Forget food, most Americans turn to ‘comfort TV’ to relieve stress or anxiety

NEW YORK — How do you blow off steam after a long day? It turns out more Americans use TV to destress than any other relaxation method.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the streaming service Philo, a recent poll of 2,000 adults reveals that 55 percent 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%).

Different generations destress to different TV shows

Over half the poll (56%) 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%). Meanwhile, 59 percent in the Southeast and 55 percent in the Midwest do the same. Respondents turn to those comfort shows most when feeling stressed (22%), bored (22%), or anxious (20%). On average, they’ve watched their comfort TV shows or movies about 18 different times.

“It may have something to do with the reward centers in your brain,” says Dr. Natalie King, PhD, a brain health expert and neuroscientist, in a statement. “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!’”

One in five respondents (22%) seek out dramas, such as historical movies or shows, crime procedurals, and doctor shows – making it the most popular genre to watch when stressed. Baby boomers, however, are the most likely to opt for comedy movies and sitcoms (25%). Similarly, millennials (ages 26-41) chose dramas 25 percent 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 residents in the Western United States (10% action, 9% thrillers).

Tube time habits

More than half of all people who opted to watch television to relax (54%) also find themselves snacking in front of the TV, with action fans favoring salty carbohydrate-fueled snacks like popcorn, chips, or pretzels (42%). Meanwhile, those watching one-hour dramas are more likely to opt for sweets (35%) and savory foods (34%).

“Eating sweet and savory food also releases dopamine, making it even more addictive over time,” Dr. King adds. “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.”

Food aside, respondents add 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 on the couch (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 are most likely watching dramas (34%), and those who are watching from their living room are likely turning on an action flick (28%).

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