TIME Stress

Watching TV to Relieve Stress Can Make You Feel Like a Failure

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Losing yourself to the small screen may seem like a good way to relieve stress, but it may only make things worse

It’s almost a reflex — after a tough day, you turn on the TV, or binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix. Getting lost in other people’s troubles, or laughing your way through a sitcom, is a good way to forgot your own worries, right? Turns out that people who rely on TV or video games to relax actually end up feeling like failures afterwards.

Some research has shown that using media can make you more relaxed, since it provides a momentary escape from whatever stresses are eating away at us, but researchers found that particularly busy and fatigued people actually felt guilty about spending so much time in front of the TV. In their study, published in the Journal of Communication, the scientists surveyed 471 people about their previous day, how they felt after work, and what media they turned to at the end of the day.

People who felt especially wiped out saw their media time as a form of procrastination, and felt they were avoiding other important things on their to-do lists. These participants were likely to describe “giving in” to media use, and that feeling prevented them from benefiting from the down time and relaxing. “We are starting to look at media use as a cause of depletion. In times of smartphones and mobile Internet, the ubiquitous availability of content and communication often seems to be a burden and a stressor rather than a recovery resource,” study author Leonard Reinecke of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany said in a statement.

It seems, however, that the content of what people watch on TV can alleviate some of this guilty pleasure perception. Other studies have shown that intellectually stimulating media content (like a History Channel segment or a documentary) can positively impact people’s emotional states, so the study authors believe that watching “low-brow” forms of entertainment (we’re guessing reality TV qualifies here) are more likely to make people feel guilty about using it as a stress-reliever.

The researchers acknowledge that their test set-up can’t prove that watching TV will make you feel worse about yourself; there are certainly other variables that could impact how people feel about their media consumption. If people weren’t satisfied with what they watched, for example, they might have been more likely to feel it was a waste of their time and not as stress-relieving as it could have been. If TV seems too hit-or-miss, there’s always exercise and meditation to help you forget your day.

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