How to engage with television mindfully

Since the start of March, we have all had a lot more time on our hands to watch television. Between the need to stay indoors, limitations we have endured when making social plans and not needing to commute as often, many of us have likely been filling this time with watching TV. 

Photo by John Tuesday on Unsplash

Television contributes a lot to people’s lives through entertainment, education, family bonding and simply as a tool to unwind. Exploring new things has been exceptionally difficult this year, with us bound to our homes, and so many cultural events cancelled. Television has played an important role in bringing the outside world to us as we stay safe within their homes. 

Establishing a positive relationship with our TV screens during these moments is important. With negative news alerts reaching us daily, it is essential we learn to consume television in a healthy way. 

Be selective with what you watch

There’s a massive variety of programmes available for us to watch, through classic television, on-demand options and subscription services. But just because they are available, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should always watch them.

If you know particular genres make you feel anxious, scared or concerned, try not to expose yourself to them. Learn to identify your own stressors and steer clear from triggers which may make you feel worried. We all like a scary movie now and then, but if you’re not in the mood for high energy and jumpy scenes, simply choose another genre or a different activity to take part in.

As we all know, TV can have a positive effect on those who watch it, whether watching uplifting news stories, educational content or shows that make you laugh. A study from BBC Earth and the University of California, Berkeley has recently shown that specifically watching nature programmes, for even a short period of time, can lead to significant increases in positive emotions including awe, joy and amusement. The study also found substantial decreases in emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress and tiredness.

Understanding the positive effect nature has on people’s well-being, Headspace has collaborated with BBC Studios Natural History Unit to create a four-part series called Mindful Escapes: Breathe, Release, Restore, to offer the viewer an immersive mindful experience within the natural world. The four shows are narrated by Headspace’s co-founder Andy Puddicombe and guide the viewers on a series of gentle journeys, inviting them to engage in captivating animal behaviour and ecosystems from around the world. They have also re-versioned these episodes for 10, 10-minute visual nature break videos on the app to help users relax and focus. 

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Timing matters

It’s equally important to be careful when you watch television, as consuming technology or watching programmes before bed can negatively impact the quality of sleep. It’s proven that TV can contribute to sleep disturbances, including sleep-related anxiety and difficulty falling asleep. The blue light emitted from screens can also interfere with your brain’s production of melatonin, making it harder for you to drift off to sleep.

Achieving quality sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. It’s important not to watch television too close to bedtime. If you need tools to help you unwind before bed, swap your favourite series for meditation and mindfulness, as sleep meditations specifically help create the inner conditions for a truly restful night’s sleep. This is because when we settle the mind, the body follows, and that restfulness is what makes it easy to wind down and drift off.

Learn to be OK with silence

Many of us engage with television passively, whether that’s having it on in the background whilst cooking or cleaning or scrolling through social media whilst watching TV. We do this because people generally find silence difficult to handle, and we tend to feel more comfortable when there’s a constant stream of sound, whether that’s listening to the radio, watching TV, or plugged into a podcast. 

It’s normal to find moments of silence uncomfortable, as it’s often when we’re alone that anxious thoughts can enter the mind. Our lives are arguably more silent than usual, with remote working in full-force and fewer social activities in the diary. However, it’s important to not try and fill this vacuum with unnecessary noise. Recognise that silence is neither good nor bad, and we can learn to sit in it with ease.

Try to train the mind in some way to experience this type of silence on a regular basis so that you don’t feel the need to have unnecessary noise in the background. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, find a place where you can sit still, and allow the mind to come to a natural place of rest. Meditation is both a skill and an experience; it’s an exercise to cultivate awareness and compassion. Through meditation, you will learn to have stability in silence and how to relax without background noise.

If you’re new to meditation but want to give it a go, Headspace is a great app to get you started. You can try Headspace for yourself and learn the essentials of meditation and mindfulness with their free Basics course. If you enjoy it, you can sign up for full access to hundreds of meditations on everything from stress to sleep.

Read Sarah’s article, 7 techniques for remaining calm in a time of uncertainty, on Happiful.

What’s the difference between meditation and hypnosis? Our writer, Becky, explores the difference between hypnosis and meditation on Hypnotherapy Directory.

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Written by Sarah Romotsky
Sarah Romotsky is the Director of Healthcare Partnerships at Headspace.
Written by Sarah Romotsky
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