I am an escape artist. I binge-watch Netflix. I play video games. I avoid as much news as possible. I hole up in my apartment with my husband and avoid the outside world like an agoraphobe or hermit when I’m not working. This is how I cope with stress. I deal with so many people at work that by the time I have the choice between being around people or just veggin’ on my couch at home . . . I choose the couch. Hands down. No contest. Couch! And when the existential dread sets in, I turn the volume up louder on my TV and let my mind drift into the fantasy playing out in front of me . . . hypnotizing me.
Escapism is not healthy stress management. Gradually, I feel my memory getting worse and worse, especially on particularly stressful days. Minor annoyances can send me over the edge and one snide comment from a customer will put me in a sour mood for the rest of my day. I have escaped so much that I resent reality. And when reality hits, I feel my emotions taking control of my mind and my body.
In an effort to improve my lifestyle and help heal my brain, I have purchased a book by Henepola Gunaratana on mindfulness meditation, Mindfulness In Plain English. The benefit of mindful meditation is that it helps you gain insight into yourself and the world around you. It is the opposite of escapism. You learn to focus your mind on the root of your hatred, greed, desire, and/or jealousy. And by focusing on the root, you learn to treat the cause rather than the symptom. I am no expert on the matter, of course, seeing as how I just bought the book. So I’m not going to go into a lot of detail. But I am excited to take a step toward a happier and healthier me, rather than the morose and bitter version that has been playing out these days.
There is also some interesting research that has been done on the effects of long-term stress on the structure of the brain. Higher cortisol levels in the brain can be helpful in high stress situations that would require the “fight-or-flight” instinct, but over time, if these levels are prolonged, it changes the structure and connectivity of the brain. Your brain can actually shrink, resulting in memory loss, depression, anxiety, and eventually, Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, we can repair any damage that prolonged stress may have caused through regular exercise and mindfulness meditation.
My couch-loving self decided to start with meditation . . . because f@#k gyms.
Anyway, enough about gyms. I thought this would be a helpful book to recommend because those in abusive relationships know all about prolonged stress. And healthy stress management is vital since victims are in a constant state of “fight-or-flight.” Abusers are incredibly volatile. There is never any warning when they may explode or lash out. In the beginning, I was surprised by my abuser’s abrupt and unprovoked outbursts. But eventually, I expected them every day. I walked on egg shells, dreading his scorn. Well I am done paying the price for his ignorance. My body is done. My mind is done. I say we all take back control. I will no longer ignore the pain that he caused. I will no longer ignore the symptoms. I am done escaping.