Why Treating Your Mental Health Struggles Like an Escape Room Is Failing You

I’ve participated in a couple of escape room adventures with friends. I honestly find the concept a little weird. I am paying someone to lock me in a room. For fun. Or at least it’s fun if we can actually get out.

What intellectual skills enable us to get out of escape rooms? What gives us an edge over, say, a golden retriever (besides opposable thumbs) in such a scenario? We can:

  • Analyze the situation
  • Problem solve
  • Predict likely outcomes
  • Evaluate actual outcomes

And more! Our minds are nothing short of remarkable. Our ability to think logically and communicate with other humans gives us a tremendous advantage in navigating our world.


Our Strengths Can Be Our Downfall

Those same abilities also lead us into great suffering. The very skills that serve us well in the world around us can wound us in our inner world.

Imagine that you wake up one morning feeling intensely anxious. You have no idea why you feel anxious. But no matter what you try, you can’t get rid of it until you go to work.

You would want to avoid repeating that morning at all costs. If you lean on the same abilities that enable you to get out of an escape room, they can wreak havoc in your inner world.

You magnify suffering in your inner world by:

  • Over analyzing the situation
  • Predicting and analyzing problems that may never occur
  • Ruminating over real and imaginary problems
  • Avoiding feeling anxious so much that you develop anxiety about feeling anxious
  • Berating yourself for feeling anxious

Even if you “escape” your experience of feeling anxious, you take the memory of it with you wherever you go. When you try to suppress that memory, you give the anxiety even greater power and significance in your mind. The effort of running from difficult emotions makes them worse.

Your mind convinces you to try harder. Be more logical. Break down your negative thoughts. Put your attention on anything but the uncomfortable feelings. Start meditating. Or meditate more.

It tells you to see a therapist. If they can’t help you feel better, it tells you should see a different one.

Your mind goes on and on:

“If only you would do this…or less of this…try harder…relax more…”

The harder you try, the worse your emotions and difficult thoughts become. The harder you try, the more you wonder what’s wrong with you.

What if you aren’t the problem?

What if the problem isn’t you or your effort?


What Works Out There Won’t Work in Here

When I bought my first home as a single guy, I painted the loft Ohio Northern orange, in honor of my alma mater. It was a big, beautiful, very orange loft.

When Amy and I got married, she was less enthused than I about my ONU loft. So, I repainted our big, beautiful loft red. It took hours and three coats of paint to get rid of the orange.

In the outside world, if you don’t like something, you can often change or get rid of it. Like a very orange loft. Apply enough paint, and the problem disappears.

Here’s the rub. You can’t “paint over” your thoughts and emotions. Our minds try to convince us that we can. But what does your experience say?

Your various attempts to control your thoughts, emotions, and memories may be helpful in the moment. Has any of the strategies you’ve tried gotten rid of them in the long run? Or do they keep coming back?

What if the real problem is the cultural pressure to control your thoughts and feelings?

I bet your mind is trying to convince you that I’m wrong. That you can get rid of those difficult thoughts and feelings. If you try hard enough, if you are logical enough, if you see the right therapist.

Who are you going to believe? Your mind? Or years of experience?

Your situation is not hopeless. It’s that the deck is stacked against you, if you will, and your mind has you convinced that the game is fair.

You know that what you’ve been doing isn’t making things better. At least not for long. I’m telling you that whatever you do to avoid your thoughts and feelings can’t make things better. They will keep coming back.

Running from your inner world just makes it stronger and scarier. What if you learned to navigate your inner world in a different way? What if instead of running, you learned to face what lies within you?

What if you were able to live a life that you found rich and meaningful, even when difficult thoughts and feelings surface

You can. There is hope for you. But first, you must allow your experiences to outweigh your mind’s siren song.

You don’t need to try harder. You need to play a different game. A great place to start learning a new way to approach your inner world is to read this post.

Are you struggling with loss & grief, anxiety, or burnout and live in Ohio? Reach out to me at Oak Harbor Counseling Services. My office is conveniently located in northern Columbus. You can learn more about my counseling practice here or email me at [email protected].

Think this could help someone else out? Feel free to share:
Picture of Brent Flory

Brent Flory

Brent is a licensed professional counselor in Columbus, Ohio. He works with adults and adolescents, and specializes in helping people who are struggling with anxiety, loss & grief, and burnout.
In his spare time, he enjoys hanging out with his family, playing basketball, and eating too much ice cream.

Recent Posts

Feel overwhelmed with anxiety?

This ebook will help you identify the mistakes you are making that strengthen your anxiety.