Self-induced Stress

Jessie: In New Hampshire, looking out over  the snowdrifts.


As much as I might hate to admit such a thing, the truth is, I’m a binge watcher. I love Netflix, Hulu, and Acorn TV.  When I find a program that I love it is hard to stop watching after just one episode. The interest builds, the connection to the characters deepens, and conflict ratchets up.

That’s where the problem comes in. I get stressed out. Really stressed out. So stressed out I have to stop watching. Invariably, three episodes or maybe four, into a series something happens that makes me hit pause. It might make me hit stop. It sends me scrambling for something on the lighter end of the tension spectrum.

It might be trouble in a family. It could be a legal difficulty. It might just be that zombies are getting too close. Whatever it is, I find myself watching a few scenes through half-closed eyes or from behind my hands.  Sometimes, if I’m watching the show with someone else, I will find an excuse to leave the room. I hover outside the doorway listening, rather than watching, as if that will make it all easier to endure somehow.

Sometimes it  is just that I’ve had a hard day and don’t have room for anymore difficulties. Often if that is the case I’m eager to continue the show the next time the desire for programming strikes me. Other times the stressors are ones that always bothered me and I either end up watching the shows in five or ten minute bites. Or I stop watching a series entirely.

The thing is, I almost never have that happen with well written books. When difficult things happen I trust the author to make the emotional roller coaster worth the ride. Even when loves remain lost, diseases turn out to be terminal and dreams turn to dust,  books seem to have conclusions that make me glad I persisted.

I might draw in a quick breath or avert my eyes momentarily from the page but generally, I continue to the end without requiring an emotional health break. When I get to the end I feel enriched rather than drained.  Perhaps that’s why my dream job is working with the publishing houses rather than the movie houses!

Readers, do you find television programming stressful? Do you stop watching mid-program? Do you have a different experience with books? 


41 Thoughts

  1. Interesting stuff. Jessie, I don’t have this experience, but then I rarely binge watch a show – maybe twice I have, I guess that’s because I watch so few shows in general. I have been doing quite a lot of binge reading the last week, though, and absolutely love immersing myself in a book, in an author’s series (doing an Ingrid Thoft week right now). So what struck me as different from binge watching is that I probably walk away more frequently. Nature calls, or lunch, or a phone call, or a set of physical exercises I must do. All I want to do is get back to the story but I take more breaks. I wonder if you built in more breaks to your shows if that would ease some of that stress for you? Anyway, nothing wrong with preferring books!

    1. It don’t think it comes down to a difference in the amount of time involved for me for the activities.I take more breaks when watching a show because I feel a bit guilty about that, but never about reading. It happens whether I am watching a single episode or a string in the television world. I end up hopping up and leaving the room ten minutes into a particularly tense program or shutting it off entirely. With a book I pull up a chair and stay with th story until something really loud gets my attention in the world. Like an alarm reminding me of an appointment or a child arriving home from school.

  2. Oh, Jessie this made me laugh! We aren’t really binge watchers but Bob gets up and paces if things get to suspenseful in a show. If we are at a movie theater he squirms and looks around like he’s trying to find a place to pace. And unlike Edith, I very rarely binge read either. I loved Ingrid Thoft’s first book Loyalty. I was tempted to rush out and get the next but I like to savor a series instead of rushing through them. I guess that’s how I watch TV too.

    1. I feel that way in movies too! I’d bring my knittingto help take my mind off the tension but it is too dark to see! Up here we have a chain of cinemas that serve meals in the theaters. They have chairs on casters placed at long tables so that dineers can turn back and forth between the screen adn their meals. There is plenty of space to get up and leave without disturbing the other viewers. Perhaps Bob should come up here for his movies!

  3. Sorta, kinda. I’ve never binge-watched anything, but these days I find I don’t even start watching shows that are violent or anxiety-producing (and a lot of the new ones this year seem to be one or both). With books, I have to decide if I’m strong enough to read something grim and painful, and it there are times when I just set a book back on the stack for later. On the other hand, when I want something comforting, I read cozies. Occasionally I throw in a non-fiction book for contrast.

    My bookshelves are proof that I’ve binge-read in the past, ripping through entire series by a favorite author. These days, my favorite writers are turning out only one book a year, if that, so there’s no opportunity to binge.

    1. The solitary nature of reading and variety of books may explain the difference, Sheila! I frequently watch shows with my husband who has a high tolerance for stress in shows. What we watch is generally a compromise. And there are just so many types of shows on. They so often seem to mimic each other. With books, I never compromise. And there are so many types and tones available that it is possible to find just the right one for the mood I am in or wish to be in.

      I have long rows of books on my shelves that I read back to back to back too. They sit there smiling at me while I work at my desk. It is such fun, isn’t it, to immerse yourself in an author’s world so completely? After enough time has passed I go back and read some of them again.

  4. Not if the story is well-told. The only “stress” I have is my legs getting stiff from sitting so long – and I have that problem when I binge-read, too. 🙂

  5. YES! I do this all the time. I thought I was just a big baby about confrontation and needed to toughen up. I’m so glad it’s not just me. And it’s not a problem with books.

    Once, during the climactic scene in The Reichenbach Falls episode of Sherlock (season 2, episode 3), I actually found covering my eyes was not enough and had to sit with my feet up on the couch, wrap my arms around my knees, put my head down to peek between my arms and yell, “It’s too intense! It’s too intense.”

    I don’t watch Sherlock alone anymore. And the embarrassing part is I already knew what was going to happen because I always spoil myself to make sure I can handle what’s going to happen on the show I plan to watch.

    1. I fast-forward a few minutes too, Aimee to see if I can persist or if I need to turn it off. It always comes down to whether or not I care about the characters. Like Sherlock and Watson. There are certainly more harrowing and grisly shows available but they don’t make me throw my hands over my face because I don’t care about those people. But Sherlock and Watson, I”m totally with you!

  6. I had to stop watching Alias because it did stress me out, the tension was too much for me. I couldn’t even begin to watch 24! I am more likely to stop watching a program because the plot line infuriates me. Don’t even get me started on Downton Abbey.

    1. Sometimes I also stop watching a show because I don’t care for the plot line. And sometimes I don’t start watching them because I know it’s just not going to be a match. But mostly, I stop because of the stress.

      1. I can certainly see that, Kim. And I certainly don’t recommend you watch 24. It’s definitely a heart pounding thriller.

  7. This is so interesting! I can’t say I’ve ever had to leave a movie or get up from a television show because it was too intense. But I do binge watch, mostly on my tablet via Netflix while I’m doing my nightly dinner prep and/or the dishes afterward. I watched the entire Longmire series this way. And binge reading? I wish. Not anymore. Because my day job is now in the publishing industry, and I have my own books to write, as well as a number of other book-related obligations, I don’t have a lot of inclination to sit down and read. Sad but true. Audiobooks are filling some of the gap for me. But I do plan to find time to read more this year–somewhere. 🙂

    1. I watch things on my tablet while I’m making dinner too! It makes me feel like less of a scullery maid! I hope you find time for your own reading this year!

  8. Oh, my gosh, Jessie, you could have been describing me. If something induces stress while watching TV, I nearly wear out the carpet walking back and forth to the TV. The older I get, the less tolerance I have for anything violent or something that makes me uncomfortable. And it doesn’t take much these days. I sometimes have to put a book down if it starts getting too intense. But the great thing about a book is I can scan quickly through passages I’m uncomfortable with (just to make sure I don’t miss an important point or clue). But this is nothing new. When the movie “Psycho” came out, way back when, I watched the entire film through my fingers.

  9. I can handle on-screen tension, but I am of the less-is-more school with the physical stuff. A long car chase and lots of explosives is boring. Emotional tension or suspense, I’m usually okay with that.

    That being said, I cannot handle violent imagery. If I see a knife (or most weapons and even the hint of torture), I’m out of the room immediately. Pain is not my idea of entertainment, and I just don’t want to see it. THAT stresses me out.

    1. Everyone has their hot buttons don’t they? For me the stresses much more often are caused by characters feeling hurt or embarrassed than it is by physical violence. I almost never watch sitcoms because I don’t think it’s entertaining to laugh at the expense of other’s discomfort.

      1. Yes, on-screen embarrassment can make me want to leave the room for a couple of minutes. I’ve read books that affect me that way but I don’t stop reading, just wince a lot.

  10. This was a very interesting post. I concur… a point. I won’t watch more than two episodes at a time, and I prefer to watch one a day over a period of days. I need time between each episode to digest a bit, But I do understand the stress issue. There are some series that are so intense and so packed that, you can start to feel like your head is going to explode. Once in a while I do find a series that provide the right balance. It builds enough to get you to watch, but doesn’t take you to the edge. The last series I found like this was “Stranger Things.” I watched three episodes, one at a time, and then the last five in a single day.

    From time to time, I do need a break from the world of zombies, warring kingdoms, and the like. That’s when I turn to Warner Archives for some of the simple programs. Right now, I’m in my glory because I’m on season one, episode 26 of Dr Kildare, and it’s just as good as I remember it being when I was twleve.

    1. I was never exactly convinced by Richard Chamberlain’s acting, but he was definitely better than Vince Edwards in Ben Casey. I can still remember him struggling to pronounce “subdural hematoma.”

  11. I don’t usually binge watch. The most I will do is two episodes of a drama and three of a sitcom if I am watching a TV on DVD set. So does that make me an almost binge watcher?

    However, the show that sprang to mind immediately is 24. I’m watching and loving 24: Legacy right now, but it definitely can induce stress. I learned years ago that I had to be sure I finished an episode with enough time to decompress before I tried to go to bed or I’d have nightmares about trying to be Jack Bauer and failing. And in the days when they’d do 4 episode two night premiers, I’d wind up watching all four episodes on Monday night back to back. I was always a shaking mess by the time I was all up to date on the show. I marvel at the people who binge watched that show because I know I never could.

    I find that if I watch more than two of three episodes of a show in a day, I start to get tired of it, even my favorite shows. The lines and plot points become more predictable. Just like with authors, I need to spread things out, although with TV, a day is usually enough of a break that I can go back to enjoying it.

    1. You bring up a good point Mark. What does constitute a binge? I suppose that varies from person to person. I agree with you that it’s easier to pick up on details that annoy you if you watch or read too much all at once.

    2. I thought I was the only person in a world of binge-watchers that got tired of a show after a couple of episodes! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who likes to change it up! I’ve been meaning to watch the new 24 and hearing this I will!

  12. The few times I’ve binge-watched it was because I was visiting someone else. Hard to binge-read when most of the books come from the library. I have all of Dickens, but I find one book at a time is all I can take before needing to surface (but then again, the contemporary world is almost enough to make one long for the days of Dickens).

  13. This is really interesting and I think maybe I don’t watch shows that are super stressful. I actually stopped watching The Walking Dead for this reason and (don’t laugh) Orange is the New Black. The idea of being in prison and being told what to every minute of every day and never having privacy stressed me out terribly- I watched maybe four episodes before I packed it in!

    That being said, I guess I am binge-watching the Murdoch Mysteries. They’re pretty tame and I watch them on my iPad when I’m cleaning up the kitchen or making lunches or putting away laundry. I was watching them before I went to bed but I discovered that my sleep wasn’t as deep as when I read before bed- so, that ended Murdoch Mysteries at bedtime!

    We also don’t have cable- so I think that sets us up for binge-watching because a whole season is available on Netflix or Amazon. We also have Hulu for those few shows that I need my fix on ASAP and I sometimes wait until I have a few built up before I watch them. We like to spend rainy Sundays watching TV!

    1. I’ve never tried Orange is the New Black, but I had to give up on Prison Break after about half a dozen episodes because it was giving me nightmares. Much worse nightmares than my 24 induced nightmares.

  14. Like Sheila, I mostly read cozies and non-fiction. That’s because I do not do well with suspense, tension or violence. Rather than binge read an author, I prefer to alternate one author with a variety of others. I guess I kinda bi-binge! We choose not to have TV because we much prefer spending our time reading. However, we have binge watched Downton Abbey. One season to go!

      1. I wouldn’t call much of it heartbreaking. Some sadness, yes. But any sadness is balanced with wry humor.

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