During the last year, people around the globe have reported increasing levels of anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mental Health Research Group (MHRC) conducted a poll at the end of 2020 which indicated that “22 percent of surveyed Canadians reported that they had been diagnosed with depression.” An additional “20 percent said they had received an anxiety disorder diagnosis.” According to MHRC, these are four percentage points higher than they were before the pandemic.
As stay-at-home orders and closed businesses force thousands of people inside, many have turned to Netflix and other streaming sites to binge-watch hours and hours of TV and movies. For some, this has been a way to fill the time that they would normally have spent at the movies or socializing with friends. For others, it is a coping mechanism.
An interesting pattern has emerged with the watching habits of people during the pandemic, however. While there has been no shortage of new releases to stream online, many have rewatched TV shows they’ve already seen (and in some cases, more than once).
As writer Lili Göksenin remarks, “It’s difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t struggle with anxiety, but the reason I do it is because I don’t have to worry about whether things are going to work out at the end of a Bob’s Burgers episode – I already know they will.” People have reported watching shows that are no longer current as well. According to an article in TODAY, there’s a reason for this: “Television from yesteryear can make us feel safe and secure in a world that feels increasingly chaotic.”
Kimberly M. Wetherell, a 46-year-old audiobook narrator told TODAY, “When I go to bed, my mind is still racing. My brain will be going over the anxiety of the day. I start overanalyzing things and my brain just won’t turn off.” She admits that watching reruns of The Golden Girls is “like hanging out with old friends.”
Nostalgia Can Be Good For Mental Health
The significance of nostalgia in this practice has actual basis in science. Dr. Tim Wildschut, who co-authored a research study at the University of Southampton,explains that “Nostalgia raises self-esteem which in turn heightens optimism. Our findings have shown that nostalgia does have the capacity to facilitate perceptions of a more positive future. Memories of the past can help to maintain current feelings of self-worth and can contribute to a brighter outlook on the future. Our findings do imply that nostalgia, by promoting optimism, could help individuals cope with psychological adversity.”
Psychologist Neel Burton observes that “nostalgia can lend us much-needed context, perspective, and direction” adding that “it also tells us that there have been ― and will once again be ― meaningful moments and experiences.”
The importance of mental health self-care routines, such as rewatching the same TV shows, cannot be overstated, especially during times of crisis. Licensed psychologist and professor Krystine Batchco notes “When people are stressed, or anxious, or feeling out of control, nostalgia helps calm them down. It’s comforting. It’s analogous to a hug from your mom or dad or being cuddled.” She adds that for anyone who has experienced trauma or loss, this kind of reassurance about our identities can be “critical.”
What To Watch When You Feel Anxious
Wetherell watches other new TV shows, but not when she’s having trouble with anxious thoughts and insomnia. “Something about a laugh track brings me back to when I was a kid and I watched TV in the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” she says. “There’s something familiar and soothing about it. It allows me to turn my brain off and drift off to sleep.”
Psychotherapist Mike Ward, who runs The London Anxiety Clinic and The Hampshire Anxiety Clinic, suggests that such coping mechanisms are fine unless they directly interfere with one’s life, work, or relationships. Göksenin’s mother Sharon B. Shaw, also a psychotherapist, agrees, however she cautions against ignoring symptoms of deeper mental health issues like persistent social anxiety.“If you find that anxiety is really interfering with your functioning, go and see someone,” she says. “And medication might help.”
If you notice changes in sleep or appetite, a lack of concentration or interest, or a loss of energy, talk to a mental health professional about it.
Here’s some suggestions for Feel-Good TV Shows for when you feel anxious
- My Octopus Teacher – A filmmaker forges an unusual relationship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – As far as feel-good throwbacks go, it’s hard to top Matthew Broderick as a hooky-playing wise guy. It’s a great reminder to enjoy the little things in life and overall to just have fun.
- The Good Place – Eleanor, a deceased saleswoman who lived a morally corrupt life, finds herself in a heaven-like afterlife in a case of mistaken identity. Determined to stay, she tries to become a better person.
- Schitt’s Creek – This is the story of a rich family who loses everything, and needs to rebuild their lives. It’s funny, kooky, and charming all around.
- The Terminal – Unable to enter the United States or fly back to his home country, Viktor is forced to take up residence in an abandoned section of the airport.
- Groundhog Day – Phil, a self-centred weatherman, goes to the town of Punxsutawney for an assignment. He is later shocked when he wakes up the next morning and realises that he is reliving the same day over and over.
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