Causes

Anxiety and Television

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Anxiety and Television

People blame television unfairly for a lot of problems. They blame TV for violence, obesity, stupidity, and more. There is some evidence that television has negative qualities - indeed, TV can make people dumber depending on the programming they watch - but the degree of blame they are placing on television is unfair.

But what about TV and anxiety? Television and anxiety have been linked together, but how? Why? We explore the answers to these questions in this article.

Television Probably Doesn't Create a Disorder

It's highly, highly unlikely that TV can create an anxiety disorder. There are a few exceptions - some people do develop fears and phobias because of television - but in general, you are likely to already have anxiety in some way and television simply makes it worse.

So can television create more anxiety? Of course it can. There are several ways that television seems to be able to cause anxiety, including:

  • Stressful Programming People tend to almost always watch stressful programming, and stress is stress. It's not just horror movies - reality TV shows, dramas, thrillers, even documentaries can be stressful in many ways. When you have anxiety, you need as many positive emotions as you can. Very rarely do any of those types of shows cause positive emotions, and that can be a problem.
  • Inactivity Inactivity is also a serious issue, and unfortunately TV does seem to encourage inactivity. Studies have shown that a lack of exercise does seem to create more anxiety, presumably because your body needs to experience a certain amount of exercise to work effectively. If you're not exercising, you're creating anxiety, and people rarely exercise while watching television.
  • Lack of Sleep Television can also lead to a lack of sleep. Many people stay up later than they need to either watching television or "winding down" after television (television appears to make it harder to sleep), and a lack of sleep can lead to the development of further anxiety or an anxiety disorder.
  • Avoidance of Responsibilities Not all of the causes of anxiety are directly related to television. In some cases, it may simply have to do with other things you need to do in life that you're avoiding when you watch television. Achievement and interesting activities are actually an important part of reducing anxiety, and those that spend too much time watching TV are usually not being productive, thus increasing their stresses in other areas and not engaging in the right behaviors to lessen their anxiety.
  • General Mental Excitement Finally, experts believe that television excites the mind in a way that creates more anxiety. It's not entirely clear if this is true, but it does seem possible since television excites neurons in the brain and excited neurons do appear to create more anxiety. But it's not clear how or why, and whether or not programming or other experiences in life at the time matter.

There may be other potential causes of anxiety that are not mentioned here. It's not quite clear. If the question is whether or not television can contribute to more anxiety, then the answer is yes, it can. Think of how much anxiety you experience from watching the news, or waiting for the next episode of your favorite TV show. Those aren't even necessarily stressful, and yet they do play a role in the development of anxiety.

But also blaming television for anxiety isn't fair either. Not everyone that watches TV is going to get anxiety and not every person with anxiety is going to get worse from watching TV. There may even be ways to reduce your anxiety with television, assuming you use it correctly.

Fighting Anxiety With TV?

Yes, despite its bad reputation, television can play a productive role in your anxiety as well. The key is smart decisions with regards to watching you when you watch it, and more. In other words:

  • No watching late at night before you're trying to sleep.
  • No watching when you have other things you need to do.
  • No watching any shows that are stressful or promote stress - including reality TV shows. Even if you find them funny, they often involve a lot of shouting and yelling.

Ideally, you need to choose funny or lighthearted programming that doesn't deal with stressful or tension-inducing topics. You should also consider using television as background stimulation. Rather than watch the TV, you can keep the TV on in the background while you're doing other things so that there is some visual and auditory stimulation but without the focus and attention that you would otherwise give it.

One of the problems with anxiety is that your mind essentially becomes your enemy. Mental distractions are the key to making sure that your mind has a chance to relax from the stresses of the day. Television can be that type of mental distraction, but only if you avoid issues that increase your anxiety. Try to choose shows that make you laugh or feel great about yourself, however, to avoid any of the potential negative consequences of television.

"But I Watch TV and I'm Fine"

Many people with anxiety point to the fact that when they're watching TV they feel fine, so they do not see how it might contribute to anxiety.

First, remember that some of the effects of television are secondary - like not getting exercise, completing tasks, or sleeping. You may feel great while you're watching TV, but there are other issues that play that will eventually affect you.

Second, when you're trying to combat anxiety, the truth is that all anxiety can be bad anxiety even if you feel good when you experience it. It's not true for everyone, but when your body is excited with stresses, it continues to struggle to control the anxiety that you do experience. Your mind and body need a break, and if the things you're doing create more anxiety - even if you can handle it - you're not getting that break.

Television Can Harm or Help

So in the end, television really goes both ways. It can be used to reduce your anxiety if you use it as a distraction and relaxation tool, but it can also increase your anxiety if you watch what most people watch and spend too much time directly in front of the TV when you should be exercising or engaging in other activities.

If you love your TV too much and can't give it up, you should at least start exercising and make sure that you're doing anything you can to control your anxiety today.

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