73: The art of healthy escapism and the importance of disconnecting from work

Today, we are diving deep into a topic that’s pertinent in our fast-paced, hyper-connected world… no not AI, taking a break from that haha – Talking about escapism, and the importance of disconnecting from work. 

On the show we like to balance the hard martech topics but also the human angle. This is an episode that feels quite timely. 

In a time where being ‘always-on’ is the norm, and our work Slack is just a ping away, it’s crucial to understand the significance of stepping back. Escapism isn’t just about dodging reality or ignoring responsibilities; it’s about giving our minds the necessary break to recharge and rejuvenate. 

I’m a big fan of fiction and love sharing top TV show and book picks and always wanted to find an excuse to do this on the podcast so what better way to do it then an episode about the benefits of escapism and detaching from work. So stay tuned later in the episode for my fav TV shows and books.

Here’s today’s main takeaway: When used properly, escapism through fictional narratives is an essential aspect of maintaining our mental health, enhancing our overall creativity and helping us become better humans. 

The irony of recording this episode on the weekend isn’t lost on me, but this is my hobby and we’re having our best month ever on the podcast so I wanted to keep the momentum going and continue giving JT a bit of a break. 

Here’s a quick outline of what I’ll cover today:

I’ll start off by confessing that I didn’t always think this (that escapism is an essential aspect of maintaining our mental health and enhancing our creativity). In my younger career, I fully embodied the idea that an hour spent on learning things that can’t help your career is an hour wasted. 

If I read a book, it was about business or marketing.

If I was listening to a podcast, it was about marketing automation.

If I was reading a blog or a newsletter, it was about martech.

If I was watching Youtube videos it was Photoshop tutorials.

While this is great and likely contributed to increased performance at work, it didn’t give my brain the break it needed to disconnect from work topics.

Movies and TV shows were the exception though. If I watched a movie it was sometimes a documentary about consumerism or psychology but movies were where I got my main dose of fiction. I grew up an avid movie buff and watched all the classics and most of IMDB’s top 250 movies of all time. 

I didn’t grow up in a household with workaholic parents but they did love their work. My dad, specifically a photographer and video editor, spent a lot of his down time watching youtube videos and tutorials following industry tech and other photographers. He’s definitely a source for instilling this growth mindset in me. But what he also did was read a lot of books. Some non fiction biographies, but lots, lots of fiction. John Sandford, Ian Rankin, Peter James. I guess it kind of instilled this idea that you can be amazing at your craft, but still indulge in fiction.

I’ve had several jobs that you could describe as high expectation, high pressure. I remember when the shift to remote work began a few years back. Working from home was initially exciting. No commuting, being in the comfort of my own space, it sounded amazing. But soon, the boundaries between my work life and personal life began to fade. My home was my office, and my office was my home. I found myself answering Slack messages on the couch and at dinner time and checking email campaign reports late into the night.

The expectation to almost always be online to answer questions for teammates that work in different time zones was real. Reflecting back, my health took a hit, my personal relationships suffered and my anxiety grew.

Some days were always more stressful than others, but I think aside from learning to build boundaries and deleting Slack on my phone, one of my coping mechanisms and what inspired my ability to separate work from home was the ability to disconnect, mainly through fiction.


I should’ve started with this disclaimer, I’m not a psychologist or a counselor. I do work for a startup conquering addiction that employs a large group of clinicians and counselors, but I’m not an expert. 

I’m not saying, watching movies and reading books and ignoring your life responsibilities is the key to managing stress. It’s worth unpacking the positive and negative lights of escapism.  

Let’s start with defining the concept of escapism. 

What is escapism?

What is escapism? humans of martech

The common definition of escapism is a psychological concept where a person distances themselves from the realities of life, often as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress. This disengagement from reality can take on various forms, including immersive experiences in music, books, movies, video games, or other hobbies. 

I like to think of escapism less as an escape from reality and more as the ability to seek solace in alternative realities to give you a different perspective on your current reality instead of just focusing on the unpleasant or mundane aspects of everyday life and work. It’s a way of stepping outside of yourself, so to speak, to get distractions or find relief from real life. 

Healthy escapism

Healthy escapism isn't about avoiding reality, but taking necessary breaks to recharge humans of martech

More simply, escapism is temporarily diverting your attention from the routine of daily life. That’s what many refer to as healthy escapism. 

Healthy escapism isn’t about avoiding reality, but taking necessary breaks to recharge. These breaks diving into fiction stimulate different areas of the brain, promoting overall mental well-being. But remember, the key is balance. All forms of escapism can be beneficial when used mindfully and in moderation.

Escapism vs mindfulness

Excessive escapism could cause individuals to become increasingly disconnected from reality humans of martech

There are several psychologists who perceive escapism negatively. Often thought of as a way to avoid responsibilities. Excessive escapism could cause individuals to become increasingly disconnected from reality. It can become a crutch that inhibits personal growth and problem-solving, and in extreme cases, it can escalate into addictive behaviors. It’s worth calling this out. Some even argue that escapism is the opposite of mindfulness (source).

While it’s true that escapism can be a diversion from facing reality and seemingly at odds with mindfulness, it doesn’t have to be seen in such a negative light. Engaging in a good book, video game, or movie, can provide a needed break from reality, which is not only healthy but necessary in managing stress. It gives us time to recharge and provides a mental buffer to deal with life and work.

I’ll make the case more in depth in a bit about how escapism can also enhance our creativity by immersing us in different worlds, cultures, or perspectives and that this broadening of the mind can promote empathy, understanding, and a more nuanced worldview… these are all beneficial attributes that mindfulness also seeks to cultivate. 

I don’t see escapism as an escape from reality, for me it’s more of an exploration of alternative realities, adding to our cognitive toolkit.

Also, I don’t think mindfulness and escapism need to be mutually exclusive.

It’s all about balance 

Like I said, it’s about balance and self-awareness, knowing when escapism becomes a crutch instead of a relief. In moderation, escapism can coexist with mindfulness, serving as a form of mental exploration while mindfulness keeps us grounded in reality. 

This balance allows us to navigate the challenges of life, the unpredictable world, in a more resilient, adaptable, and emotionally robust manner. So rather than viewing escapism solely as a negative trait, we can acknowledge its potential for providing respite, promoting creativity, and aiding personal development when used responsibly alongside mindfulness practices.

The importance of disconnecting from work

humans of martech - Disconnecting from work allows our minds to shift gears

I think it goes without saying, everyone knows that despite how challenging it might be to delineate the boundaries between our professional and personal lives, disconnecting from work is not only important; it is vital for our holistic well-being.

A former boss once compared our brains to engines in race cars. Just like race cars need several pit-stops for fuel and maintenance, our minds need periods of rest to maintain optimal performance. When we are constantly engaged in work-related tasks and it bleeds into our sleep and our dreams, we are essentially driving that vehicle non-stop, increasing the risk of burnout – the equivalent of an engine breakdown.

Disconnecting from work allows our minds to shift gears, leaving the high-speed freeway of work stress and entering the scenic route of relaxation and recovery. It offers space for our brains to breathe, recover, and re energize. It provides room for creativity to flourish, as our brains are free to wander and explore new ideas outside the realm of work-related concerns.

Moreover, this disconnection reinforces our identity outside of our work roles, nurturing our relationships, hobbies, and interests that make us who we are beyond our professional titles. In essence, disconnecting from work reaffirms the often-forgotten truth spoken by the wise Dalai Lama: we are human beings, not human doings. 

How to successfully disconnect from work

We’ve covered the topic of how to successfully disconnect from work in previous episodes. In fact, at the end of every guest interview, we ask how do they remain happy and successful in their career, how do they find balance between all the things they’re working on while staying happy? In episode 50, we rounded up the answers from all of our guests and it features fascinating strategies. 

Strategies include ways to change your perspectives, how to think about autonomy, prioritizing family, exercising, ditching everyone else’s definition of success… but if I was to interview myself for this question, I think I’d at least give credit to escapism. 

Just like disconnecting from work allows us to regain our balance, reaffirm our personal values, and revive our inner spark, returning to work refreshed, revitalized, and ready for new challenges. It’s a restorative process.

Engaging with fiction and escapism plays into this restorative process. When you read a book or watch a movie, your brain engages in a form of mental simulation. You immerse yourself in different worlds, empathize with characters, and often problem-solve along with the plot. 

Let’s have a closer look at how fictional escapism activates different areas of the brain, stimulates imagination, and can even help develop empathy and emotional intelligence.

What happens to your brain when you read or watch fiction

What happens to your brain when you read or watch fiction humans of martech

It turns out that fiction stories help us become better humans. They can make us more empathetic, kind, and socially aware. They stimulate different parts of our brain, helping us communicate, learn, and collaborate better. Stories can even influence our behavior, improve our emotional skills, and enhance our mental health. Plus, by identifying with characters, we can shape our own attitudes and understanding of others. In essence, stories help us grow and connect in meaningful ways.

But don’t take it from me.

Transportation and prosocial behaviors 

According to Paul J. Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, when we read or watch a story, we can become more empathetic and generous because we emotionally resonate with the characters, a phenomenon called “transportation.” 

Zak’s study also claims that fiction promotes prosocial behaviors. While engaging with fiction, they identified oxytocin, a neurochemical responsible for empathy and narrative transportation. Oxytocin has been found to enhance sensitivity to social cues and often motivates prosocial behavior, such as charity and generosity. This points towards the role of engaging narratives in fostering positive social behaviors. (source).

Simulation and theory of mind

According to Steven Pinker, Canadian author and psychologist, reading fiction produces changes in the areas of the brain involved in language comprehension, speech formation, and compassion. It allows us to live out a reality that we construct in our brain using written words. Fiction reading stimulates the same neural networks in our brain that are activated when humans are subjected to any kind of simulation. 

Pinker also claims that reading literary and romantic fiction has shown the highest correlation with increasing Theory of Mind (ToM), which is the ability to put oneself in others’ shoes… the foundational craft of marketing. (source).

Neural coupling

According to a study by Physics and Neuroscience professors at Princeton University, when we see or hear a story, the neurons in our brain fire in patterns similar to those of the speaker’s, a process known as “neural coupling.” This can induce a shared contextual model of the situation. The benefits of neural coupling extend to almost all areas of human interaction, enhancing our ability to communicate, empathize, learn, and work together. (source).

Emotional stimulation

According to a study by the Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, stories stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life. Brain scans reveal that many different areas of the brain light up when someone is listening to a narrative, not only the networks involved in language processing but also other neural circuits involved in emotion and movement. The study suggests that by stimulating multiple brain areas, stories can enrich emotional intelligence, promote learning, influence behavior, improve social skills, support memory and mental health, and foster cultural understanding. (source).


According to Timothy Broom, lead author of a psychology study on Game of Thrones characters conducted at The Ohio State University, engaging with fiction can confer several potential benefits to the human brain, specifically in relation to self-perception, empathy, and personal development. The ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), a region of the brain that is active when thinking about oneself, also shows heightened activity when one identifies with fictional characters. This suggests that our engagement with fiction can subtly shape our identities, attitudes, and self-beliefs. This can be particularly beneficial in broadening our perspectives and understanding of diverse personas, cultures, and worldviews. (source).

Engaging with fiction provides an escape from the immediate pressures of work and life, offering a form of mental vacation. Just as a physical vacation can leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, a mental break provided by engaging with fiction can have similar effects.

Strategies for healthy escapism

Strategies for healthy escapism

Fiction you may have noticed, particularly science-fiction, is my preferred form of escapism, but it doesn’t have to be limited to fiction.

Strategies for healthy escapism include:

  • Creative activities like creative writing, painting, coloring, or cooking and baking
  • Playing video games
  • Discovering new music
  • Physical activity and anything outdoor
  • Lawn maintenance and gardening
  • Painting and drawing or prompting midjourney
  • Social activities, reaching out to friends and family
  • Mindfulness.. I know we said escapism is the opposite of mindfulness but I added it here because it’s still taking a break and breathing and centring yourself, you’re still disconnecting from all the business of life

But yeah, my favorites are reading and watching movies/tv shows.

One thing I’ve started struggling with in my older age, is remembering what I’ve already read and watched. How many times have you selected a movie on Netflix and gotten a third way through only to realize… yeah I’ve totally watched this already haha… 

How to manage your escapism endeavors

People closest to me know that I love a good spreadsheet but also a good Trello board. Many aspects of my life are managed in a Trello board, this podcast, my newborn baby and parenting tasks… but also the TV shows I’m watching and the books I’m reading.

Mainly so I don’t re-watch the same things, but also so that I can take notes on what I loved and or hated about it. It’s allowed me to become a source of trusted recommendations amongst friends.

If you’ve listened this far and are curious, I’ll be happy to share my Trello templates with you 🙂 

I’ll leave you with some suggestions for now, if you’re not into thrillers or science fiction, feel free to skip this section.

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Top TV Shows

I think TV shows are way more popular these days than movies. I’ll hit you with some of my fav of all time.

The Leftovers (Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta)


This is a thought-provoking and emotionally captivating television series that explores deep existential themes. The story is set in a world where 2% of the population mysteriously disappears, the show follows incredibly well-developed characters as they navigate personal struggles and grapple with the devastating loss that has befallen humanity. There’s 3 seasons and 28 episodes that tackle profound topics such as life, death, love, family, and the meaning of existence, offering a masterful blend of intellectual and philosophical exploration. There’s exceptional writing, acting, directing, and a remarkable soundtrack, this show is a true masterpiece. It challenged me to contemplate the mysteries of life and I’ve never felt stronger emotions while watching a show. Despite being underrated and overlooked by some, it has garnered a devoted following and is considered one of the greatest television series ever created.

Mr. Robot (Sam Esmail)


This is a unique and captivating show that explores the world of hackers and conspiracy. It follows the story of a young developer who works at a security firm during the day and becomes an elite hacker vigilante at night. The show is praised for its stylish visuals, compelling storytelling, and accurate portrayal of hacking techniques. The 4 seasons and 45 episodes dive into themes of existentialism, mental illness, addiction, and personal journeys, focusing on highly complex characters. It is hailed as a groundbreaking and thought-provoking series that pushes the boundaries of serial drama. Highly recommended for both tech-savvy viewers and those looking for a unique and engaging television experience.

The rest of my ranking is less certain. Those two shows stand far above anything else I’ve ever watched. I could give you popular shows to fill out the list like Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Lost, Black Mirror and Game of Thrones, but I wanted to give you a few that you may have not heard of.

Dark (Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese)


Dark is probably my favorite series on Netflix. This is an incredibly gripping and mind-blowing show that captivates you with its phenomenal storytelling and exceptional acting. This is a minor spoiler but I’d say that the series revolutionizes time travel storytelling and is hailed as one of the most smartly and consistently written shows of our time. The 3 seasons and 26 episodes dive into complex themes and explore the interconnectivity of characters and their experiences. The show is visually stunning, with beautiful cinematography and a haunting soundtrack that adds to its atmospheric quality. “Dark” is praised for its meticulous attention to detail and its ability to keep viewers on the edge of their seats with shocking revelations. The German language and subtitles are recommended for an immersive experience. It is a must-watch for fans of mystery, sci-fi, and complex narratives, and is regarded as a true masterpiece in the realm of television.

These next two shows are still running, so unclear where they will sit on my list when they wrap up.

Yellow Jackets (Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson)


This is an intense and enthralling show that combines teenage angst with adult drama, exploring themes of trauma, survival, and the lasting impact of a harrowing experience with creepy undertones. The series follows a group of high school girl soccer players and their complex relationships before a tragic event leaves them stranded in the wilderness. The show masterfully jumps between timelines, building upon layers of drama and suspense. They just started airing their second season at the time of recording but season 1 has exceptional acting, including veteran actresses Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, and Melanie Lynskey. It’s a must-watch for fans of survival stories and character-driven dramas.

Severance (Dan Erickson)


This is a captivating and unique show that combines bits of thriller, mystery, psychological sci-fi, and dark comedy. The first season is pretty epic, it explores themes of trapped workers, human interest, capitalism, and the complexities of the corporate world. The excellent cast, compelling storytelling, and powerful writing makes this stand out among formulaic shows and offers a refreshing viewing experience with many symbolic thought provoking metaphors. While initially appearing slow, the show gradually builds suspense and keeps viewers engaged with its unpredictable nature. Fans of shows like “Black Mirror” and psychological sci-fi will find “Severance” to be a must-watch. The series has made a really strong impression on me and I can’t wait for season 2. 

Top fiction books

I’ll give full credit to my wife for reinvigorating my love for books. On a vacation to Vancouver, she convinced me to take a break from podcasts and read a science fiction book called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Not only is this one of my favorite books of all time, it catapulted me into a niche of thriller science fiction niche, and I haven’t looked back since.

Dark Matter, Blake Crouch


This is a science-fiction thriller. It’s a mind-bending book that combines action, philosophy, and deep introspection. The story follows a physics professor whose life takes a drastic turn when he is abducted, leading him to question the choices he has made. It explores concepts like the multiverse theory, parallel universes, and the mathematics of identity. Definitely a page turner and a mind blowing ending. 

The Gone World, Tom Sweterlitsch


This is another mind-boggling, breathtaking, and dense blend of science fiction and crime thriller. The story follows a special agent with the ability to travel into possible futures to investigate crimes. Her murder case involves the impending end of the world, interconnected mysteries and the question of alterable destiny. It explores time travel, space travel, alien life forms, conspiracy, time paradoxes, and more. Definitely thought-provoking and complex with unexpected twists and well-explained science and physics. 

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir


This is less of a thriller compared to the two former books, but still a very smart and engaging science fiction story set in space. The story follows a disgraced molecular biologist, who’s part of a last-ditch effort to save humanity. Earth is facing extinction due to an unknown organism that is stealing energy from the sun. The novel is filled with humor, wit, and plenty of attention to scientific detail. It explores friendship, redemption, and the resilience of the human spirit. A story that I absolutely loved and remember fondly. 

We Are Legion, Bobiverse Series, Dennis E. Taylor


This is the first book in the Bobiverse series, definitely the best. It’s a smart and humorous science fiction story that follows a recently deceased software company owner who wakes up in the future as an uploaded consciousness in a computer. He embarks on a mission to save humanity and explore the universe. The book combines well-thought-out science and technology with pop-culture references, humor, and an engaging narrative. It explores AI, space exploration, and the replication of the human mind. The scientific accuracy and plausible concepts make it appealing to both science enthusiasts and general readers. It’s a highly enjoyable read with relatable characters, witty humor, and thought-provoking ideas.

Recursion, Blake Crouch


The last book I’ll leave you with is another one by Blake Crouch. This is another thrilling and mind-bending sci-fi novel that explores the nature of memory and its impact on identity. The story follows a detective investigating a mysterious phenomenon known as False Memory Syndrome, and a neuroscientist working on a technology that can preserve memories. The story covers the implications of memory manipulation, the nature of reality and the consequences of altering the past. Like Dark Matter, the storytelling keeps you on the edge, blending elements of thriller and sci-fi seamlessly. It explores thought-provoking questions about time, memory, and the choices that shape our lives. The plot is incredibly gripping and the characters super well developed. Definitely a captivating read. 

How to use these forms effectively without over-reliance

The thing we want to avoid here is over-reliance. Routines have been effective ways of limiting my screen time and how much I dive into books and tv shows.

Setting boundaries and following a routine.

As a new dad, my routine is wildly different from last year haha. I don’t have as much down time to pick up a book these days, especially if I still want to dedicate time for the podcast. My wife and I are playing around with routines, especially as I get back to work mode from parental leave. Still though, I’m finding good slots of time for audiobooks and podcasts during other tasks.

  • Audiobook while I water the lawn and walk the dog and do groceries
  • Podcast during my morning routine and wash + sanitize the baby bottles
  • Music while I fold laundry and vacuum the house
  • TV shows when we finally have the little one asleep for a few hours at the end of the day

I like having variety.

This is a nice tactic in preventing over-reliance. Sometimes I dive into video games. Like when The Last of Us was coming out on HBO and I binge played both games to get caught up on the story again. Changing hobbies and activities around and mixing it up is a way to be less likely to become overly dependent on a single activity for relaxation.

Real life experiences.

I love a good book or a TV show, but nothing beats social interaction or going on a family trip… despite how introverted I think I am. While it’s good to take breaks from reality, it’s also important to actively engage in your real-life experiences. 

Remember, the key is moderation.

Especially with TV and video games. Escapism becomes a problem only when it starts interfering with your ability to live your life fully. 

When used properly, escapism is an essential aspect of maintaining our mental health, enhancing our overall creativity and helping us become better humans. 

So while escapism gets a bad reputation and fiction and fantasy are often thought of as “simply escapism”… I’ll leave you with a quote from GRRM:

“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth”


You heard it here first folks:

When used properly, escapism through fictional narratives is an essential aspect of maintaining our mental health, enhancing our overall creativity and helping us become better humans. 


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney
Music generated by Mubert https://mubert.com/render 

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