Netflix Binges: Friend or Foe?

How streaming your favorite flicks can be your friend or greatest vice.

Posted Jun 28, 2018

It is common in cognitive behavioral therapy for clinicians to discuss “cognitive distractions” or “distraction techniques.” Often used in conjunction with a greater host of interventions, the idea is quite simple. In times of distress, shifting our focus to something else can give us brief and much-needed relief. As we read the news every day and are bombarded by distressing occurrences and policy changes, it can be helpful to sometimes turn away if only for a bit to keep our heads above water. 

Many times when I introduce the idea of therapy change tools and behavioral charts, I ask clients to set goals in a number of domains: sleep, exercise, relaxation, nutrition, time management, interpersonal activities, and hobbies. 

More and more with the ubiquity of technology, what many therapy clients list under “hobbies” comes to include such things as doing art using a phone app or watching a favorite show on Netflix. However, at the same time, many clients suffering from depression or anxiety use these very same tools to numb and self-medicate from the realities of the world. They may stream hour after hour of shows, procrastinating from work and hiding from the world. So the natural question comes to be, at what point is a distraction healthy and when does it slip into the realm of hazardous?

For the most part, a little healthy distraction is not a bad thing at all. It can be protective and a form of self-care. One episode of a show can make us laugh, lift our spirits and motivate us to get off the couch and do something good for ourselves. However, much like many unwind with one glass of wine that over time turns into two and then a whole bottle per night, it is critical to be aware of when we are numbing and when we are allowing our ruminating minds some reprieve. 

In a balanced life, a little bit of Netflix is not such a bad thing. If one is active, has healthy relationships with others, is able to find time for solitude and connection, a little healthy distraction here and there can be good. However, if life starts becoming stressful and our shows are our salvation, that can certainly be a strong warning sign of problematic behaviors. 

At the end of the day, variety of activities, habits and hobbies is key. If you are feeling ill one day and need a full day of being in bed with your book, a blanket, and some Netflix thrown in for good measure, then allow yourself to indulge. But if you start seeking refuge in the safety of your bed and shows, living in the lives of characters on your screen than actively in your own life, it can be time to flip the remote switch to off and take a long hard look at what’s going on inside.