The idea of binge-watching TV has been popularized by streaming services like Netflix. While binge-watching may seem to resemble addictive behaviors. Occasionally watching a lot of TV at once doesn’t necessarily suggest dependency. A key difference here is when intended to watch multiple episodes and don’t feel any distress afterward. This is different than getting caught up in TV watching when you intend to be doing something else.
You get upset when you can’t watch TV
After a day or two without watching TV, you might notice some emotional distress, like:
- Irritability or crankiness
- An intense desire to watch TV
These might improve right away once you start watching TV again.
You watch TV in order to make yourself feel better
There’s no doubt, TV offers distraction and escape. If you’ve had a stressful day, you might watch something funny to take your mind of things and lift your mood. As an occasional tool to help lighten your emotions, TV can be helpful.
You can get into problems however, when TV becomes your primary coping strategy and keeps you from seeking out more productive methods of dealing with distress.
The reality is, TV can’t help you resolve the real world things you’re dealing with. It acts as more of an emotional band-aid for a while, but eventually you’ll still need to take proper steps to deal with what’s coming up in real life.
You develop health concerns from watching a lot of TV
Being stationery for long periods of TV watching might compromise the amount of time you spend doing physical activity.
Healthcare experts generally recommend adults get about 30 minutes per day (or at least 2.5 hours per week) of moderate exercise (source).
Watching a lot of TV might mean you don’t have time to get in the recommended amount of exercise, which will affect your health over time.
You’re having problems in your personal relationships
Excessive TV watching can cause damage to your relationships because you’re investing less time and attention into them.
You might notice you have less time to spend with friends, your spouse or family because your time is devoted to catching up on shows or movies instead.
Relationships require maintenance activities like spending quality time with your partner, chatting and catching up with friends. Your partner or children may become frustrated when you watch TV or comment on your amount of viewing time.
You have a hard time cutting back
You might feel bad or guilty, about watching so much TV, since it keeps you from taking care of chores at home, your favorite hobbies, and other things you’d like to do.
Despite your emotional distress, though, you still find it hard to cut back.
How to Cut Back on Your Viewing
If you feel like you’re watching too much TV, here are some tips that can help you cut back on your viewing time. Like any habit change, these things won’t work overnight and will take some effort to change your behaviours.
1. Track your viewing time
Keeping a log will give you a better idea of how much TV you actually watch. Try logging your time daily to note things like patterns around when you generally watch TV, mood changes related to TV use, as well as viewing time.
Identifying patterns in TV viewing will give you more insight into how it affects your daily life. You can also use these patterns to decrease your viewing time.
2. Identify your reasons for watching TV
Get curious about how this habit developed to uncover what might be underneath it. Maybe you started watching TV because you were bored. Or you began watching more during a difficult time in your life but now circumstances have changed. Maybe you got used to falling asleep with it on and now feel like you can’t sleep without it.
3. Set limits around TV time
Like changing any habit, you might have difficulty giving it up cold turkey. Instead, focus on smaller, gradual change.
Here are some first steps you might try:
- cancel all but one streaming service
- limit viewing to new episodes of your favorite shows
- only watch TV on weekends or when you’re doing something else, like working out
Connect with others
Since TV stimulated our emotions it can feel like a replacement for interpersonal connection. However, using TV to cope with loneliness can prevent you from finding long-term solutions, like making friends or going on dates.
If you find social interaction difficult, enlist the help of a therapist or coach.
You can start by replacing an hour of daily TV time with some kind of interaction, like:
- catching up with loved ones
- spending time out of the house in public
- Taking up a physical activity
When to see a doctor
While it’s possible to take steps to address it yourself, cutting back on TV isn’t always easy. If you’re finding it difficult, talking to a therapist can help.
Consider reaching out if:
- you’re struggling to cut back on TV
- the thought of watching less TV distresses you
- you’re dealing with mood changes, including irritability, depression, or anxiety
- TV viewing has affected your relationships or daily life
There’s no issue with watching TV to relax and catch up on your favorite show. It may become a problem when your TV consumption leads to you having trouble taking care of your usual responsibilities.
If your TV viewing has a negative impact on your health or relationships and keeps you from doing things you usually would, it may be time to talk to a therapist, especially if you’ve tried to cut back on your TV time and are finding it difficult. Watching television is arguably North America’s most popular leisure activity. TV sets have become staples in our homes, sometimes even making an appearance in multiple rooms of the house.
Let’s face it, TV’s gotten a lot better in recent years. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video and many others you can watch what you want, when you want, without commercials. We’re also not limited to watching on our TV sets anymore. These services have extended our viewing experience to laptops, phones, and tablets that we can take with us wherever we go.
Like any new technology, the evolution of TV has come with some unintended consequences. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) didn’t include TV addiction in its fifth edition. Though TV watching isn’t formally classified as an addition, research suggests excessive TV viewing shares considerable similarities with DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorder (source).