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Why Television is Used as a Coping Mechanism and Why We Need to Stop

There is a cycle that the age-of-the-internet kids have all experienced at one point or another. Feeling stressed about homework, watching TV to take our minds off of it, then closing out of the Hulu tab at 12:30 a.m. only to realize that sleeping enough to be alive the next day and completing our assignments is now impossible.

This is not your average old person’s gripe about kids these days watching garbage television shows that are rotting our brains. This is a realization that practically everyone in the developed world has a TV, including most of the “TV-kills-your-brain” people — and we aren’t always watching it because we actually care about what character dramatically dies next on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

We’re using video content to cope with stress. And it’s very counterproductive.

95.9 percent of Americans have TVs, according to Nielsen Holdings. And according to the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of Americans use excessive television/video watching to cope with stress.

But the satisfyingly cynical jokes from Family Guy probably aren’t actually comforting us — at least not for long. Along with avoidance of responsibilities, TV can increase anxiety with stressful content, inactivity, lack of sleep and lack of general mental excitement, according to CalmClinic.

Maybe one day you left an important document at home and your boss proceeded to bite your head off, or each of your seven teachers assigned homework. Whatever’s eating away at you, you figure watching an episode or two of your favorite show will wrap you up in the character’s world, not your own.

And you’re kind of right — Dwight from “The Office” said something weird about beets and you laughed like the basic The-Office-watching person you are.

But it’s a momentary escape — as soon as you are able to tear yourself away from your favorite series, the mountain of homework or your boss’s haunting voice of disapproval is still hanging over your head. And now that you’ve wasted four hours listening to “that’s what she said” jokes you’ve already heard, your stress levels are increased because you’ve been sitting dormantly for hours with the problems growing in the back of your mind.

And maybe you’re thinking, “What makes TV a bad coping mechanism?” Well, television would be like any other healthy form of coping — like going for a walk or writing in a  journal — if we didn’t use it to numb ourselves from our problems.

Going for a walk and writing in a journal is all well and good — if you’re into that (healthy activities? Nah I’m good). But we can keep watching TV, if we just do it healthily. The key difference is in why we are watching, and if we let it become a “drug” that we use to distract from all the bad stuff (like that thing you have to do by tomorrow, you know what I’m talking about).

But too often we consume video media unhealthily. The fact that ‘binge-watch’ is a commonly used phrase is a red flag. Actually, it’s a bright red, flaming flag the size of a Ford F-150.

The first two things that pop into my head in conjunction with the word binge (other than binge-watch) are binge-drink (in association with alcoholism), or binge-eat (in association with eating disorders). What’s worse is that our culture practically glamorizes it. If I had a nickel for every Cosmopolitan article using the words ‘binge-watch’, I’d… well, I’d probably pay someone to come up with a better joke for this than “If I had a nickel.”

And I’m pretty sure if there was a Cosmo article called “Five Best Alcoholic Drinks to Binge on for Hours,” there would be some backlash.

And it’s become a drug to us — we’re sucked into another world, where everything is brightly colored and convenient plot turns solve all the characters’ problems.

Instead of living experiences in our own life, we’d rather watch experiences cooked up by a screenwriter. And it’s a hard trance to snap out of — video streaming companies make sure that continuing to watch your show is much easier than, say, moving your limbs.

You’ve finished watching your eighth straight episode of “Friends” and can’t think straight, much less comprehend what sarcastic joke Chandler is making. Instead of allowing you to escape the fog of dried up sitcom jokes and leave your fetal position on the couch to make a decision: “Should I watch another episode or do something else?” Our friendly Generic Streaming Service autoplays episode number nine.

Worldwide streaming companies and video content workers’ livelihoods depend on keeping the population shut in their rooms with their minds working at two miles an hour. Which means multimillion dollar companies are working to keep us using this unhealthy coping mechanism.

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t watch TV — based on the numbers, that would be 313 million Americans with hours to spare, and we certainly can’t have that. Really though, there are definitely healthy ways to watch TV: mainly by watching a show because you actually want to watch it, not to avoid something else.

But we misuse television far too often. In a study published in the Journal of Communication, scientists surveyed people about how they felt after work the previous day, and how long they spent on media (television, the internet, youtube, etc) at the end of that day. On average, people who felt especially stressed had a notable increase in time spent on media as a form of avoiding stress.

And those people are putting a bandaid on a quickly deteriorating open gash and calling it good. TV isn’t a good stress reliever because it can cause stress, especially if you are using it to avoid your problems.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the sixth highest cause of stress in the U.S. is media overload — including TV, radio, internet, email and social networking.

It makes sense logically — you’re avoiding your problems and obligations to sit and watch figures move on a screen. Sometimes for a really, really long time.

We just have to realize that when you finally stand up, nothing will have been fixed.

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Natasha Thomas

Natasha Thomas
Natasha Thomas is a junior at Shawnee Mission East and is a copy editor and the print news section editor of the Harbinger »

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