Here's Why All That Binge Watching Is Actually Good for You
Research shows why comfort TV is so appealing during quarantine—and how it may improve your well-being.
For many of us, quarantine has all but eliminated that feeling that we're behind on the hottest new shows. The coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown measures are keeping us inside, where some of the easiest things to do are stream a series, settle in for a movie, or play hours upon hours of video games. In this digital world, we get enough screen time on a normal day, through work, leisure, and mindless scrolling on our phones. So you may be wondering how this unprecedented increase might be affecting you. It turns out, there are plenty of positives when it comes to what all of this screen time is doing to your health.
A 2019 study published in the journal Self & Identity found that watching TV and other activities can help fulfill certain social needs. Speaking to Healthline about the research, co-author Shira Gabriel, PhD, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, said, "Our brains are not wired to differentiate between real relationships and the kind of connections we feel to the social worlds presented in books and TV shows. Now is the time to take advantage of that." She explained that there's no need to "feel guilty" about being drawn to comfort TV, especially at this stressful time. In other words, watching Cheers can't entirely take the place of spending time at the bar with your buddies, but it's a somewhat useful substitute.
Krystine Batcho, PhD, professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, told Healthline that taking solace in fiction can also inspire feelings of nostalgia. "Social distancing is a powerful trigger for such nostalgic memories. Watching reruns or listening to songs we enjoyed in the past revives the positive feelings we had when we shared such good times with friends and relatives," she explained. And these feelings, she pointed out, can actually strengthen our relationships. Watching Friends may remind you of how much you miss yours and how they enrich your life, leading you to call someone and check in, send a loving snail mail letter, etc.
In a piece for Fast Company, Michael Moskowitz, CEO of AeBeZe Labs, lauded the soothing effects of certain pieces of media. He cited a 2011 study published in Nature Neuroscience that found that some pieces of music led to a dopamine release in the brains of listeners, as well as a 2015 study in PeerJ showing that Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) content (those videos where people whisper and create soft, rhythmic sounds) can lead to physical sensations that promote happiness and well-being. If these are feelings you want to achieve as you watch, then you should be thoughtful when scrolling through Netflix. A baking show is more likely to calm you than a violent action film, for example.
"An ability to carefully and intelligently select digital materials to promote emotional health and resilience is a relevant concern for digital audiences everywhere—particularly now," he wrote.
Moskowitz's company encourages "mindful consumption" and a focus on "digital nutrition"—the idea that what you consume visually affects your health just like the food you put into your body does.
So if you've been spending more time in front of the TV or computer screen than usual the last few months, there's no need to beat yourself up over it. In these extraordinary circumstances, those screens can offer comfort. Just be sure that you're making choices that make you feel good. And for more advice, check out 11 Expert-Backed Ways to Manage Your Mental Health While Self-Isolating.