In recognition of National Streaming Day today, and May being Mental Health Awareness month, Philo recently surveyed 2000 American adults, in collaboration with OnePoll and SWNS, about their TV watching habits. Our goal was to find out if people are using TV to relax and distract themselves from stress and if their favorite go-to shows have been able to help reduce anxiety while adding comfort to their day-to-day routine.
As we are a team of heavy TV watchers here at Philo, it was no surprise to us that the results did indeed show that television is the main go-to method people choose as a way to unwind. In fact, more Americans use TV to destress than any other relaxation method, our research suggests.
55% watch TV as a self-soothing technique for relieving anxiety or stress.
That’s more than the number of respondents who relax by taking a bath (42%) or by doing yoga (33%).
Over half (56%) of participants seek out “comfort” TV shows or movies that they watch regularly, including twice as many people from the Northeast as the West (68% vs 36%, compared to 59% in the Southeast and 55% in the Midwest).
Respondents turn to those comfort shows most when feeling stressed (22%), bored (22%) or anxious (20%) — and on average, they’ve watched their comfort shows or movies about 18 different times.
“It may have something to do with the reward centers in your brain,” said Dr. Natalie King, PhD, a neuroscientist and brain health expert. “Watching your favorite TV series can encourage the release of dopamine, which creates a sense of euphoria. Dopamine essentially says to the brain, ‘You are enjoying this… Keep it up!”
Neuroscientist and MD, Dr. Daniel Chao, also weighed in on the research “A TV show has the capability to stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain. When this happens, we feel pleasure, perhaps even a high. When taken in moderation, this could be a great way to give your brain the break it needs from a long stressful day.”
So what do people watch to relax?
About one in five respondents (22%) seek out dramas, such as historical movies or shows, crime procedurals, and medical shows, making it the most popular genre to watch when stressed.
According to the poll, baby boomers were the most likely to opt for comedy, movies and sitcoms at 25%. Similarly, millennials (ages 26-41) chose dramas 25% of the time.
Thrillers, including horror, mystery and disaster movies, placed second in overall popularity (16%), but stood out as the most popular genre (19%) amongst Gen-Xers (ages 42-57).
Northeasterners opted for action (21%) and thrillers (22%), more than any other regional group — and twice as much as the West in particular (10% for action, 9% thrillers).
But while watching comfort TV is great, make sure that you’re not overdoing it and neglecting other parts of your life.
“Seeking pleasure from the same source, like a great TV series, can lead to a type of addiction. As with everything in life, moderation is key.” warns Dr. Chao.
Philo has more than 60,000 VOD assets, which means even if you wanted to, it would take a very long time to watch everything. So, as experienced, television connoisseurs, we recommend taking frequent breaks. Cleaning, exercising, checking in with a friend, are great ways to be productive and are good for your mental health as well, but don’t forget to check out the pantry or fridge for a TV viewing snack.
What do people eat while watching TV?
More than half of all people who opted for television to relax (54%) also find themselves snacking in front of the TV, with action fans most partial to salty carbohydrate-fueled snacks like popcorn, chips, or pretzels (42%).
Meanwhile, those who watched one hour dramas were more likely to opt for sweet (35%) and savory foods (34%).
According to Dr. King, “Eating sweet and savory food also releases dopamine, making it even more addictive over time. When the mesolimbic dopamine system fires to signal that an event was positive, it reinforces behaviors and makes it more likely for us to carry out those actions again.”
How do poll participants watch their shows?
Food aside, respondents said they maximize comfort in front of the TV by messaging their friends and family on another screen (43%), wearing comfy clothing (40%) and watching from their favorite spot (40%).
In fact, those who watch from their favorite spot are most likely to consider themselves “relaxed” (34%) after watching their comfort show.
To that same tune, those who are watching from a TV or home theater room are most likely watching dramas (34%) and those who are watching from their living room are likely turning on an action flick (28%).
Happy National Streaming Day!