Does television provide the escapism people need from everyday life?

For me, the answer to the question this article asks is very simple: yes. However, why do I think that television provides the escapism people need from everyday life? Is there something about me that enables such an easy answer? Perhaps there is, but I will try and explain my response by looking at both my experiences and how I think society as a whole deals with the need to escape, even just for a little bit. Every person is different in terms of how they deal with the pressures of everyday life, and every person has different experiences with it. People are also different in how they react to these experiences; what troubles one person very deeply may not even enter the consciousness of someone else. I think it’s important to remember that every person is unique and has the potential to react to things in a different way to someone else, and therefore their experiences should not be belittled or ignored just because it’s not something another person understands.

My reality

It doesn’t happen very often so this is probably why I remember it so vividly; I was working one Saturday and after having a tough day dealing with customers (and more significantly my colleague), and after I had finished my shift, all I wanted to do was go home and watch The Big Bang Theory. That might be more to do with it being a comedy, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that it was my way of coping with a stressful situation; to escape and see what was happening in the made-up world of LA scientists who deal with their own struggles in everyday life. This was different to the general wanting to watch television; it was a response to how I was feeling – I wanted to make the stress I was feeling go away and this was my way of dealing with it. It was my first reaction to the situation I was in. Some people play music, some people play sport, and some people open up a bottle of wine, but my way of calming down and escaping the world that day was with a good boxset.

Stress gives us the need to escape

I never really thought about why my go-to outlet was watching a television programme. As I’ve said, this is one of many ways in how people choose to escape reality, but some are more obvious stress-busters than others. Therefore I think it must say something about me that I use television as an outlet rather than going to the gym, for another example. What it says about me, I don’t really know, but it would be interesting to find out. Although, I don’t think I get stressed very much, or maybe I just don’t show the symptoms as much as other people do, and therefore don’t realise it? Or maybe I don’t realise what the symptoms actually are. Stress has many different ways of resonating itself in a person and can be shown in the forms of how a person feels, behaves, and is physically affected, such as:

  • Feelings of aggressiveness, being inpatient, irritable, being over-burdened, or unable to enjoy yourself.
  • Feeling nervous, afraid, anxious, depressed, lonely, or uninterested in life.
  • Being indecisive, restless, tearful, worrying constantly or eating too much/little.
  • Experience muscle tension, sore eyes, sleep problems, headaches or breathing difficulties.

Unfortunately there are also many more signs of stress, and anything out of the ordinary should always be taken notice of and dealt with. I think the way in which stress can manifest within a person is why it is so important to find ways of coping and alleviating such symptoms. Everyone will have their own ways of doing this (like mine is through escaping into a television show), and you can’t always prevent feeling stressed, but there are ways to manage it, such as:

  • Talking to someone and share any problems you are having with them.
  • Practice mindfulness – there are apps that can be downloaded, and it can be as quick as a five-minute session to make an impact on those feelings of stress.
  • Get regular exercise and eat healthily.
  • Get enough sleep, and make sure it’s of good quality.
  • Have a break or a holiday
  • Take more time out for your own hobbies and interests

Again, these are only some ways to help managing stress, and at the end of the day, only you as a person can know what works. But what is the harm in trying different things to find out which ones work? Or maybe, like me, you already know.

Is television the only option?

By looking at the bullet points above, I have already answered this question; television isn’t the only option we have to combat stress and escape our current situation, but perhaps it is one of a few ways that allows us to be gripped by other people’s problems rather than our own. Before television, there were of course books (and they do still exist!) Books can do the same thing as television, but instead enables the reader to create their own reality while being encapsulated in the world within the pages. I too have spent days reading books and escaping the world that way; whether it be reading a fascinating and uplifting autobiography, or speed-reading a Harry Potter book because I need to read it as fast as I can because my friends already finished the book two days after its release. However, I personally like to see a character on screen and in the flesh. An imagination is a great thing to have and to use effectively, but I prefer to see a story play out on screen, especially with characters I can relate to (at least some of the time). Even if they are pretend, I think being engrossed in someone else’s life allows people to forget about their own, even if the people are fictional. Or maybe they’re not – reality television is forever evolving and gives yet another outlet for people to consume. Focusing on the problems facing someone else’s life allows us to forget about our own, but can also allow us to see how other people cope, or don’t, with whatever the world throws at them. I don’t think the potential value of this is ever fully realised in society, along with why television is an important medium to have, in whatever format it comes in. Also, no longer do we have to wait to watch television programmes, lots of them are ready to be consumed whenever it is the right time for us. We are living in a Netflix age where television is at our fingertips. Some people will say that this is not as good as having to wait to see what happens in the lives we are watching on screen; letting the anticipation build up and allowing ourselves to daydream about what could happen next, along with all the different scenarios and potential outcomes they could bring with it. But hang on, don’t we do that enough in our own lives already?

So, that’s my reality and reasoning behind why I think television allows people to transport themselves from everyday life allowing them to not worry about anything else, for a short while at least. Not all television can do this, but when you find a programme that can, my advice is to never let it go. Is it healthy to pretend the world isn’t there for a while? Well, if the world is causing a person stress, then why not? If it’s a tactic to use to alleviate the symptoms of stress than I don’t see there being a problem with using it - escaping a problem isn’t dealing with it, but I don’t see the harm in reducing the amount of stress it’s causing by removing a person’s mind from the situation. So to answer the question again; does television provide the escapism people need from everyday life? Quite simply, yes it does – but those reasons for why such escapism is needed in the first place should never be ignored.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach