Teens Use Escapism to Combat Pandemic Anxiety

by Taylor Tomlinson

You settle in for a quiet evening after a long day of Zoom classes and distance learning. Plopped on the couch, your favorite snack in hand, you turn on the news. Coronavirus still terrorizes our nation,  racial injustice still prevails, the West Coast still burns, and it’s all still a little too much to deal with after a long day. You switch off the T.V.  to relax with a mindless social media scroll, maybe to see what your friends are up to or maybe for a laugh. The pandemic still causes economic terrors,  a horrific explosion causes mass destruction, a beloved celebrity has died, and you are reminded of the dreary you wish to ignore. This ugly cycle is given a fitting name.  Grimscrolling, as it’s referred to, is a phenomenon that many are familiar with. Reality in 2020 haunts social media feeds, making it impossible to leave the app without feeling pessimistic about the world. While it’s crucial to stay updated during uncertain times, grimscrolling can make social media users feel unhealthfully anxious and depressive. Being constantly bombarded with bad news goes beyond staying informed, but creates an inescapable nightmare that isn’t good for mental health.

Interestingly enough, internet users, specifically teenagers, have created their own coping method. As teens flee to social media apps, such as Instagram and the new favorite TikTok, a beloved childhood novel has made a resurgence in popularity. The Harry Potter series, written by now controversial author J.K. Rowling has been seen on the trending pages despite the last film entry in the series being released in 2011. The series, following a wizard boy navigating the wizarding world and attending the magical school of Hogwarts, is filled with fantastical lands and characters, making it easy for audiences to slip into the world Rowling has created. The fantasy series is perfect escapism, which has made it so appealing to Gen Z audiences to sink back into. 

A combat to grimscrolling, this growing trend has proved the creativity that goes into some escapist fantasies.  Many teens have created “Hogwarts TikToks”, showing the anics they’d believe they would have at Hogwarts. Most of these are harmless fun, and mostly for comedic value. However, a recent trend has been growing that perhaps takes this a little too far. “Shifting”, as it’s been labeled, is when people attempt to place themselves in alternate “realities”. Think of it as heavily planned lucid dreaming, but with your favorite childhood fantasy novel. Some claim to spend as much as seven hours at “Hogwarts” and describe their vivid fantasies. Others end up in tears, documenting their experience on TikTok. While some escapism is normal and healthy for these trying times, shifting has raised some concern. 

A trend that encourages teens to coax themselves into a dream-like, yet purly conscious slumber seems sketchy to some. Teens will often discuss their experience of shifting and the interactions with the Hogwarts students as they were real people, not just fictional characters inhabiting a fictional world. The way shifting is described defines it as shifting to alternate “realities” can be considered disturbing, as Hogwarts is not a “reality” at all.   It begs the question: how far are people willing to go to escape their grimscrolling habits? 

While grimscrolling isn’t healthy for teenagers, a pure detachment from reality may be unhealthy as well. Avoiding the world’s issues by undertaking an imaginary trip to a made-up world is an interesting coping mechanism, but perhaps stresses denial instead of finding other, healthier outlets. Grimscrolling has caused these escapist trends, but there should be healthier outlets for teens that do not involve pure delusion. Plunging into a past-favorite story to remind oneself of better days is perfectly reasonable. However, it is important to keep two feet on the ground, take a breath, and monitor mental health.

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