Bingeing That New TV Show Is Good for Your Mental Health
By Cathy Cassata
Has the pandemic got you watching reruns of your favorite TV shows, listening to your favorite songs on repeat, or reading the same book again?
According to recent research, your behavior makes sense — especially during this time when we're all practicing physical distancing.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo report that nontraditional social strategies, such as those referred to as "guilty pleasures," can fulfill critical social needs in a similar way that family connections, romantic relationships, or social support systems do.
"Our brains are not wired to differentiate between real relationships and the kind of connections we feel to the social worlds presented in books and TV shows. Now is the time to take advantage of that. Don't feel guilty about rewatching your favorite show or bingeing a new one. It may actually be good for you," Shira Gabriel, PhD, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and co-author of the paper, told Healthline.
Dr. Gabriel has studied the significance of nontraditional social strategies for more than 10 years. Her current research is the first to examine and compare traditional and nontraditional social strategies and their effectiveness.
She and colleagues asked more than 170 participants questions about their well-being and social connections. Their answers were evaluated based on something they call a "social fuel tank."
Participants reported as many as 17 different ways in which they fill their "social tanks." Most noted both traditional and nontraditional social strategies.
"There are many ways to [fulfill] the need for social connection. Our society puts so much pressure on people to get married and have kids and that is great — if it is what makes you happy. But there are other ways to live a connected and happy life, and we shouldn't make people feel guilty about them. You aren't failing if you choose alternative ways to connect," Gabriel said.
She added that healthy people tend to use both nontraditional and traditional social techniques, and that everyone has their own ideal blend of ways to socially connect.
Good but Not as Good
Krystine Batcho, PhD, professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, said Gabriel's research is informative and relative, particularly during stay-at-home orders.
However, she said it's important to note that original research on the topic found a substantial difference between traditional and nontraditional ways of remaining connected.
"The traditional ways of being social (e.g., family, romantic partner) were used to feel connected by many more people and more often than were nontraditional ways (e.g., reading books). More importantly, traditional connections were stronger predictors of well-being," Batcho told Healthline.
She said that remaining isolated or socially distant and relying on activities such as watching TV, eating favorite foods, or gaming aren't long-term substitutes for actual interactions with other people.
But during this time of physical distancing, since many traditional ways of connecting aren't possible, nontraditional means of connecting are a good substitute.
"While we need to socially distance, watching our favorite shows, reading books, and listening to our favorite music can keep us feeling anchored in the life that's been temporarily suspended," Batcho said.
"By reminding us that our life goes on, remaining engaged in familiar activities reminds us also that so do our relationships," she said. "Just as we can still watch our favorite show or listen to our favorite music, we can count on our friends and relatives to be there for us, even at a distance for now."
Feeling Nostalgic for People
While spending more time away from others, Batcho said it can be helpful to reflect on your relationships. Watching shows, reading books, and listening to music can encourage this reflection.
"Familiar activities and pleasures fulfill our social needs to some extent by giving us ways of connecting and receiving virtual social support. By providing vicarious social interactions, they remind us that we are not alone," she said.
Nontraditional social strategies also help us remember how much we love and need the people we're separated from.
"Connecting from a distance heightens our desire for face-to-face social togetherness, preparing us to engage more fully in our relationships once we return to the lives we had before. With the images they present, film and music sustain us with faith in that return," Batcho said.
For instance, when we listen to a love song, we enjoy the romance vicariously. By identifying with the lovers in the song, we feel loved, and the love we have for another is refreshed and revitalized, she explained.
Films, shows, and music also initiate the social-emotional experience of nostalgia.
"Nostalgic memories are most often 'peopled.' We remember the people who have meant so much to us and to our lives. Social distancing is a powerful trigger for such nostalgic memories. Watching reruns or listening to songs we enjoyed in the past revives the positive feelings we had when we shared such good times with friends and relatives. We can relive those satisfying social interactions we had when we watched the shows originally," Batcho said.
Because nostalgia is a soft, caring emotion, it can help repair wounded relationships and strengthen healthy ones.
"The nostalgia that comes with watching reruns, etc., can fulfill our social needs to some degree by helping us rediscover our identity and worth in our social network," she said.
Whether you prefer traditional or nontraditional social strategies, Gabriel said the pandemic is the perfect time to embrace new ways to connect.
"If something makes you feel connected and happy, then do it. If you start to feel unhappy, try new things," she said.
"Weird and silly behaviors that tie you to others (like cheering out your window at 7 p.m. every night or putting rainbows on your door) are great. They can make you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself and that makes us happy and content," Gabriel said.
- How to Deal With Cabin Fever - EcoWatch ›
- 75,000 American Deaths Predicted From Overdose and Suicide ... ›
- How to Stay Healthy at Home During the Coronavirus Lockdown ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The 2020 hurricane season is now expected to be the most active since at least the early 1980s, meteorologists at Colorado State University, a standard bearer for seasonal hurricane predictions, announced Wednesday.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
- Climate Explained: What the World Was Like the Last Time Carbon ... ›
- Polar Bears Could Be Nearly Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists ... ›
By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign Wednesday for violating their policies against spreading false information about COVID-19.
- Rare Inflammatory Disease Linked to More Than 100 Childhood ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- Researchers Are Creating a Drone to Study Wild Dolphins With Help ... ›
- These Whales Are Suffering a Slow-Motion Extinction - EcoWatch ›
By Alexander Freund
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
- 5 Ways to Keep Unhealthy Nitrates and Nitrites Out of Your Body ... ›
- The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Disturbing Facts About Monsanto's Evil Twin—The Chemical ... ›
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
- 6 Powerful Ways to Improve Mental Health - EcoWatch ›
- New, Improved Vegetarian and Vegan Food Pyramid - EcoWatch ›
- Dr. Mark Hyman: Here's How the Food Pyramid Should Look ... ›