How To Stop Feeling Like You Want To Run Away
You might occasionally get the urge to run away, whether you're feeling threatened, fearful, apathetic, or another way. The urge to run can be normal, and it has a basis in the nervous system every human is born with. For many, the fight or flight response can be heightened, and the desire to flee may occur. However, leaving everything in your life behind might not be a realistic answer to your challenges. Instead, examining why your flight response has been activated and how you can constructively address it might be beneficial.
Wishing to flee can be linked to anxiety about specific responsibilities or obligations in your life. It may also be related to avoidant personality characteristics or mental health concerns like depression. Dealing with a desire to run away may call for mental reframing, channeling your energy into practical activities, or setting boundaries. Figuring out the right solution for you may depend on where your urge originates.
Chronic Stress And The Desire To Run Away
For many people, the pressures of daily life can build up to the point that escaping and starting a new life seems like an attractive idea. Job and career responsibilities are common causes of this feeling. In 2022, the American Psychological Association reported that work-related burnout was on the rise, with close to three out of five Americans experiencing the negative psychological consequences of work stress. Other potential sources of burnout include:
- Parental responsibility
- Caring for a sick relative or spouse
- Leadership duties in political or non-profit organizations
- Financial worries
- Academic pressure
- Immigration processes
- Feeling responsible for another person's emotions
If you find yourself fantasizing about running away from your responsibilities or frequently thinking to yourself, "I don't want to do anything", you might be experiencing mental burnout.
How To Cope
There are many solutions for burnout or the desire to escape stress. One helpful first step may be to remind yourself of the reasons you took on these responsibilities.
By focusing on the values that led you to this situation, such as pursuing excellence, supporting your family, caring for others, or making a positive difference in the world, you may feel better about your challenges. This technique is known as self-affirmation, and studies have found that it can reduce job-related stress and improve emotional regulation.
You may also find it helpful to reconnect with areas of your life that matter most to you outside of your obligations. That might mean setting aside time for hobbies, visiting friends, or relaxing. If possible, taking a short vacation may also help you mentally recharge. Finding these small "escapes" could reduce your desire for a significant, more dramatic one.
Taking up a new creative practice could also help. Though this might sound like it would only add to your to-do list, it might feel liberating to have an activity you're doing purely because you want to. Research indicates that artistic tasks are particularly beneficial for stress reduction.
Current Events And The Desire To Run Away
Personal difficulties may not be the only cause of a flight response. It's also possible to feel stressed by world events, worrying trends, and distressing news. For example, a 2021 study reported that the more news about the COVID-19 pandemic people consumed, the more likely they were to feel emotional distress. Feeling troubled about the state of the world might make you wish you could hide or escape the news.
How To Cope
When taking in a stream of negative content gives you the urge to run, avoiding the news may be a better strategy than avoiding everything in your life. Psychologists who have studied the effects of consuming distressing information have concluded that reducing your media intake can limit its mental health impact.
It might also be valuable to set aside a specific time each day to look at the news and avoid checking it outside of that window. Consider taking breaks from using technology for a few days of the week if you find that any exposure to it ruins your day or week.
Research points to spending time outdoors as another effective coping strategy. It can help you feel a connection to the world around you that may have nothing to do with the crises you hear about on the news.
Avoidant Attachment And The Flight Response
If you have the urge to run from your relationships when conflict occurs, you might be experiencing an avoidant attachment style. Getting "cold feet" in a romantic relationship may seem like a Hollywood trope, but it can occur. Do your feelings of wanting to run away seem to pop up whenever you're starting to experience more emotional intimacy with someone close to you?
According to attachment theory, people tend to express specific patterns in their interpersonal relationships. Your attachment style may be partly determined by how secure and supported you felt in early childhood. Those with an avoidant attachment style may find it hard to feel safe expressing emotion and trust, which could lead to a desire to flee relationships when they begin to feel permanent.
How To Cope
Overcoming deep-seated avoidant tendencies may require you to deliberately build the habit of placing trust in others. It may be helpful to take minor steps toward this goal, such as sharing vulnerable facts about yourself with your partner they don't know or expressing your emotions rather than repressing them.
Journaling might help, too. Expressing your feelings in your private writings can make the idea of sharing them with others less intimidating. Research has identified many psychological benefits of expressive journaling, including increased optimism and an improved ability to process emotions.
Studies have also found that attachment styles can be changed with education, therapy, and a willingness to examine your unhealthy habits. According to the research, a secure attachment style can be possible for those who haven't experienced it before.
Anxiety Or Depression And The Desire To Run
The impulse to flee could also be linked to a mental health condition. Chronic anxiety, in particular, often involves a feeling that you're under threat and need to escape. This urge could be related to higher baseline activity levels in the sympathetic nervous system. Many people with anxiety disorders have an oversensitive "fight or flight" reflex that can be more easily incited daily.
Some researchers think that depression may also be linked to feelings of being trapped. Some studies suggest that experiencing a desire to escape a situation or emotion but being unable to get away can provoke feelings of helplessness that lead to depressive symptoms.
How To Cope
Clinical research on depression and anxiety has identified certain healthy life habits that appear to reduce symptoms of both, including the following:
- Exercise: Regular aerobic activity could provide a constructive outlet for your desire to run while decreasing your feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Sleep: Sleep hygiene habits like avoiding screen time in bed may help you get better rest and improve your mental health.
- Meditation: Taking ten to 20 minutes daily to focus on your breath and observe your thoughts without judgment can help you feel more stable and secure.
In addition to these types of self-help strategies, therapy with the guidance of a mental health professional can be a powerful tool for addressing anxiety and depression. There's substantial scientific evidence for the effectiveness of methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
If your desire to get away from your difficulties is prompting suicidal thoughts, talk to someone right away. You can call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
Is Running Away The Right Course Of Action In Any Scenario?
Feeling the need to run away may not be irrational in every situation. Walking away and separating may be the best course of action in some situations. For example:
- If your employer is asking you to engage in illegal or unethical behavior
- If the place you're living is unsafe due to faulty construction, environmental contaminants, or other hazards
- If you're in a physically, emotionally, or financially abusive relationship
- If you're in an unsafe location
- If you need to flee a country for your safety
Many methods described above, such as journaling, meditation, and therapy, may help clarify your situation. These techniques could also enable you to decide whether getting away is the most appropriate response.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Regardless of the cause of your urge to run, psychotherapy may offer you the skills to process the emotions behind your urges and the healthy behaviors to cope with them. However, if you're already overwhelmed, locating a mental health provider and attending therapy may feel like another task to add to your stress.
In this situation, engaging in therapy over the internet might make the process easier. Finding the right therapist may be simpler online since you don't have to limit your search to your immediate area. Additionally, attending sessions remotely allows you to talk to a professional from a comfortable and familiar space, reducing psychological barriers to attendance.
Studies on the practice of online therapy show that it can be effective. According to a meta-analysis published in 2008, internet-enabled therapies were as effective as in-person methods for various mental health conditions. The authors concluded that there was "strong support" for the benefits of online psychotherapy. If you're interested in getting started, you can sign up with a platform like BetterHelp to get matched with one of over 30,000 licensed therapists specializing in various areas of mental healthcare.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are several of the most frequently asked questions about running away.
Is It Normal To Want To Run Away?
The desire to run away can be normal, and many people experience it. However, running away or isolating yourself may not be the healthiest option. If you're feeling this urge, consider asking yourself the following five questions:
- What or who is it that you are running away from?
- What is it that this situation or person is doing that is causing you distress?
- What would you like to say to them that can't be said right now?
- What would you like to change that feels stuck right now?
- If you could wake up tomorrow to a miracle, what change would you see in your life?
Finding a licensed therapist to help you sort out your feelings may also be beneficial.
What Are Other Means Of Escapism?
Running away may not necessarily refer to a physical act. Escaping your present reality may take different forms, including but not limited to the following:
- Substance use
- Ignoring messages
- Obsessing over an interest
- Video games
- Dating to avoid being alone
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Can I Run Away And Start Over?
You can run away and start over. However, it may not be a healthy response to your challenges. Instead, reaching out to a therapist to discuss why you're considering starting over could be beneficial. Are there areas of your life that make you feel smothered or stuck? Would you prefer avoiding conflict over focusing on the overwhelming feelings it brings you? Your therapist can help you develop strategies to make healthy changes in your current life so you can feel the benefits of "starting over" without leaving everything behind.
How Do You Escape Life Momentarily?
The following are a few suggestions for momentarily escaping the responsibilities in your life:
- Try mindfulness or meditation to clear your mind
- Listen to music
- Practice yoga
- Daydream about your ideal future
- Make friends online
- Go on a weekend trip by yourself
- Rent a hotel room or vacation rental for a few nights in your hometown
- Work with a travel agent to plan a surprise vacation
- Stop using electronics for a day or two
- Go for a walk in nature
- Find a hiking trail in your town you've never been to before
- Travel internationally
How Do I Start A New Life?
Below are a few steps you can take to make significant changes in your life:
- Learn new skills
- Take steps to face your fears
- Make new friends
- Try an activity you may have never considered before
- Take ownership of your mistakes
- Take the first step toward your dreams
- Partake in creative activities
How Do You Escape Reality?
There are a few ways to take a momentary break from reality while staying at home, including the following:
- Read an interesting book
- Watch a new movie
- Try a TV show you wouldn't usually watch
- Learn how to cook
- Try writing a story
What Country Is Best To Run Away To?
Many Americans consider moving to another country to cope with the challenges in their lives. However, note that many countries have political, financial, and social challenges that foreigners might overlook until they live there. If you're sure you want to move, the following countries might provide value:
- New Zealand
- Czech Republic
Note that many of these countries have strict immigration laws, so look into these laws before considering moving.
What Are Some Unique Hobbies To Try?
If you're feeling bored or unsatisfied with your current life, below are a few unique hobbies you might enjoy trying:
- Work on a yacht
- Go backpacking
- Take a road trip across the US
- Try an adrenaline-seeking activity like skydiving, scuba diving, or tree sports
- Attend a cooking class
- Try a hosted experience through Airbnb
- Go on a tour of a city
How Do I Just Pack Up And Move?
At times, making a dramatic move may be the most beneficial option for some people. If you're ready to pack up your items and move, consider the following points:
- Ask yourself where you want to go and why
- Make a rough sketch of an itinerary
- Invest some time researching travel credit cards and travel insurance.
- Sell your furniture on a secondhand market
- Cut down on physical items
- Find a new job or a remote job so you can move
- Pay respects to the friends and communities who contributed to your personal growth
- Consider the consequences of moving immediately
- Ensure you have somewhere to live for the first month or two in your new location
Why Is It Illegal To Run Away?
Running away from home is illegal when the person involved is a minor because they are legally under their parents' or guardians' supervision and protection. Although running away is not illegal in all states, it can be in some. In addition, according to the National Runaway SafeLine, harboring a runaway is illegal.
If you're a teen or child experiencing or witnessing abuse of any kind from a family member or caregiver, reach out to the Child Help Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 or use the online chat feature.
Why Do Children Run Away?
Many children consider running away when experiencing serious home issues like neglect, parental substance use, mental health challenges, exploitation, or violence. Children might also partake in this behavior if they are experiencing bullying, difficulties in relationships, isolation, loneliness, or family dysfunction. In these cases, a child might benefit from discussing their emotions with a therapist. Therapists are also mandatory reporters and can help a child receive the legal protections in their state to escape an unhealthy situation if necessary.
What Do I Do If I'm A Minor That Ran Away?
If you're a minor that has run away from home for any reason, consider calling the National Runaway Safeline for support. You can reach them at 1-800-RUNAWAY or use their online chat. The hotline doesn't exist to report you or get you in trouble with your parents or the law. Instead, they are available to help you find resources wherever you are so you can have a safe space to live and care for yourself.
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