When you watch more TV than you ever intended

Things have been feeling a little dim in my life lately.

It’s hard to really put my finger on. It’s not one single thing. My work is, for the most part, fun and productive. No major fights in my marriage. No one is sick or struggling or dying. Summer is coming so the near future is filed with BBQ’s (or cookouts, as they call them here in the south), vacations, and long lingering nights walking to get ice cream.

It actually sounds pretty dreamy when I put it here on paper. Which is why this feeling doesn’t make sense, this feeling that things are a little dull, a little dry.

The worst part is, I think I know what the problem is.

It’s so stupid. There’s this habit I started a long time ago (I think most of us did) without really thinking about it. It’s a habit so routine and absolutely benign, few people would ever accuse me of taking it too far. In fact, I’ve never had anyone even begin to suggest I should perhaps cut this habit out of my life.

This habit is so ubiquitous, everyone is doing it. It’s completely normal. It’s fine. It’s harmless. It’s easy. It’s even celebrated.

I’m watching too much TV.

It feels weird to even say that because I’ve never been much of a “TV” girl. I’m the girl who went for years without a TV in my house, the girl who would for the most part rather pick up a book than watch TV (also, is it still called “TV” when you watch it on your computer?).

But lately, when I have felt overwhelmed or stressed or sad or even bored, it has felt so easy, and even right, to turn on a machine that relaxes me, dulls me, entertains me, and numbs it all away.

It feels so good in the moment—following the story lines, getting into the thrill of the plot, relating with the characters.

It feels half like an escape, and half like reality--like friends, and an exciting life of my own.

The other day I was hanging out in a “hip” area of Nashville (where I live) and I saw a girl I recognized. I couldn’t quite place her name, but I had that vague sense of recognition—the way you would if you went to church with someone or they were your barista or grocery checker or the sibling of a friend.

So I did what anyone would do when they have this sense of recognition—I moved toward her to say hello… until I realized the reason I recognized her: she is a main character on a show I have been watching regularly.

Suddenly, I got this feeling (it was not a pleasant one) like television had secretly blurred the lines between my real life and the fake one I escape to sometimes.

But is escaping a bad thing, necessarily?

I mean, this is why I love to read, right? To learn, obviously. To be entertained. But also to escape to a world that is not my own, to imagine realities which couldn’t necessarily exist off of the treasured space of the page.

The difference, I suppose, is that books quietly and subtly add something to me that was not there before. TV is doing the opposite.

TV is stealing from me what I never wanted to give.

TV has taken my creativity. It’s just numbed it right away. I used to wake up in the morning swimming in my own thoughts, desperate to find a piece of paper just to write down everything that had occurred to me as I slept. These days I wake up reaching for the remote, so I can turn on something mindless, to numb myself to a state of awake again.

TV has stolen my hunger for reading. When I was bored, or tired, or just having a bad day, I used to reach for a great book, praying I could catch a private moment with any of my favorite authors and the worlds they spun. These days, I turn on the TV. I watch something I’ve seen a million times, so I won’t have to anticipate or think or wonder or calculate or dream.

TV has stolen time with my husband. It’s really weird and subtle because so often we watch TV together, so it feels like quality time. But at the end of it all we don’t feel any closer to each other than we did in the beginning. There’s no meaningful conversation. No vulnerability. No connection. Just mutual numbing.

TV has stolen my peace. Lately, I haven’t been able to fall asleep without the TV. It’s a habit I began accidentally, several months ago, when I couldn’t fall asleep because my thoughts were churning so violently. Laying in bed, I turned on Netflix and voila—I silently and peacefully drifted off to sleep. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to fall asleep without it.

The hard part is: I’m not anti-TV.

I’m really not. I don’t think TV is evil or bad or that it’s turning all of us into robots. But I do feel like TV and I need a break from each other. We need better boundaries. I do feel like TV, at the rate I’m watching it now, is cluttering my life.

As we move into summer, I’m going to take more time outside, more time moving my body, more time interacting with real people. I’m reading more books, taking more walks, spending more time lingering in and relishing the silence.

Slowly, I feel myself coming back to life. Slowly, I feel like life is getting bright again.

Reading Time:

4 minutes

 

 

 

40 Comments

  1. Jory Hastings

    I am totally dealing with the same thing! It is a hard habit to break, especially when it is a stress reliever. I think I might try a TV-free summer. I think I just need to go cold turkey!

  2. Ann

    I’ve done TV-free weeks/days before and it’s so refreshing. The problem is I replace that time with more computer time and I really need to declutter both. I completely agree with you on stealing time away from the husband, I feel like we’re doing things together – but we aren’t. We’re just coexisting.

    As an aside, I think that’s why I like to travel so much. It forces me to do things I want to do at home, but habits at home dictate that I watch TV. I use the excuse of “there’s so much to see!” when I’m traveling to avoid TV, but in reality – there’s SOOO much at home. I could be, I don’t know, spending more active time with my kids, reading, cleaning…

    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Joanna

    I’m not a big tv watcher but my husband is so I know what u mean by that not being engaging time together. I also think we can be hard on ourselves. We all need escapes whether its reading,t.v,computer. I guess moderation is key. Interesting post!

  4. Esther

    What an honest post to which I can completely relate! I’m not much of a tv watcher, but my husband loves tv. I find that when it’s on, I just zone out and all of those things I want to do get pushed aside. I try to make a conscious effort to have a written to do list which forces me to leave the tv off until I get my work finished. It doesn’t always work, but it certainly helps. In a few short weeks, we’re moving overseas and the only English language tv will be through Amazon Instant Video. I’m looking forward to less tv and much more creativity as a result of the move. I can’t wait!

  5. Leanne

    I find TV takes up “negative space” in two ways: either I use it to fill up time when I haven’t planned enough to do, or I use it to fill up my head when I have negative thoughts I’m trying to ignore. Either way, for me, it’s a habit that clues me in to check in with myself and my priorities.

  6. jen

    I could’ve written this same post about being online, whether on my MacBook or on my iPhone! I’ve been spending way too much time “escaping” and “numbing my mind” and I think summer will be the perfect time to stop this bad habit! Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Caitlin

    I’m a TV free girl marrying a TV watcher. But I can’t turn up my nose at him, no matter how justified I feel. My screen time is my computer. My “shows” are articles, FB, and youtube videos.

    • Naomi Liz

      Yes–I totally hear you! It’s so easy to see the obvious in others (our spouses or whomever) and not recognize it in ourselves.

  8. Kasondra

    Ally, girl, I feel you. I feel like one of the first places the Lord wants me to examine when I start feeling low is the media I consume, namely music and TV. Before I realize it, I’ll have consumed 4, 5, 6 hours of mindless TV without having even realized it. That’s a long time to be passively consuming information. Without even realizing it, it starts to shape your thoughts and cloud your perception of what YOUR real life is supposed to be and look like.

    Great article!

    • Wendy

      Very nicely put!

  9. Sarah Westphal

    I completely understand this. For me it is more computer time than TV, but I have had issues with PVR bingeing on shows as well. Thankfully, I have a check valve that keeps me in line…which is more or less the feeling you are getting. That feeling of un-ease, that you aren’t living your life to the fullest, that you aren’t fully connecting with your husband.

  10. Kristen

    Oh my goodness, this article hit me so hard! Between watching TV in the evenings with my husband and being on the computer, I’m spending way too much time on “screen time” and not enough time letting my thoughts come forth. And I think it’s for the same reasons everyone else has given. It’s a way to unwind at the end of the day, or a way to slowly come awake in the mornings, and I can tell myself that by reading articles and blogs, somehow it’s “educational” for myself and I’m learning something, but considering the difficulty I have putting the darn laptop away and doing something else at times?
    Yup, thank you for the much needed kick in the fanny to turn off the devices and let my own thoughts come to the surface for a while!

  11. Nicole

    This post really resonated with me, but not necessarily because of me. I rarely watch TV. When I am home alone, the TV is off. The resonation is with my children, and it’s all my fault. We had an incredibly rough winter and the boys missed 15 (non-consecutive) days of school. The first few days, the Wii was a special treat as it only allowed on weekends. Access to computer was like manna from Heaven because Mommy’s computer is off limits. The rest of the time, they played happily with each other. As the winter dragged on and the boys no longer played happily, I would give them access to screens just so they could separate and give me peace! Here we are months later and I can honestly say that the changes in their behavior are directly due to too much TV. Summer vacation starts next week and so do the new TV watching rules.

  12. Kelley

    Here’s a backwards ‘reward’ for giving up TV: when you do go someplace that has TV (like visiting my parents house or staying in a hotel), it’s a bit of a treat you can enjoy guilt-free. Plus, once you start watching all those advertisements again, you’ll realize how much better life is without having to explain to your four year old why she can’t have that ____ doll.

  13. Sarah

    I have been feeling the same way. Sometimes when I have a stack of great books to read it helps! I would love to hear some recommendations on some good reads to put on my list for the summer! What’s on your list?

  14. Caroline Starr Rose

    This is going to sound completely ridiculous, but I’m not even sure how to work the TV on my own (if I had a VCR, it would probably be flashing 12:00 right now). Sometimes my boys or husband have switched things around, and I just can’t figure it out. So I don’t try.

    I kind of find it lonely watching alone, anyway. 🙂

  15. Sharon Holbrook

    Sub “computer” or “phone” for TV and I need the same prescription. Thanks for this!

  16. Wendy

    I’ve felt that way about the time I spend on the computer. I am trying to set limits, allowing myself to only get on it at night when I’m home every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. So far, I haven’t hit the goal every week but I’m a work in progress and I figure any time I’m able to not let it “steal” my time away will be a step forward.

    Keep up the good work and do for you what you need to do for you. Don’t worry about what everyone else says or thinks. If you feel something should be removed or at least stepped away from for a while, then do it.

  17. Sandy

    Ugh. Yes. Last night I continued my Veronica Mars binge, while my husband watched an old Al Pacino movie. Talk about ridiculous. We were in the same bed, each with a device, one with headphones.

  18. Jlynn

    I have lived without a home computer for over 4 years now. The old laptop bit the dust and the cost of repair was more than it was worth, I just never replaced it.

    I find I have the tv on a lot, as background noise because I live alone. But I really don’t watch much and when I do watch it is the news or PBS.

    I have an IPhone and find that it is starting to rule my home life. My solution is that it gets shut off 1 hour after I get home and it doesn’t get turned back on until 1 hour before bed when I check for voicemails (it is my only phone).

    Yes the tv, computer, phone, etc. can take over your life if you let it. I’ve been there and done that. Things are much better for me now that I “cut the cord.”

  19. Elizabeth

    Thank you, thank you for this post. I finally have a description for what I have been feeling! I am glad to know that I am not alone.

  20. Tanya

    Totally agree, Summer is so hard here because its too hot to play outside. I just need to find more indoor activities so the kids don’t get bored.

  21. Breanne

    I’ve noticed the same thing in my life but haven’t put it into words. Too much screen time doesn’t do any good for me, although when my husband travels for work I will watch more in the evenings just to hear other voices.

    We’re traveling right now and I find my mind quieted by just sitting and doing nothing except drinking coffee or maybe reading a few pages of a book. I feel refreshed and the pull is not there at all.

    Good post!

  22. Franziska

    Thank you! This is a great post. For me, the same is true for the computer. Even right now, I shouldn’t be here – but since this was a great article I don’t need to feel guilty 😉 Thanks!

  23. Katie May

    Well written! The issue (as you alluded to) is not so much about “TV” or “no TV,” the issue is about how we are using the TV. We are in a similar place as a family…cutting down on our TV time to make more time for connecting with each other. Actually connecting. We aren’t cutting out TV altogether; however, we are giving it some boundaries so that we remain in control of it and not it in control of us. Your post resonated with exactly where we are.

  24. Rose

    Many years ago, as I realized the TV seemed to be on way too much for my comfort level, I instituted a rule in the household that the TV could only be on when it was dark outside. This was mainly to dissuade Sunday marathons of football or habitually turning the TV on the minute I walked in the door, tired and hungry after work. For the most part this approach worked, because it kept the TV off and us outside/otherwise engaged during most of the day (we lived in CA, so there was no snowy winter weather to deal with) and TV was more of a treat once the sun went down. It definitely helped to edit how many hours were spent in front of the screen!

  25. Beth DeRoos

    Interesting you should write about tv. Ditched the tv 2 yrs ago and am amazed at how better my life improved. Because I didn’t watch tv, I had it on so there was some noise around me from early morning to late late evening.

    Unbeknownst to me the sound effected me more that I realized, and talking to a physician friend he explained why. Sound effects our nervous system and the tone if a voice can depict concern, danger etc, and since I usually had the tv on CNN etc the tone of the discussions wavered between argumentative and danger/concern, which made my body stress out.

    To deal with the stress I overate, drank six sodas a day, stayed up late, ate a horrid died, and was tired much of the time. And I bought stuff I didn’t need or even want.

    Since no tv, I am eating whole healthy foods, have dropped some weight, am sleeping well, have better skin, hair, AND have fingernails. Stopped biting my fingernails!! That was a big surprise to me, but makes sense. Stress caused me to bite my fingernails so badly they sometimes bled.

  26. Marianne

    This is me! TV has become my go-to when I’m tired, waiting, bored, lazy. We lived overseas for a year and did not have a TV. I loved it! After a week or so, we didn’t even miss it. My husband, when he’s home, has the TV on all the time. I just slide right into that. It’s such a time suck! Glad to know I’m not the only one,. 🙂 I’ll work on it.

  27. Katie Harding

    Thank you for this post, this just reaffirms my theory that we need a TV free bedroom at the very least! My husband and I are striving to have less and less screen time for our boys, including TV. It’s summer time after all, shouldn’t we all be outside enjoying the beautiful weather!?

  28. Guest

    If you substituted computer for TV, I would say, yes, this is me! I’ve never been a big TV watcher but have recently started intentionally watching a show or two because I was getting too wrapped up in my own thoughts. That may sound odd but my mind goes all the time so TV has turned out to be, not surprisingly I guess?, a good activity for mindless time. 🙂

  29. Scott

    Yes, this post resonates with me. TV or movie watching is so easy to do, and sometimes I just find myself flipping through Netflix mindlessly for too long. Getting back in the reading habit is something that our whole family needs to do. Great post!

  30. Naomi Liz

    I so hear you…except that for me, I think it’s been internet/social media/apps on my phone (as of late). “Cluttering my life” is such a good phrase and a good picture for me.
    I also love this quote by Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Thinking about that brought some perspective for me…that, like you, I want to get outside, interact with real-life friends, and do life. And it’s not that I want to totally withdraw from technology and being able to relax a little, but I want to find balance. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

  31. Joy

    I don’t watch much TV – in fact we recently just got rid of all the stations. We subscribe to Hulu and watch shows occasionally – the TV gets turned on about once every couple weeks.

    It’s funny how that happened. Our Sunday afternoon habits used to be watching marathons of CSI and we always watched the news in the evenings usually followed by a show or so.

    Then we were stationed in Japan. And the TV was at the strangest times so gradually we just stopped watching. After four and a half years, we moved back to the US and were in temporary housing with free cable – except we rarely turned it on.

    So we just dropped it when we got a house on base. There just didn’t seem to be a point. Funny I hadn’t thought how that aspect of living overseas simplified our lives before.

  32. Heather

    Loved reading this as it has reminded me of something I am fearing this summer… Too much tv!! You just Feel like you need a Break. It is not the right answer. Thank you for your honesty and I hope to also take on the same new habits after reading this! Thank you! 🙂

  33. PinStraightHair

    Yeah i like someone commented “TV free summer” its a really good idea to just switch off the plug and put the TV in some place where it can’t plug into easily, if you can’t take it off from your home 🙂

    and instead use that time learning new things, doing some physical exercise, staying with your family members etc.

    Or write some great blog post like this one 🙂

  34. Kirsten@Love My Lil Peeps

    Did you read my mind?! My husband and I were just talking about this very thing this morning. Thank you for this post! It’s giving me a lot to think about. 🙂

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