I used to be completely obsessed with Netflix. I actually wrote a blog post many months ago about my unhealthy relationship with binge-watching and how I used it as a coping mechanism for my mental health issues. Honestly, I would come home from work and put on a show immediately. I would continue to watch until bedtime, and then I would keep the show running in the background while I tried to fall asleep. I needed the background noise of Netflix to fall asleep. I was too scared and anxious to be alone with my thoughts.
When my boyfriend and I moved in together, my habits changed significantly. I didn’t watch as much Netflix, mostly because I had someone with me to occupy my thoughts and distract me from the negative self-talk swirling around my brain. However, once he fell asleep, I would play Netflix shows on my phone (using headphones) until I fell asleep myself. It was still a tremendous source of comfort for me, particularly when the symptoms of my bipolar disorder were particularly distressing.
However, something totally weird happened. Suddenly, the idea of watching anything on Netflix repulsed me. I got such bad anxiety around the thought of turning on a show. I felt incredibly uneasy and restless about the concept of binge-watching or even watching one episode. I wasn’t keeping track, but I am sure it’s been over two weeks or even more since I’ve even used Netflix at all.
I asked some fellow people with mental illness about why Netflix was giving me serious anxiety. Some people thought that perhaps the content on Netflix was too triggering. Others thought that perhaps the idea of watching was overwhelming because it would require concentration. It is also possible that I am already overstimulated and that additional media consumption would only exacerbate it. Perhaps because I have been off work for a while due to mental illness, I am enveloped by a sense of guilt that I should be doing something more productive. I’ve also thought that it might be because I feel isolated enough being home alone all day, and I worry that if I watch a show, I am disconnecting myself from the world.
Sometimes, a bout of binge-watching will give me this sinking feeling in my stomach and intense discomfort. I think the passive nature of watching other people’s stories, rather than actively engaging in my own life, can sometimes make me feel like I am wasting my time. I might also be worried about my own self-control, knowing that once I start, it’s hard to stop. I also have always had a problem with choice and making decisions. There are just so many amazing shows to choose from, so I might just be avoiding Netflix so I don’t have to pick which to focus on.
I googled this idea of not watching television because you are too anxious and I literally could not find anything about it. All the articles were about how binge-watching causes anxiety when you are engaged in it, not before it even happens. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why even thinking about watching Netflix makes me anxious. Let’s crowdsource our own research on the topic.
I just want to clarify that I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with Netflix or watching television and movies. Watching television and movies can help us decompress and recharge. They are a beautiful art form that can communicate important messages and expand our worldview. Television and film can educate and raise awareness of important issues.Or they can just be really fun and enjoyable. I read this great Buzzfeed article where people share why certain television shows helped them through their depression. Television and film definitely play an important role in our lives, especially when we can find characters with whom we can identify. I even read about research which demonstrates that becoming invested in television characters can be healthy. Some of the possible benefits include “self-esteem boosts, decreased loneliness and more feelings of belonging”. It’s also thought that crying over sad television can be cathartic.
What are your thoughts on television (or film) and its impact on mental health? I’d love to hear in the comments!