Stress and Television
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Want to feel more relaxed and in control of your life? Want to lower your overall stress levels and feel free from worry and niggling anxieties? Want to build up your coping reserves so that when stressful events occur you are better able to cope? Then turn off the TV at least one night a week.
We all have stressors in our lives: difficult bosses, a sick child, an impossible in-law, a pending divorce, money worries. The list goes on. We have little control over many of the stressful events that occur in our lives. But we do have control over the television. But why is the TV such a stress and why should we exercise control over how much of it that we watch?
On any given day, possibly the most stressful activity that we undertake is to watch the television. This may sound ludicrous, especially if you have a high-pressure job complete with deadlines, or you have several young children clamoring for attention and you are feeling run-down. You may live with a chronic illness or find yourself in an abusive family situation. Apart from the obvious stress that any of these situations cause, it is the continual, relentless overestimation provided by the television, not to mention the often chilling content of the nightly news, that can often unwittingly and insidiously push our stress levels to unbearable levels over time.
So, try turning off the television for one night of the week. This includes any afternoon television that you or your children may habitually watch. Instead, let your house reverberate to the natural sounds of the wind, footsteps, human voices, dogs barking. Share the evening meal at the table without the din of the television in the background. After your meal listen to music, read, do craftwork, or talk together as a couple or a family. Repeat this experiment every week. If you like, you can increase your TV-free nights to two or three a week, depending on your needs.
Because we grow up with that little box in the corner of our living rooms, we seldom stop to consider the harm, in addition to the entertainment, that a television delivers right into your brain every night. Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” response, that mechanism where our bodies respond to a life-threatening stimulus by secreting adrenalin and making our hearts race,our breathing increase, and our muscles tense. The television is one of the biggest sources of continual, low-level, “fight-or-flight” stress in our daily lives.
When you stop to contemplate the nature of much of the content on television night after night, it is no wonder that the television constitutes a low-grade, and ongoing source of stress. Consider the chilling murder scenes of your favorite crime show, the tingling of your muscles during the climax of that horror movie you watched last night, and worst of all: the evening news. All stimulate our bodies: our pupils dilate, our chest tightens, our heart rate increases, adrenalin and noradrenalin pour into our bloodstream. Lactate builds up in our muscles.
But you are neither “fighting nor flighting”. You are just sitting there. Your body is unable to use these chemicals in the way that nature intended, either by running from the danger or fighting for your life. Instead, there is no natural release. And the part of the brain that controls the stress response cannot discern between a real and an imagined event (i.e., an event on the TV). The result to our bodies is the same: unnecessary wear and tear.
Try turning off this major source of stress on a regular basis for one night each week. After about two months you will notice a distinct lowering of your overall stress levels, because you have effectivley given yourself a holiday from stress. Just one night a week can make a huge difference. Why not give it a try?