It was a Sunday in September. I decided to ease into the day with an episode of Shameless. “Just one episode,” I lied to myself, “and then I’ll be productive.”
I’m guessing you know how the story goes from there: That one episode turned into two, which turned into three, and before I knew it I had spent the entire day (nearly six hours!) binge-watching TV.
Sadly, this wasn’t out of the norm for me. I’d often find myself counting down the hours until I could snuggle into bed and connect with the imaginary characters on my TV.
I always tried to justify it, too. “Your mind deserves the break,” I’d convince myself. “You might as well enjoy this now, because someday you might not have the luxury,” I’d tell myself.
But the thing is, watching TV—and binging TV in particular—never made me feel good. After an especially bad bout of overindulging, I’d get headaches. I’d feel down. And I’d lament about the fact that I wasn’t spending enough quality time with my husband.
That Sunday in September was one of those days. And that’s when I finally admitted something to myself: I was completely and totally obsessed with streaming TV.
It was then that I decided to go on a 30-day TV detox. I wanted to prove to myself that I could. But most importantly, I wanted to see if it would make a positive impact on my life.
Here are three things that happened as a result.
I felt less stressed.
Pre-detox, I would often rush to finish my nightly obligations—preparing dinner, washing dishes, doing laundry. “If I finish before 9 p.m. I can watch an episode,” I’d think to myself excitedly.
But far too often that meant some things just didn’t get done. I’d hold off on laundry or I’d leave the dishes for the morning. And then the next day, I’d feel overwhelmed by all the things I hadn’t accomplished.
During the detox, I felt calm and in control. On day one, I ironed my freshly-washed shirts before putting them away—something I never did before—which saved me time during my already rushed pre-work routine. And on day two, I prepped healthy breakfast smoothies for the next two mornings. I was already seeing the benefits of my streaming ban, and I was loving it.
I became more social.
Though I’m often mistaken for an extrovert, I’m an introvert through and through. I love connecting with people and developing strong relationships. But socializing drains me. I need time alone to rest and recharge.
Knowing this about myself is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I don’t feel bad about spending a Friday night at home by myself. But on the other hand, I sometimes use it as justification for not reaching out to friends and family.
My TV-streaming habit only made things worse. I’d leave get-togethers early or simply say I couldn’t make it. Sometimes this was warranted for the sake of my mental health… other times, not so much.
During my 30-day ban, I found myself reaching out more than normal. I seized an opportunity to hang out one-on-one with my husband’s friend’s wife, who I had never socialized with outside my husband’s company. I wrote letters to family members who live far away. And I stayed a little longer at outings with good friends.
Though I was socializing more, I didn’t feel like I was losing out on time to myself. I was using my time alone more intentionally and therefore needed less of it.
My mental clarity improved.
For months prior to my detox, I was in a fog. I was having trouble focusing, I was forgetful, and my mental performance had taken a nosedive.
But the thing is, I didn’t really notice. Just as we can grow accustomed to too little sleep, I had gotten used to living in a mental daze.
About a week into my detox, the fog began to dissipate. I was coming up with better, more creative ideas at work, I was writing with more ease, and I was able to absorb more information while reading.
A slip-up, or an important learning moment?
At one point during my 30-day ban, my husband wanted to watch a movie with me. I acquiesced for a couple of reasons. First, because I would be spending quality time with him, which was one key reason I started the detox in the first place. And second, because watching a movie doesn’t create the same addictive tendencies as watching a TV series, where constant cliffhangers cause you to power through episode after episode.
So, I agreed, and we fired up the DVD player and snuggled into the couch. What happened next surprised me.
You know those people who struggle to watch movies because they can’t sit still for an extended period of time? I’ve never been that person. So, it was strange when I found myself feeling incredibly antsy throughout the film.
And after the movie was no better. I felt lethargic, my mood went from happy to foul, and my head was pounding. It was like the feeling I get when I overindulge in sugar after a long cleanse. And I didn’t like it.
My post-detox life.
Though the benefits I experienced during this challenge were overwhelming, I didn’t feel it was necessary to quit streaming TV forever. I don’t think watching a couple of hours of TV per week is a bad thing. When done in a healthy way, it can be incredibly fun and relaxing.
But after watching that movie with my husband, I knew I had to reintroduce streaming to my life slowly. I didn’t want to experience those same rotten feelings. So in the beginning, I limited myself to two of my favorite current shows—Grey’s Anatomy and This Is Us. Since episodes only come out once per week, I couldn’t binge.
And just this week, I fired up Netflix to watch an episode of Shameless, the show that got me into this mess in the first place. I was worried this would catapult me back to my old ways, but to my surprise, when the episode ended, I felt no desire to keep watching.
They say it takes 21 days to break a habit, and for me this was true. I now have a healthy relationship with Netflix and Hulu and can enjoy a little entertainment without the stress, social detachment, and mental fog I was experiencing before.