst of times, giving way to these inadvertent creative renaissances; the subcultures and genres of our discontent.
In the ‘30s and ‘40s people took refuge from the horrors of World War 2 in the high fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, novels which would go on to standardize the enduring modern conventions of the genre.
When “Star Trek” premiered on television in 1966, with its diverse characters united in an endless quest to explore the galaxy; we looked beyond the rising global tensions and civil rights struggles of the time to envision the sleek, enlightened future we’ve been striving for ever since.
Today we face a different kind of frontier: the internet. Publications like The Atlantic and Rolling Stone have called it the modern Wild West, and not unfairly -- in all of its archives, forums, streaming services, content creation platforms, simulators and games there are billions of stories to explore.
We obsess over everything from sensational crime series like Netflix's "Tiger King" to the idyllic cottage-core setting of "Animal Crossing: New Horizons," connected by our choices, which bring us perpetually closer both to each other and to ourselves.
In these we see the curative powers of escapism, not just as an individual coping mechanism or mere distraction but also as the universal lens through which we inevitably come to better understand ourselves, our desires and our obstacles. Our fantasies highlight our shortcomings and present us with the possible solutions. They empower and unify us in our shared goals, our hopes and dreams.
So give yourself permission to escape, if only to see where it leads you. We’ll always be chasing what's outside of our reach -- that’s what drives us forward.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.