Jodie Johnson/shutterstockPicture this: It’s a shop-till-you-drop kind of afternoon at your favorite mall. You’re making your way to the fitting room when your heart begins to hammer in your ears. The clothing you’re clutching suddenly weighs a ton and it’s hard to catch your breath. You try to make your way out of the store, but you’re disoriented. Every noise seems amplified and the once empty store feels overcrowded. You’re hot and sweaty and terrified.
It’s not sticker shock, and fortunately, it’s also not a heart attack. These are the signs of a panic attack brought on by anxiety, and it can steal minutes, hours, and whole days of your life. How to stop a panic attack? Prescription medication works. So does exercise, yoga, and meditation. They are all potential foes of an anxious mind.
But here’s a little secret you’ll be happy to know: Simply plopping yourself on the couch and flipping on the old boob tube might also do the trick. Watching television can distract your thoughts, allowing your mind to relax and reduce your anxiety.
“A panic attack is an extreme fear response,” explains clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, in an article on Greatest.com. “When the mind is soothed with distractions, the body has the opportunity to calm down. Rather than moving into a full panic response, the calmed mind signals the body to relax.”
For best results, watch something you find engaging. “When we watch television, we’re generally watching things that bring us pleasure or are interesting to us,” Richard Shuster, PsyD, MSW, host of The Daily Helping Podcast told Greatest.com. “When we engage in activities which bring us pleasure and promote enjoyment, there are numerous psychological and physiological benefits including stress reduction.”
Not all television shows are created equal when it comes to easing an anxious mind. Shoot ’em ups, horror, and sadly, even everyday news shows can aggravate rather than soothe.
Timing matters too. The blue lights from watching at night can mess with our circadian rhythm, causing sleeping problems that “can result in increased emotional distress, including anxiety,” Dr. Shuster says.
Here are some rules for TV viewing that may help soothe your anxiety:
- Nights are a no-no. Sorry Jimmy Kimmel, but late-night viewing could interfere with getting much-needed anti-anxiety shut-eye.
- You could check out movies like Baa Baa Land, part of the Slow TV movement which has taken off in places like Norway.
- Make sure your to-do list is done. Watching television can make you feel more stressed when another task is competing for your attention.
- Stay away from loud, violent, or scary shows. We mean you, House Wives of Beverly Hills. Most reality TV shows have too much hooting and hollering going on.
- Choose lighthearted comedies or an engaging drama. Steer clear of heavy topics. Even a documentary on the History Channel might not be the best choice. No war or politics.
- Try watching music concerts or variety shows for mindless entertainment.
- Consider a film or television show that fits like an old glove. Can you name which Friends episode it is within the first 30 seconds of it airing? Or perhaps for you it’s an episode of the Brady Bunch? Netflix offers a bunch of shows that can make you feel like you’re home again.
“Familiar is good, especially when dealing with anxiety,” Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, told Greatest.com
As long as the film or show evokes happy images or memories, it may induce a feeling of calm. But if watching Notting Hill reminds you of the last guy who dumped you because he’s Hugh Grant’s doppelganger, it might not be the best choice for mental distraction—even if he does get the girl in the end.
Check out these other natural remedies for anxiety.