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