Television studios and streaming services release content at a high rate, and the more that becomes available, the more TV we’re all watching. According to the 2019 American time use survey, TV watching accounted for just over half of all leisure time at almost three hours per day. Add a pandemic and stay-at-home orders, and watching TV has the potential to loom a bit larger in our lives than we want. If you’re worried you watch too much TV, or just want to cut back a little, here are some tools to help rein it in.
Identify if you have a problem
Addiction refers to specific behaviors that indicate loss of control and overconsumption. The Journal of Behavioral Addictions defines TV addiction in particular as the ability to “become preoccupied with the idea of viewing television, not be able to predict how long one will watch TV (loss of control), and suffer negative life consequences as the result.” There’s a difference between being overwhelmed with the urge to watch television and bingeing a season of your favorite show though, so how can you tell a “normal” escape from a real problem?
Healthline offers a list of questions you can ask yourself to help identify if your TV watching has developed into an addictive behavior:
- Do you regularly watch more TV than you intend to?
- Do you feel upset when you can’t watch TV?
- Do you watch TV to feel better?
- Have you developed health concerns due to your TV watching?
- Have your relationships changed?
- Do you have a hard time cutting back on TV time?
If you skip physical activity to watch TV, ignore or cancel with friends and family members, or end up watching three or four programs without meaning to, it may be a red flag that your TV watching is out of your control. There’s a clear difference from that and your planned binge-watch of your favorite show.
Plan your television time
Make goals to complete other activities before watching TV, like walking for 30 minutes before sitting down to enjoy your favorite show. I made a similar goal—tying my TV watching to physical habits and productivity—which helped better balance my viewing time with other areas of my life. Treehugger suggests setting a timer for a set length of TV watching, or you can use your TV’s sleep timer to have it automatically turn off so that it’s not a perpetual source of distraction. Like most habits, you can change your viewing habits a little at a time until you wean yourself down to shorter viewing times.
If you don’t like the idea of a timer, try limiting the number of programs you watch, like choosing one series at a time. The principle is the same: you can gradually reduce the number of episodes you watch until you find a schedule that feels right for you.
Physically change your environment
Removing triggers can be an effective way to create distance between yourself and the addiction. You can enclose your TV in an armoire, disguise it with art, or find other creative ways to hide your television instead of being the centerpiece of a room. You can also have fewer TVs and keep them in fewer rooms, starting by giving away the TVs you can afford to part with. It helps to minimize the urge to watch TV by removing the visual association with the television itself.
Remember to go at your own pace and, as with other addictions, there are professional resources that can help. If you’re struggling with a serious addiction, a great place to start is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).