Can Watching Friends Help Ease Your Anxiety? One Psychologist Says Yes

Everyone was enthralled by Ross and Rachel's romantic drama—but how would you feel about Monica and Joey's?
Everyone was enthralled by Ross and Rachel's romantic drama—but how would you feel about Monica and Joey's?
Getty Images

They’ll be there for you, more than you may have originally thought.

Marc Hekster, a clinical psychologist at London's The Summit Clinic, told Metro that watching Friends—and other sitcoms like it, which set up a problem and solve it in the span of 30 minutes or less—may help reduce anxiety. “Having worked for over a period of 20 years with those experiencing anxiety, I can conclude that among other factors, it is the repetitive and relational nature of programs such as Friends and [The] Big Bang Theory that will be doing the trick," he said.

For Hekster, part of the soothing nature of sitcoms is the lighthearted way in which characters deal with life’s uncertainties. He claims that watching Friends "is about an experience of repair, of watching the characters in the show repeatedly having worries, which then get repaired and soothed, usually in the context of other relationships in their lives.” In other words: While you may be stressing about work, money, or any number of other real-life issues that exist outside of your Netflix account, you can find solace watching Rachel deal with her own issues, with goofy hijinks and a '90s soundtrack thrown in.

The act of binge-watching is a form of escapism that has some downsides, though. “On the negative side," Hekster says, "none of it is very real, and how can life ever be so ... kind of perfect? It can’t.” Buying into this idealized version of the world may cause avid viewers to believe their own problems can be solved as easily as Phoebe's or Joey's—which is a highly unrealistic standard to hold reality to.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Some have reported that binge-watching any show can have a negative impact on your health. A 2018 survey of more than 2000 individuals prone to long bouts of television-watching concluded that zoning out in front of your TV could actually increase feelings of anxiety and depression. And as The Washington Post recently reported, the couch potato-like state most people assume when they plant themselves on the sofa can lead to poor lifestyle choices—like consuming unhealthy foods—and may throw their sleep schedules off-track.

“Electronic screens emit broad-spectrum light, including blue light,” Ronald Chervin, a sleep neurologist and director of Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers, told The Washington Post. "In addition to delaying the release of melatonin, which keeps you awake, the blue light can actually reset your circadian rhythms to a later schedule."

Hekster acknowledged that the therapeutic powers of a Friends marathon are in need of further study. “[While it's] a quick fix for milder forms of anxiety, those suffering with more severe anxiety may find less solace in such programs," he says.

[h/t Metro]

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

The Reason McDonald’s Doesn’t Sell McRib Sandwiches Year-Round

McDonald's
McDonald's

McDonald's McRib sandwich is officially back. Some people think the McRib is a 70-ingredient abomination, while others can't get enough of the barbecue pork sandwich. Whether you love it or hate it, the divisive dish always generates buzz whenever it comes back to menus after a periodic hiatus. According to CNN, the novelty surrounding the McRib isn't just a plus that comes with its seasonal status—it's the driving force behind its appeal.

McDonald's has built an empire around serving comforting, familiar foods that are consistent across thousands of locations. That business model doesn't apply to the McRib. Customers can't just walk into their local McDonald's restaurant any time of year and expect to find one: They have to follow the news and/or use online McRib trackers to keep tabs on the elusive sandwich.

Though the McRib has a devoted fan base, it will likely never secure a permanent spot on the McDonald's menu. That's because fast food companies know that having at least one seasonal item is good for business. When diners know that something is only around for a limited window, they're more motivated to make time to buy it than they would be if it was always there waiting for them. Temporary dishes can also add variety to a menu that's relied on the same staples for decades.

It took a long time for the McRib to grow into a cult sensation. When it first appeared in McDonald's stores in 1981, sales were underwhelming, and it was taken off menus in 1985. When it resurfaced in 1994, it had nostalgia and novelty on its side, and people were more willing to give the rib-shaped mystery meat a chance. By 2005, it was popular enough to become a recurring menu item.

The sandwich will return to select U.S. McDonald's restaurants nationwide on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, ringing in the start of McRib season. But as fans know too well, the item won't be around for long, so pop an antacid tablet and pick one up while you still can.