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Using Escapism During The Coronavirus Pandemic

By Dr. Tara Revell-Love
Associate Professor, School of Arts and Humanities, American Military University

Editor’s note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to EDM Digest, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees. Neither Dr. Tara Revell-Love, EDM Digest or American Public University System – including American Military University – has any affiliation or ties with any of the companies listed in this post.

Come and escape with me.

In the field of psychology, the term “escapism” often has a negative connotation. People can (and do) become addicted to certain things as a form of escapism from their daily lives. Things like your smartphone, alcohol or drugs are all negative things that people use to escape from their daily lives.

However, did you know escapism could be a healthy mental exercise also? Especially in uncertain times like these when families are sheltering in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s common to feel compelled to watch too many nightly newscasts – surrounding oneself with the doom and gloom of it all. Our brains have evolved to quickly identify threats to our survival – and it’s known as the negativity bias. In fact, they are so good at identifying the negative things in life that we must actively train our brains to begin thinking more positively.

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I’m sure you’re aware that your reality is what you make of it. Any decent cognitive behavioral therapist will tell you the benefits of positive thinking – such as an increased lifespan, lower rates of distress and depression, better physical and psychological well-being and so much more.

Reality Is Of Your Own Making

However, I am asking you to go further with this idea. So far, that it bends the concept of reality and what is truly real. Reality is of your own making, let me show you what I mean.

When things get rough for me, I turn to Disney. A bad day at work: go to Disney. An argument with a friend or family member: go to Disney. My daughter has a bad day at school: dinner at Disney. Birthdays? Disney. Family celebrations? Disney. It doesn’t matter if something is terrible and needs to be forgotten or it’s fantastic and needs celebrating, we always go to our happy place. Disney.

But what happens when Walt Disney World is closed? I actively use escapism to bring Disney to me. Here are some of the ways I practice escapism and enjoy the Disney I love even when the doors to Cinderella’s Castle are temporarily closed.

The Scents of Disney

I fill my home (and my nose) with the smells of Disney. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of bromine in the water in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the musty air in the ballroom scene of the Haunted Mansion ride, or the smells of the fresh ocean breeze with notes of apple, melon, orange, and bergamot all experienced in Pandora’s Fight of Passage ride in Animal Kingdom park. There are many places that sell Disney scents, but I love the Magic Candle Company the best.

The Taste of Disney

Mickey bars, anyone? Now available at your local grocery store! In 2014, researchers found a direct link between the region of the brain responsible for taste memory and the area responsible for encoding the time and place we experienced the taste. Additionally, that taste is associated with memories of being in a location where something positive or negative happened. So, eat that Mickey bar and be transported back to Main Street while listening to the eloquent virtual sounds of the Dapper Dans or make that Dole whip (with rum for the adults) and enjoy the best virtual view of the Magic Happens Parade from Disneyland Resort in California.

The Music and Sounds of Disney

Hear that? It’s Disney music, and it is powerful at eliciting positive emotions. Because emotions enhance memory processes and music evokes strong emotions, music could be involved in forming positive memories. To take this notion further, music has been identified as important in the construction of autobiographical memories. I bet you can sing music from the Little Mermaid ride or Pirates of the Caribbean without even trying.

A Virtual Trip To Disney

The YouTube channel “Virtual Disney World” has released a new playlist of 360-degree point-of-view (P.O.V.) videos of many of Walt Disney World’s most famous rides. This is worth doing more than once and is a good time for all.

Additionally, I am hooked on virtual Disney treadmill workouts. Living in Florida in the winter is a dream. Living in Florida in the summer is a hot, sweaty mess, with temperatures and humidity levels at their max. When it’s that hot, and I am stuck with the treadmills in our community center, I flip the script and get my serotonin boost with a run through the Magic Kingdom, or down the Boardwalk resort, or maybe I will take a stroll through Disneyland Resort.

Plan Your Escapism Disney Vacation

Create an itinerary for the Disney vacation of a lifetime. Think about how happy you are when you are planning a vacation. Do you spend hours making lists and charts of places, rides, foods and things to experience and see? Research has shown that anticipating something can be a powerful, positive emotion that can help us live happier lives.

We often experience more intense emotions about future events than those in the past. Think about it; we are more likely to talk about how excited we are about something we have planned compared to something we have already done.

So plan a stay at a favorite Disney resort, find the rides your family most want to ride, look up all the fantastic places to eat and experience. Even if it’s just for a make-believe trip, you will still find something positive in the exercise. The coronavirus pandemic is producing some dark times, but we have the power to focus our minds on positive things. Take something you are passionate about and escape into it – and feel the happiness from within.

About the Author

Dr. Tara Revell-Love is an Associate Professor at American Military University. Dr. Revell-Lowe earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Arizona State with a research emphasis in Behavioral Genetics and completed her post-doctoral training at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Belfast University, in Northern Ireland and King’s College, Aberdeen University in Scotland. Dr. Revell-Love’s research interests include examining heritability coefficients of specific human behaviors, focusing mainly on anxiety disorders in twins. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

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