Ever wondered why watching our favourite TV shows is so comforting, especially during difficult times? We asked a psychologist why so many of us are seeking solace in television during lockdown.
It happened like clockwork. Boris Johnson had just announced that the country was going under lockdown. My family had sat in silence for a little bit, comprehending what had just happened. I felt that familiar feeling of anxiety creeping into my chest. And so I did the only thing I could imagine – I switched on Gilmore Girls.
I know, I know – it sounds silly. But in that moment of chaos, when everything felt so out of my control, the predictability of my favourite TV show was just what I needed. Sitting down with Lorelai and Rory and escaping to Stars Hollow for a few hours took my mind off of all the massive, history-defining stuff going on outside my bedroom window.
And I’m not the only one seeking solace in my favourite TV moments right now. I’ve had plenty of conversations with friends, family members and colleagues about how they’re rewatching Friends for the 96th time or bingeing whole series of Sex And The City to get them through empty weekends.
So what is it about our favourite TV shows that makes them so lockdown-appropriate? Is it because we have so much time on our hands right now? Or is it because, as in my case, we’re all craving a bit of “normality” right now?
“Our favourite TV shows are so comforting because they give us a feeling of safety,” explains Kate Nightingale, a consumer psychologist. “We know what will happen to the characters we love (usually those that are similar to us and go through similar life challenges). We know how they made us feel, often comforting, inspired, safe or motivated.
“We basically know what to expect, which is completely opposite to the feelings we are faced with every day now. Lack of certainty is daunting, and returning to the safety of our favourite films and TV shows is a great escape – but also gives us hope that it will all work out just fine.”
Indulging in our favourite TV shows also brings about a sense of nostalgia which is reassuring in these difficult times – when we rewatch our favourite films and TV shows, we’re also remembering all the good memories that are associated with them and longing for those “simpler” times, even if we know that the context of those memories wasn’t as rosy as we remember them.
“Usually the nostalgic experiences we remember as so easy and simple were really very challenging and hard,” Nightingale points out. “However, we know we came out of them and tend to prefer to remember all that was good about it. This selective attention on what was good is a coping mechanism in times of uncertainty, like the ones we live in now.”
In this way, going back to our favourite TV shows allows us to flood ourselves in good memories, and offers a kind of escapism from the situation we’re currently navigating.
As Krystine Batcho, a licensed psychologist and a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York who researches nostalgia, previously told Today: “When people are stressed, or anxious, or feeling out of control, nostalgia helps calm them down. It’s comforting. It’s analogous to a hug from your mom or dad or being cuddled.”
Whether we’re indulging in this nostalgic feeling, baking bread for the first time or trying our hands at meditation, Nightingale suggests that the coping mechanisms we’re turning to during this difficult time are all linked to one key desire: a sense of control.
“People have many coping mechanisms: meditation, exercise, cooking, baking, drinking, gardening, education, reading etc,” Nightingale says. “Everyone chooses what seems best at any given moment, but they are all about some sense of control over something: our body, our mind, plants in the garden, intelligence etc.
“Some small control over something gives us hope that we are able to face any challenges.”