What Are The Psychological Effects Of Watching TV? 7 Subtle Signs It's Impacting Your Mental Health
At the end of a long day of work, you might enjoy nothing more than curling up on the couch to watch the next episode of your favorite show, snacks in hand. But is watching your favorite TV shows hurting your mental health? According to experts, there are a number of physical and mental signs that might mean that you should take a break from a specific show for a while.
There's no need to write off all TV shows as harmful, though. In fact, they can actually be a major tool for improving your mental health. "Watching TV shows that are calming, inspiring, humorous, or comforting can help (temporarily) ease symptoms of anxiety and depression," Emmy Crouter, MSW, LSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with young adults, tells Bustle. "People often associate certain shows with positive memories," she says. For example, if you grew up watching Spongebob every night with your siblings, maybe it's time to return to some of the lighthearted episodes every once in a while. Or perhaps The Office reminds you of a time in your life when you had fewer responsibilities.
Here are some signs that the shows you're watching could be hurting your mental health, according to experts.
1. It Makes Your Symptoms Worse
When you're attentively watching what's happening in a show, you might not be actively paying attention to whether your mental health is worsening or not. But your body can give some clues about what's happening in your mind. "A TV show may be hurting your mental health if you feel an increase in any symptoms with which you already struggle," Crouter says. For example, if you're someone who begins twisting your hair when your anxiety begins to worsen and you notice yourself doing that while watching a certain show, that might be a sign that it's time to switch it off, and put something else on.
2. You Can't Stop Thinking About The Show
When you really love a TV show, you might find yourself talking about the plot with your friends, sending GIFs from the show in texts, or even buying merch. This might be totally balanced for you, but if you find yourself too preoccupied with a TV show, that could negatively impact your mental health, Crouter says. This is especially true if you find the show disturbing in some way. "For example, if you keep replaying a violent scene over and over in your mind, you may want to take a break from the show," she says. If the show is one that you find uplifting or even encouraging in your mental health journey, thinking a lot about it might be totally OK. But if you become fixated on the negativity on screen, that might not be as harmless.
3. It's Triggering For You
A violent or emotional show might have no impact on you, but could really hurt another person's mental health. That's why knowing your own triggers can help you make an informed decision about whether a series is a positive force for your mental health or not.
"If a show triggers your own history of trauma, you may want to choose a different show," Crouter says. "The goal of choosing an appropriate show is to avoid re-traumatization."
For example, if you have lost a loved one to suicide, you might want to avoid watching shows with that theme until you've worked through the trauma of that loss with a therapist, she says. If the pain is still raw for you though, it probably isn't worth the risk.
4. The Show Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself
"Shows that make you feel badly about yourself are not ideal to watch," Crouter says. Maybe you find yourself comparing your apartment to the immaculate homes on an HGTV show or you get discouraged when the characters on your favorite show are farther ahead in their careers than you are. If you find yourself making these comparisons regularly, consider finding a new show.
"Comparison is the thief of joy," Crouter says. "You don’t have to expose yourself to anything else that makes you feel inadequate."
Of course, this just leaves you with time to find a show that truly uplifts you. Maybe the constant affirmations in Queer Eye are just the thing you need or the relatability in Insecure motivates you to be your best self.
5. The Show Keeps You From Your Self-Care Routine
With your therapist's approval, watching positive TV shows can be a part of your plan to improve your mental health. But if you find that watching a show is taking time away from other self-care rituals, it might begin to have a negative effect. For example, if you've found that journaling every night and spending quality time with your friends on the weekends are great ways to help with your anxiety, staying home to watch a new episode instead of doing other self-care activities could be a problem. If a show is taking significant time away from your social life, you might want to reconsider what you're watching, Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a licensed psychologist with specialization in self-love, inspirational speaker, and author of But It’s Your Family, tells Bustle.
6. It's Isolating You From Your Partner
It could be that your partner is your favorite person to watch your top TV shows with, and the time you spend together enjoying the latest episodes is true quality time for you. If your TV routine has an isolating effect from your partner, on the other hand, that could take a toll on your mental health, Campbell says. Meaningful interpersonal connections are important, and swapping those out for a TV show that you can't seem to pull yourself away from can make you feel more alone, even if you don't immediately realize it. This might mean switching out some of your shows for ones that you and your partner both love, so that you can still connect at the end of the day.
7. You Can't Stop Watching It
Too much of many good things can pose a problem. Too much delicious coffee might give you a stomachache, and having too many puppies might mean that you don't have time to cuddle them all. In the same way, being overly invested in a TV show can hurt your mental health.
"Most TV shows have some sort of hook to ensure that you continue watching the next episode," Adina Mahalli, MCT, who is a certified mental health consultant specializing in trauma therapy, tells Bustle. "If you can’t stop watching, it might be a sign that the show you’re watching is hurting your mental health."
Spending hours watching even a great show can mean that you don't make time to read books you love, get some fresh air, or pick up a fun hobby. If you find yourself unable to look away, try swapping out some of your favorite TV shows for ones that are easier for you to watch in just one- or two-episode increments.
If you feel like the TV shows you love best aren't hurting your mental health at all, that's awesome. Just make sure to check in with yourself on a regular basis so that you can take the best possible care of your mind.