In this digital age, television has become an ever-present source of entertainment and news, blasting into our homes and into our lives. It’s no longer just a sideline pastime – for many, watching television has become a key part of the day. There’s no denying that TV watching can provide comfort, relaxation and escape, but the impact of long term television viewing on mental health should not be underestimated – and the effects may surprise you.
Heavy television viewing has been found to have some interesting connections to mental health. One study examining the association between television viewing and mental distress, depression and anxiety found that those who watched TV for more than three hours a day had a significantly higher risk of having mental health problems. The concern here is not only the length of time spent watching TV, but the type of programming that viewers choose – with some researchers finding links between certain types of television shows and negative psychological effects.
For example, viewing violent and aggressive content has been linked to increased levels of aggression and anxiety, while too much sexual content has been found to have a negative impact on our attitudes towards sexual relationships and activities. Unregulated viewing of these negative television images can lead to both short- and long-term harmful effects, such as impaired mental health, sleep disturbance and stress.
But it’s not all bad. There have also been positive associations between psychological wellbeing and television viewing made. Studies focusing on the benefits of watching television have suggested that it can help those suffering from depression, as well as reducing feelings of loneliness. Binge-watching, for example, has been found to provide a sense of community and comfort, temporarily distracting us from our pain and worries.
But it’s all too easy to plop in front of the box and zone out for hours on end – and it’s hard to know exactly when it’s healthy viewing and when it’s not. It’s important to be mindful of our television habits and keep an eye on the hours spent viewing. Establishing healthy and manageable limits, as well as switching off to engage in life around us is key.
The rise of box sets, streaming services and online TV has made it easier than ever before to spend hours glued to the screen, so it’s essential to watch out for the subtle signs that our mental health may be suffering. Below are just a few things to look out for:
• Find yourself getting frustrated by your TV choices or lack of options
• Notice yourself losing interest in activities that once interested you
• Lack of motivation to meet friends or pursue hobbies
• Increased feelings of depression or anxiety
• Difficulty sleeping
Being aware of how we relate to television and how it may be impacting our mental health is the first step in making a change. Television can be a beneficial part of our lives, but when watch with caution, being mindful of the content and the time, it should be a positive one.