As streaming mania descends upon us, the era of Peak TV has officially come to an end. Say hello to the era of Too Much TV.
With highly touted services like Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and Quibi (what even is Quibi?) entering the market, viewers already overwhelmed with content are about to be even more so. It’s no longer possible to watch every single buzzy series out there. In fact, it hasn’t been possible for a long time. If you’re a person who enjoys being current on all things TV, this can cause some serious first-world anxiety.
I have definitely experienced my share of TV FOMO over the last few years. Twitter starts raving about a stellar new series I didn’t know about? Cue all the anxiety symptoms: an increase in pulse, a fluttering heartbeat, racing thoughts. Thankfully, I’m also a therapist, so I began compiling a list of coping strategies to help me navigate the brave new world of entertainment overload. Below are five simple tips to practice when you’re in the throes of pop culture panic.
I know. I know. If you’re a person with even mild anxiety, someone has told you to breathe. It might sound bonkers in practice, but it works. In our hectic daily lives, we often disengage with our bodies and become all brain. This disconnect definitely takes place when we sink into our comfy couches for a satisfying binge, amirite?
There’s nothing wrong with escaping into a great TV series, but when anxiety comes calling, reconnecting with our bodies is one of the most effective ways to regulate the nervous system. And the best news? You can do it wherever and whenever.
There are approximately one zillion breathing techniques out there, but Dr. Andrew Weil’s “4-7-8” method is one that tends to stick in the ol’ noggin. Just breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold for seven and then out through your mouth for eight. Repeat for four breath cycles. Not only does this method incorporate deep breathing, it also involves counting, which can be another helpful way to combat anxiety. So, when you’re staring at a streaming menu (or a full DVR, if you’re old-fashioned) and waves of panic begin to wash over you, take a seat, settle in and breathe.
2. Accept the things you cannot change.
This is an old Alcoholics Anonymous saying, but it’s useful advice for life — and television. None of us can stem the tsunami of content, nor can we dream of consuming it all. So, instead of fighting against the tide, we must accept our new reality.
Anxiety often stems from feeling a lack of control. At the moment, the entertainment landscape is experiencing a metamorphosis, and the dramatic shifts can be unexpected and jarring to say the least. We don’t have control over the vast majority of these changes, but we do have control over how we react to them. Focusing on what you can actively change helps to increase confidence and decrease stress.
3. Limit choice.
It turns out that excessive choice can actually limit satisfaction. In a famous study from 2000 focusing on choice, researchers found that shoppers were less likely to purchase jam when presented with a selection of 24 flavors versus six flavors. It sure appears that the same thing is happening with small-screen content.
When presented with seemingly infinite options, some viewers can face choice paralysis when they go to select a show. We’ve all experienced it: Instead of starting something new, we stare at the screen for hours, scrolling through myriad options, only to realize that we’ve selected nothing and — oops! — it’s time for bed. How disappointing.
The only way to make the glut of TV options manageable is to self-impose a limit on your choices. However you interpret the idea of limitation is up to you, but the important part here is to pare down thousands of shiny new series to a manageable pool of options. Maybe that means researching new TV shows or reading reviews from sources you trust. Perhaps you’ll ask co-workers or friends for recommendations or even just pick at random based on an ad you saw on a passing bus. Find out what floats your boat and then sail away with confidence.
4. Phone a friend.
Maintaining a robust support system is one of the best coping mechanisms in existence, but building a network isn’t always easy. Enter television.
Enjoying a fun new show with friends or family members can help to solidify bonds and strengthen relationships. Committing to a weekly series with another individual or a group of pals creates a standing appointment for meaningful connection on a regular basis. Discussing fictional characters or theorizing about a delicious twist in the latest episode of your show can be a shared activity that helps decrease TV anxiety by turning your viewing time into a special event.
5. Step back from social media.
Instead of obsessing about live-tweeting during a new series or being the first to ’gram your [insert buzzy show here] viewing party, try taking a step back from the two-screen experience and just focus on one.
Social media can be terrific for helping people connect and chat about all sorts of art around the globe but the lightning-fast pace and reward-based dopamine rush it elicits can also provoke a great deal of stress and anxiety. Since the adoption of the live-tweet, whenever highly anticipated shows air it seems like a contingent of the internet races to the finish line, with commenters prizing the speed or quantity of commentary over quality.
Of course, there’s no right or wrong way to watch a television show. But social media often promotes an unnatural urgency in the consumption of television, movies, even the news. So you do you, boo. Log off, take a breath and get back to basics.
Erin Qualey is a licensed therapist specializing in addiction and trauma with more than a decade of experience in the field. She also works as a freelance writer, often focusing on the intersections between mental health, addiction and pop culture.