Escapism: habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine. (Source: Merriam-Webster)
Between stay-at-home orders, overcrowded hospitals, vaccine restrictions, most clinicians in 2020 and 2021 have been itching to be transported to an alternate universe; preferably, one where COVID-19 does not exist. The virus was (and unfortunately, still is) everywhere–on the news , in our Zoom conversations with distant relatives, even in song lyrics from some of our favorite singers. With the weight of the world being at an all-time high, clinicians needed to unplug from the real world and found comfort in the form of novels, television shows and specials, and, of course, TikTok.
A Look Back at Some Early Examples of Escapism
Before Rupert Holmes sang about piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, escapism as a tool was used to distract people from the hardships of day-to-day life and ignite a sense of wanderlust. Books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, both written in the late 1800’s, speak of little girls parting from their usual surroundings and living a life in a fantastical, magical land filled with dragons, talking tin men, and a Great and Powerful voice. During the Great Depression, when the news of the country was bleak, Americans flocked to cinemas and theaters across the country to watch Walt Disney’s early animations or Shirley Temple’s dimples and fancy feet.
Towards the mid 1900’s, Americans found themselves with more free time as machinery replaced manpower. More people had television sets in their home, and popular television comedies and westerns allowed the working class to unwind after a long day. Escapism became 3-dimensional, available right in your own home. And as technology progressed (color TV, the VCR, mobile phones, the computer), people slipped in and out of alternate universes with the flip of a switch.
Escapism in 2021
Like the news during the Great Depression, the news during COVID-19 was, quite frankly, depressing, and people needed a break from the death toll and the positive case count. Thanks to on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, one-click book downloads to an e-reader, and a podcast for every genre under the sun, people found escape routes on almost every media platform available.
A study reported by J.P. Morgan found that entertainment and media consumption increased in 2020 compared with 2019. Broadcast shows saw a 10 to 20% increase in ratings, social media use increased by over 50%, and popular DIY website Pinterest also saw heightened engagement. TV providers like NBC, HBO, and the Discovery network all launched new streaming platforms in 2020, allowing for more opportunities to binge shows and movies.1
How HCPs Escaped COVID-19
The Association of American Medical Colleges conducted a survey of clinicians and how they cope with COVID-19 stress. The following are ways in which clinicians decompressed during the pandemic:2
- Exercise and virtual fitness classes
- Trying new recipes
- Hiking outdoors
- Virtual mass and practicing religious traditions like Ramadan
- Playing musical instruments
- Carving out a lunch break outside of the hospital
- FaceTime and Zoom calls with family and friends
TheScrubb’s Escapism Recommendations
We’ve done our fair share of mentally escaping the COVID-19 pandemic, too. TheScrubb asked our own colleagues and peers how they escaped during the darkest days of the pandemic and the tricks they used to transport them to better days.
“CNN’s ‘Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy’ was everything I needed to get my Italian fix while grounded here in the US. For one hour every Sunday night, I forgot the turmoil caused by the pandemic and was whisked off to Italy where Stanley Tucci ate authentic cuisine and met local food and culture connissures. Really, what’s not to like?”– Maddie, Editor, TheScrubb
“I hadn’t watched Game of Thrones when it originally aired on HBO, so I decided to watch an episode a night after my shifts at the hospital. I was exhausted, but transporting to a fantasy land with dragons and ice men completely took my mind off of COVID-19. I finished the whole show in 3 months!”– Alex, MD, PhD
“I read tons of thrillers that kept me on the edge of my seat. I loved ‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides; the ending had a twist that I did NOT see coming!”– Kate, Nurse Practitioner
“To take my mind off of the mortality I saw every day in the hospital, I downloaded the app TikTok where people make up all kinds of crazy dance moves. Instead of watching the news on my days off, I spent hours learning new TikTok dances to show my siblings and parents. I probably learned a dozen!” — Lauren, Registered Nurse
“During the height of the pandemic, I took long walks in my neighborhood, tried a lot of new comfort food recipes like soups and cookies, and spent tons of time on my Peloton bike. My parents had dementia, and they required a lot of attention, so cooking became a great distraction for me, and I was able to bring some new recipes to my parents, too.” — Megan, Account Manager, TheScrubb
- Media Consumption in the Age of COVID-19. J.P. Morgan. Published May 1, 2020. Accessed April 30, 2021.
- Boyle P. Great escapes: Doctors and nurses find respite from pandemic fatigue. Association of American Medical Colleges. Published August 3, 2020. April 30, 2021.