I get home from college, and I’m stressed out. A Physics test tomorrow. That History essay that’s way overdue. A basketball match on Thursday that I can’t miss. Where on earth to start?
I start where I always do: I play some music, turn on my computer, and watch a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones. As many distractions as I can find to forget my problems.
By the time I realise that I’ve done nothing; it’s too late to do anything. I promise myself I’ll do it all tomorrow, but the cycle repeats itself and the list gets infinitely longer.
That’s my way of dealing with pressure — and it’s a common one: according to Psychology Today, 20% of the world’s population are chronic procrastinators. Dr Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, says students are biologically and socially predisposed to put off things until tomorrow.
But my stresses, and my solutions, could be significantly worse.
What if it went more like this: I get home from college, stressed out. Forcing back tears I scurry to my room, ignoring the constant stream of texts telling me I’m useless and weak. I dim the lights and reach for the blade under my bed. I focus on the new sensation, and forget my problems for a while. The marks I create here will stay with me forever.
Or it could go like this: I slam the front door shut to drown out the abusive screams of my family. Later, I hang around the street corner, relieving myself with drugs. My friends pass the ‘blunt’ around, and we block out the darkness in our lives.
These stories might seem rare but they’re not. Whisper is an app that allows users to make anonymous confessions and share their experiences.
“I cut on a daily basis because I would rather feel physical pain than mental pain,” one person posts.
“My parents are drug addicts, sometimes I envy that they found a way to escape reality,” another person admits.
“Just for a moment I forget that I’m falling apart,” writes another.
On Whisper, people take comfort in knowing other people face similar problems, or in reading the supportive comments posted in response to their story. But it still shocks me. While I’m here, putting off my homework by playing Call of Duty, less than a mile away somebody is seeking comfort from self-inflicted pain.
In fact, selfharmUK estimates that 13% of 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK, find escape in this way. Reading Whisper, I’m struck by a common theme: young people are often looking for instant gratification; through listening to music, playing video games or even soft drug use. These habits — things that usually don’t take a huge amount of effort — soothe us in the short term.
Surrounded by on-demand entertainment, it’s easy to ignore anything that requires too much effort: reading books, for example. 30% of British men admit to having never picked up a book since they left school, according to market researchers, One Poll.
It’s not all bad news though. Browsing Whisper — while I should have been starting that essay — I was glad to stumble upon some more optimistic stories.
One user posts: “Books have become my escape.” Another claims to be able to “channel emotions into creativity.” A third says: “composing music is my only real escape.”
They have created healthy escapism. One that comes not through a temporary disconnect from reality or through suppressing emotions, but through
channeling them into something positive and choosing long-term rewards over instant gratification.
It makes me wonder how much could be achieved if more of us found relief from daily pressures through a creative process. But even then, we still need to balance reality with diversion. As one Whisper user puts it, “I spent so much time escaping from my problems, I forgot to actually solve them.”
As most of us have learnt, whatever our hobbies, in the end, that Maths homework eventually needs to be completed!
This article originally appeared in issue 124 a mental health special funded by John Lyon’s Charity.