I have to say it. I actually think that I am or at least was legitimately addicted to Netflix. I am seriously not making light of the situation or making a joke. For years, I have been using Netflix as a coping mechanism for my depression and anxiety. When I was living alone or with roommates, without having a partner to hold me accountable, I would watch Netflix for hours. Not just one, or two, or three episodes. Most days, if I didn’t have plans after work, I would arrive home around six p.m and literally watch Netflix until I was too tired and either fell asleep or closed my laptop without shutting it down, usually around 12:00 a.m. Every. Single. Night. I would get through a season of a show in less than a week. And I really needed my Netflix time. I would often leave events early, especially on weekdays, because I knew I needed at least an hour of Netflix before bed. I would feel anxiety if I would be watching the clock and seeing it getting closer and closer to 10 p.m and I wasn’t home yet.
If I was home alone, I couldn’t do anything without Netflix in the background. If I was cooking, I had it on. Eating, on. I would sometimes even put it on my phone and watch it while I was on the toilet or brushing my teeth or shaving my legs.
While Netflix was my comfort blanket, it also made me really anxious when I was depressed. I remember a particular time in life when I was depressed constantly and really struggling at work. I hated going to work because I felt like I was a failure and that I would get fired any minute. I would spend my weekends watching episode after episode of Gossip Girl and each episode meant it was a little closer to Monday. It made the time pass faster but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. At the same time, Netflix has been a tool for me to prolong the day if I am dreading the next day. Because as soon as I fall asleep, the night will pass in a snap and it will be morning and I will have to face the day.
Now that I live with my boyfriend, my Netflix habits have actually changed. I really didn’t think it was possible. But I don’t watch Netflix in bed any more, rarely ever. Maybe once or twice in the past two months. Some nights we watch an episode or two of a show, but some nights I don’t watch any Netflix at all. And I certainly have not watched six hours of Netflix in a row in a while.
Why was I so addicted to Netflix? There are plenty of articles online that offer a lot of reasons that make sense. Here’s one. It talks about how cliffhangers activate stress about not knowing what will happen and watching the next episode relieves that stress. Here’s another one that talks about how our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that makes us happy, when we anticipate something exciting happening, so that’s why we keep watching.
But that’s not really all it was about for me.
Firstly for me, it was a distraction from dark or anxious thoughts. While I was watching Netflix, I couldn’t focus on my fears or my worries or my negative self-talk. I also got invested in the characters and their lives and were comforted by their stories and felt an escape from my every day life and my miserable existence. Netflix also calmed me down because each episode was a certain length and it offered a predictability of how I could spend my time. Each end of an episode meant that another half hour or hour had passed without incident. I think I needed Netflix the same way that I need to be on the phone when I walk from one place to another. I absolutely hate being alone with myself and my thoughts.
I was inspired to write this episode because I am gearing up for an epic binge-watching tomorrow of Gilmore Girls, one of my favourite shows ever. I already have the pop-tarts ready. But this is a rare occurrence now and I am kind of happy about it. I am starting to find a bit of a balance in my life. I think it is because I have someone around to hold me accountable. I would like to think I might have changed without him, but I’m not sure. Either way, I enjoy how I am spending my time. I read more. I write more. I plan more. I dream more. I spend more time on things that activate my brain and make me curious. I work on this blog. I go on walks. I eat and talk and enjoy the food rather than shovel it into my mouth as I watch Chandler make a joke I’ve heard before. I am cuddling in bed instead and falling asleep to my thoughts instead of having a bright light and loud noise blaring in my ear. It’s so weird. I don’t mind it anymore. Sure, I have anxious and dark thoughts. Yes, I am scared sometimes for the next day to come and I don’t have Netflix anymore to prevent it from coming sooner. But I am slowly growing into a person who is more comfortable with herself. Who is more mindful and more engaged with her surroundings. And that makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with binge-watching. Netflix and chill all you want! But using it as a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with your mood and life is not healthy. And I am on a path to a better place for myself.
Tell me – what show is your guilty pleasure? What are your coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression (healthy/unhealthy)?