This blog, Screen Therapy, is dedicated to exploring the therapeutic uses of movies and video games. However, I would like to talk about when we probably shouldn’t watch another movie or play another hour.
We all need time away from distractions.
Even those struggling with anxious thought spirals will need to take time away from the tools they have gathered (like games and films) to help them avoid unhealthy thought patterns.
How We Use Media
When we watch movies or play games were are actively engaging with scenarios and simulations designed to provoke important thoughts and emotions from us. They can be very useful for jump-starting discussions with ourselves about certain topics in life that have been confusing, censored, or frightening. Other times, they can transport us to a calm or gentle head-space, a refuge from our stress. However, it is necessary to change roles sometimes.
As mindful viewers or players it would help us to keep track of how much time we like to spend watching or playing.
Although it feels very good to always be watching or playing, we will need to take breaks to spend time with ourselves, with no fictional characters or fantastical objectives to complete. Spending time with only ourselves can be quite difficult for those of us struggling with their mental health.
Our thoughts can feel frayed or difficult to control – we might avoid time alone with ourselves because we are afraid of what our thoughts might do and what we might feel if we pay too close attention to them.
For this reason, it might be beneficial to watch or play media designed to help us think calmly about our problems as a form of practice. However, we will all need to practice with the real thing.
When To Switch Off?
If we practice mindfulness, we might recognize that the best time to take time away from media is when we want it the most often. Paying attention to our habits, we might be able to pinpoint certain days or weeks when we have been watching/playing much more than often.
During these times, we might have noticed that when our eyes have grown fatigued and when the headaches start that we still didn’t want to look away. We might have refused to stop simply because the idea of sitting quietly, without electronics, seemed not only boring, but felt vaguely threatening.
This is the clearest red flag that we are no longer using our media to challenge or engage our emotional skills, that we have gone past simply using media to manage a poor mood, but that we have now wandered into the unhelpful territory of using media to forget ourselves.
This is quite a common problem. It is this feeling that inspired all of the research into “addiction” to the internet, to TV, and to video games. We have all felt, during some stressful times, the pull to forget ourselves in a Netflix binge or a gaming marathon.
In these scenarios, instead of pushing ourselves, harshly, to go cold turkey we might instead work our way down. Allow another hour of watching and playing while formulating a plan for what we can do when we switch off our screens. Maybe listen to music and look out the window? Perhaps write a journal entry? Listen to a guided meditation? Take a long, warm bath?
These are all very useful ways of relaxing our mind and eyes after the stressful week that started our screen-bingeing.
However, we might also use this time to “check in” with ourselves and practice using our media-consumption more mindfully by asking ourselves some interesting questions for self-exploration:
- What have I been watching/playing the most lately? Specific titles? Whole genres?
- What does watching/playing this (these types of) media make me feel? Make a list of most impactful feelings to least.
- How have I been missing these feelings in other parts of my life? Am I trying to balance my moods out using this media?
- What has been bothering me lately – about my career, my relationships, or myself? Make a list and write out little, fragmented summaries of each concern. This list can be quite difficult to write out and so it might help to leave it as a series of words that only you will recognize, just to start.
- Why do each of these things bother me? What personal values, ideals, or hopes of mine are being transgressed?
- “I’ve been watching a lot of RomComs and light internet content. I also have been playing a lot of simple, exploration-type games.“
- “These things make me feel: Calm, Nostalgic, Delighted, Curious, Affectionate, Distracted, and Safe.” Feel free to add longer descriptions for each feeling.
- “I have been seeking balance. In other parts of my life I have been feeling anchor-less and anxious. I have wanted to feel calm and to think about the past. I have wanted quiet without spending time with my own thoughts – I’m afraid of spending too much time thinking about myself or my feelings because of my anxiety….” (etc.)
- “I’ve been watching and playing a lot of violent action games/movies.”
- “When I watch/play these things I feel: Productive, Competent, Elated, Skilled, Tense, Accomplished.”
- “I think I’m seeking balance. My life has slowed down lately, I miss feeling more alert and ambitious. I’ve felt listless and lethargic. I don’t get a rush from work and I’m not sure where I want to go in life – it has been worrying me….” (etc.)
For numbers 4 and 5, these are unique to each individual. Writing about these is a regularly prescribed thought-exercise therapists and psychologists use. However, by adding in the first 3 questions we might better ease into the difficult answers we’ll need to give for 4 and 5.
The first 3 questions also promote us to think more about the media we consume and practicing future mindfulness for how we use art.
Often we are taught to disregard what we watch and play as mindless entertainment, but if we investigate our shifting tastes and frequency of media consumption we can learn a lot about ourselves, the fluctuation of our moods, and where to start when we take some time away from our screens to look into ourselves.
Thank you for reading!
This blog, Screen Therapy, is dedicated to exploring how we can mindfully use the time we already spend on games and movies to strengthen our emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is crucial when we face the everyday stresses and anxieties we all endure (such as the fear of death, how to develop the skills for loving relationships, or learning how to cope with just how difficult life feels, etc.) We receive very little formal education or help in processing these difficult challenges, but by strengthening our self-knowledge and emotional intelligence we can better pursue our personal balance.