A Mental Diet

After I wrote my fall TV show post I started thinking about all the shows I’d like to watch, but can’t. It’s a funny thing to say considering I’m an adult and I can technically do whatever I want (within reason/the law), but similar to how we know we shouldn’t each donuts and ice cream and cake for dinner every night, I know there are shows I shouldn’t watch.

This is not a moral or biblical “shouldn’t.” It’s a mental health kind of “shouldn’t.” If I drink Mt. Dew & eat potato chips for every meal I know I will be physically unhealthy. If I binge on Game of Thrones or This Is Us or Criminal Minds I know I will make myself mentally unhealthy. And like food, we all have a different threshold for “too much.” We all prefer different flavors- we all process those foods (or shows) differently. I don’t enjoy pie, but a lot of people love it – I don’t enjoy GOT, but a lot of people love it.

I think it’s important to know what you can and can’t do mentally. I have never enjoyed violent television shows. I don’t like anything that fixates on the drug culture (Shameless, Breaking Bad, OITNB) or anything with violent or rape undertones (The Handmaid’s Tale, OITNB, Game of Thrones). It doesn’t both me one bit that people enjoy these shows- I just know that I don’t.

In my early twenties I used to love Law & Order SVU, CSI, and Criminal Minds. In my teens I watched General Hospital, Grey’s Anatomy, and other dramas. Somewhere along the lines I realized that I internalized the drama, fear, suspicion, and paranoia that the characters in these shows portray. I let it affect me and I carried it with me. When K would leave for business trips I’d have terrible dreams about kidnapping and murder. I honest to God believed someone was living in our attic. (And I love to be alone- having him gone was not the issue. My brain was the issue.)

So I stopped watching shows like this.

This mental healthy “diet” isn’t restricted to television. There are songs and artists that I avoid for emotional reasons. (I’d guess many music lovers are nodding their heads.) There are books I know I shouldn’t read or I should space out. (Thrillers make me shake- my body actually quivers while I read them. Holocaust and slavery-era books completely destroy me.) Obviously there are movies I’d never touch. I watched Django: Unchained with my family once and I felt sick for a week.

Perhaps it sounds silly at first, but if we’re careful about what we feed our bodies nutritionally, why wouldn’t we keep tabs on how other stimulants make us feel?

We all feel things extremely differently. It’s why menus & Netflix & the TV Guide have so many options. I would challenge you to pay attention to how television shows and songs and movies make you feel. I know that I shouldn’t have a milkshake every night, but once is a while is totally fine. I know I can’t read a book like The Handmaid’s Tale every week, but every so often is fine. Knowing what’s good for you in all forms of ingestion is important to your health.

So pay attention to how television shows make you feel. Do you walk away from Grey’s Anatomy feeling dramatic and bitchy? Do you walk away from GOT with a little bit of rage? Evaluate how affected you are and how your personality differs after you take in a program or movie. Set some limitations for yourself and find a healthy mix.

(Or maybe I’m just crazy ๐Ÿ˜‰ Are you completely unaffected by shows? I’m genuinely curious.)

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50 thoughts on “A Mental Diet

  1. Oh my gosh, I love Breaking Bad, OITNB, The Handmaidโ€™s Tale, and Game of Thrones! Bones is another favorite of mine. But these shows definitely affect me, and I have to be careful when I watch them. But if I watch too much of any TV, it affects me. Last night, I was watching Grace and Frankie, and then I had a dream that Nick was leaving me because he was gay and I was so upset in my dream! And Grace and Frankie is such a light show.

    I definitely agree with you that these things can affect you. I really need to be more aware, especially with Nick gone so much. Thanks for the reminder — I have some thinking to do!

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    1. I notice it most with dramatic tv shows. They just make me anxious long after I’ve turned them off. Gory movies also stick with me for a really long time. Sometimes books do it, too, but more in a pensive way and less in a scarring way. If that makes any sense… lol.

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  2. I think that’s true. I like to read about politics but watching it on tv where everyone is screaming at each other gets me so angry and annoyed for the rest of the day. I can’t watch Criminal Minds or other shows like it without freaking out about noises I hear in the house or suspicious people I see (who don’t do anything)

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    1. When I lived alone in college (or with roommates) I had NO issues with L&O: SVU or Criminal Minds or anything like that. For some reason now they’ve started turning my stomach and making me worried or paranoid. I know everyone’s different, but for me that’s something I’ve got to pay attention to!

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  3. You are not crazy at all. I CANNOT watch Law & Order: SVU or I have seriously bad dreams and get paranoid walking around the house in the dark. Violence and stuff about kidnapping such freak me out and I can’t mentally handle it. Jordan started Breaking Bad and a few episodes in, he said he felt convicted that he shouldn’t be watching it, so even though he was getting into it, he stopped. Not to say it’s bad for someone else to watch, but personally he felt he shouldn’t. I think that’s a totally real thing that can be so personal and different for everyone. I actually love Criminal Minds, but I can only watch in the daylight when I’m not by myself… and follow it up with lots of Friends or New Girl ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    1. All my friends tried to get me into Shameless and after two episodes I was 100% done. It’s not the nudity or the language or anything (hellooo, I’m obsessed with The Tudors)- it’s just the dynamics between people and casual law breaking and the harshness of the show. I’m 100% ok that other people love it! I just don’t enjoy that.

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  4. i have never seen any episode of Law and ORder – the subject matter is way too heavy for me. anything that has to do with violence towards kids – i don’t watch…that or anything to do with fathers and daughters and if the dad dies…nope not for me either!

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    1. I agree. Anything that has animals at risk is a no go for me. I can’t do movies where an animal dies. It was crush me for weeks. Same with anything with a rape scene. Just no.

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  5. I am so with you on this. I have to be very careful what I let myself watch/read or it totally screws with me. I can’t do Law & Order SVU. James loves it but I watched one episode and was destroyed. Never again. I think about this mainly in terms of books. I’ve gotten very picky about the genres I read, otherwise I’ll read something that will leave me feeling icky and gross and upset. I can’t have that! When I watch or read something, I want it to have a calming affect on me, or excite me in a happy way. Life is full of tragedy and sadness as it is, and I don’t want to get more of it through entertainment.

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    1. Books are usually the only place I’ll break my rules. I’ll mix in a Holocaust book or something like The Handmaid’s Tale every now and then… but I follow those up with a light-hearted mystery or feel good story. I was at my parents’ house once and my mom had The Girls With the Dragon Tattoo on at the very beginning. Apparently there’s a rape scene because it started into that and I shouted at her to turn it off or pause it until I was gone.
      I just don’t want that stuff in my brain.

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  6. Girl, YAS! I 100% agree. I am so so so so so so so affected by things like this! That’s why, especially now with all the family and political stress, that I have been reading and watching fluff. The fluffiest of fluff! Give me Fuller House and New Girl, and YA! Most of the time I don’t care that I’m not “up on the trends”.. .but sometimes I do wish I was more willing to crack open a sad book. I’d like to steer toward “once in a great while” instead of never… lol. Sometimes with things like WWII fiction, I just can’t even start reading it. I definitely have 0% tolerance for drug culture shows too. I don’t have any interest in any of them. I can’t handle it. It’s too real and it makes me so depressed. I even have a hard time with things like Sex in the City. All of the relationships are so so shallow. Everyone is so so selfish and it makes my heart hurt. And that’s a “light” “funny” show. You know? Oy. Yeah, I try to be really careful about what I consume. On the other hand, I’m glad that I stuck with GoT because they finally (in the last few seasons) gave up on being quite so nasty with prostitutes and torture, and moved more toward things that actually relate to the plot. What a shock. LOL. I couldn’t stomach a lot of the early stuff, and would be ready for the season to end about 7 episodes in (of 10). Now, I’m finally wondering what will happen with the plot, and less on edge about the super gross stuff. (I can totally understand not watching it though!). So yeah, I guess if you see me reading fluff, or talking about fluff (all the time! LOL), then you’ll know it is for these same reasons! ๐Ÿ™‚ KC has a hard time with things related to people manipulating others, and also things with bad dad characters. I think it’s different for everyone. For me. I will never ever ever ever ever watch Up again. Yeah, I said it. I can’t really watch any animal movies ever either. Old people and animals are a no-go for sad things for me. Ok, longest comment ever! LOL. I’m sharing this post tomorrow! XO – Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

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    1. I am alllllll about comedies now in television. I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy and stuff like that, but it just makes me upset and bitchy and anxious. Life does a good enough job doing that to me without Shonda Rhimes’ help. Ha!
      There’s enough violence and (early season) rape stuff in GoT that I don’t think I can do it. I plan to read the books, but I don’t think I can handle watching it. *shrug* There’s plenty of good stuff to watch on other channels.
      I can’t do rape culture or drug culture. Shows like Shameless and OITNB and Breaking Bad are 100% off the table for me. When I was in high school I used to read YA books all the time about drugs and parties and stuff. I honestly think that contributed to my depression and anxiety at that age. Now I’m a little more careful about what goes in my brain. I know my triggers and my limitations, but that means sometimes I miss out on trendy shows. Oh well.
      I HATE Up. Hate it. I hate all the loss in the beginning. It crushes me and I can’t enjoy the movie after that. I don’t blame you. I avoid almost all animal movies.
      Thank you for sharing this!! I was out of the state all week/end so I’m late to the comment game here and on other people’s blogs, but thank you!!

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  7. This is such an interesting perspective! For the most part, I will and can watch/read almost anything without being affected too much. I’ve always said I have a strong stomach for things like horror, crime, etc. I think I do internalize things more than I realize though. I was writing a blog post the other night right before bed and then had a dream that night about the topic! I’ve also had scary crime dreams while reading true crime books too.

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  8. I watch a lot of shows that effect me (maybe I cry or have empathy for a character) and give me a little anxiety or adrenaline when I watch them, but it also keeps me in reality that bad stuff can happen. When I was in college, I felt like I was way more in tune with my surroundings after watching Law and Order SVU marathons on the weekends. I sort of like the adrenaline hop I get watching a faster pace show or the way I try and figure out who did it or what is going to happen because of this one action of a character. I save the mindless TV like Friends or Younger for late in the evenings before bed so I don’t go to bed with scary thoughts in my head. I absolutely don’t like horror or scary shows though. Or anything that is too graphic I look away or go do something in another room and come back.

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    1. Criminal Minds is what finally turned me off crime shows.
      Dramatic television actually does a bigger number on my brain. K has noticed that I’m on edge and bitchy when I do nothing but take in shows like Grey’s Anatomy or This Is Us or anything with intense drama. I just prefer lighter TV. I can typically read anything if I space it out enough.

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  9. oh so much yes to this!!!!! great idea for a blog post because i am absolutely there with you!

    i had to turn of ‘the keepers’ on netflix about the real life murder of a nun because i could feel myself spinning. i also started watching ‘shameless’ and then found that it was really messing with my head and made my social worker heart too sad to see those kids living in that situation.

    yet another reason we are friends ๐Ÿ™‚

    ps. should you decide to have a kid, then you can watch shows like ‘arthur’ and feel real good!

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    1. YES. All my friends are like, “You need to watch Shameless!” I gave it two episodes before I was like, ‘People really live like this and I just don’t find it entertaining. It makes me upset.’ So no Shameless for me.
      I won’t lie- I often turn on Netflix KIDS and just let those shows play when I’m cleaning or working out. Ha. My brother and sister-in-law watch Paw Patrol for the same reason. Hahahahaha!

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  10. We talked about this in our bible study before about how you dont even realize how much movies & shows can effect you & your mental state. I totally agree… I’ve had to give up some shows because it would just cause me stress & anxiety.

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    1. I noticed a complete attitude change when I stopped watching General Hospital every day. The drama was just getting to me in ways I never noticed. K actually pointed it out to me!

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  11. YES! I agree completely. I feel like I am pretty vigilant about keeping things out of my head that I will never be able to un-see or un-know. I’ve read books and watched movies in the past with horrible scenes of torture or rape, etc, that are still stuck in my brain for all time and I hate that I can never let it go, so I feel like I’m pretty careful about not consuming anything of that nature if possible.

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    1. Yes. Rape and torture scenes never leave my mind. I hate when I’m flipping channels or I walk into a room and a scene like that is playing. There are so many movies and shows I won’t watch just because of one or two scenes.

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  12. You are not crazy! You are spot on. I feel a zillion times better on almost no TV than I used to feel on a lot of it all the time. Mentally clearer. Cleaner? Both? I’m much more intentional with what I watch, when, and how much now.
    There are some things I’ve never been able to watch and will never be able to watch – horror movies, etc.

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    1. Once I cut out dramas I felt my attitude drastically change. I no longer carried around the emotional weight of TV characters- I simple had to worry about my own life. I was no longer carrying those cliff-hangers over into the next week. I also prefer to watch shows that are completely out on Netflix or hulu now for that same reason.

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  13. 100% with you! When I was younger I never noticed this and it is possible that I wasn’t affected or maybe simply watched/read things that weren’t negatively affecting my subconscious. But the first time I realized this was during an episode of Criminal Minds, a show that I had been watching faithfully for years at that time. It was an episode involving pedophiles and I got sick to my stomach and asked myself why was doing this to myself? So I switched to another show and I have never watched CM again. Thrillers and mysteries are my favorite book genre and I do have to be mindful that I don’t overindulge. I have, which left me seriously whackado (or more so than normal) afterwards. I’ve also noticed recently that I have to watch my consumption of the news these days and find that balance where I stay informed without being in a constant stake of anger, fear or freakout mode.

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    1. I didn’t notice was dramas were doing to me until K pointed it out. Crime shows like Blue Bloods or Cold Case don’t mess with me like Criminal Minds or L&O. It’s weird to think that this stuff affects us so deeply, but once you’ve noticed it happening it’s pretty unenjoyable to re-indulge again.

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  14. I need you to back up to where you don’t love pie… just kidding. I am a huge pie fan, though! I think I do limit my media intake from certain things all the time, although with different topics than yours. I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, but I can’t watch realistic crime shows. I’ve never watched Breaking Bad because I don’t like watching things where people have health problems. I stopped watching Parenthood early in the show when a health thing popped up with a character. I don’t watch House for the same reason. Some things affect me differently now than they used to, doesn’t even matter so much the medium. I was reading stories on a Reddit thread the other day on the topic of creepy things, and one real life event just turned my stomach like I’ve never had happen before. I also don’t read any Stephen King books because it makes me feel uncomfortable and unsettled somehow even while I’m not reading it. On the good side, we have so many things to choose from now that this doesn’t really limit me. There are tons and tons of things I have no qualms about. I enjoy thrillers while I’m reading them, but I don’t read them often because I’ve noticed that with those types of books, I often forget almost everything about them shortly after finishing them.

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    1. Ha. My grandma actually makes AMAZING fruit pies and I’m the weirdo in the family that doesn’t eat them… I’m just not into baked fruit. Ha.
      It’s kind of funny how certain shows or authors have a way of affecting us- even when we enjoy other programs or books in that genre. My main red flags are anything to do with rape, drugs, or abuse. I just can’t stomach it. I used to get angry with people for watching violent TV shows and movies because I couldn’t understand the entertainment value in something like that. (I still can’t, but I don’t get angry over it.)

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  15. I 1,000% agree with you. For me, that was the show Shameless (which is on Showtime, if that tells you anything ๐Ÿ˜‰ )…it made me feel so negative and down about everything!

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    1. So many people tried to push me into that show. I gave it two episodes before I wrote it off. That kind of genre/entertainment just doesn’t entertain me. I get it!

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  16. 100% with you on this. I have no desire to desensitize myself to certain behaviors, and I think that’s exactly what watching explicit or violent shows do. For that matter, I quit watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians because I dont want to start thinking that lifestyle is normal. You are what you eat!

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    1. YES. I think that’s partially what it is- desensitizing myself to violence and hate and abuse and drama. I don’t want to believe that they way people treat one another on TV is the way we *should* treat one another. Some people can separate themselves from it- I tend to internalize behavior.
      I will say that sometimes I watch reality TV just because I find it to be a mental break. I don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire season of anything, though. I’ll stick with The Bachelor/ette for a few episodes before I’m bored and over it. Below Deck on Bravo is the only one I actually watch each week (when I remember). My husband and I watch it together and so far it’s been nothing but entertaining, lol.

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  17. i totally agree with this! for me, it’s different. i can handle dramatic shoes like greys anatomy, or this is us (i assume, i haven’t watched it yet) but i can’t handle shows like pretty little liars or gossip girl. i was watching gossip girl a couple of years ago, i’d watched the first season or two, but i decided to watch it all at once and i found myself being super bitchy and paranoid and i was like wtf is going on. i stopped watching it and it was like my head cleared. so i stay away from shows like that. i really don’t watch *that* much tv besides hgtv and the occasional binge of something like miss fishers ๐Ÿ˜‰ i don’t watch any kind of scary anything, i can barely handle that in books. also, i’ve found that when i force myself to finish a tv show, it really turns me negative, so i just let it go. i can’t quit a book to save my life, but i couldn’t tell you the amount of shows we’ve started – myself or with KC – in the past 5 years and haven’t finished. more shows than i have hairs on my head lol

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    1. I’ve never tried to watch Gossip Girl and I’ve only seen a few episodes of PLL, but I completely understand. I don’t want to treat my friends and family like these characters behave, but if I watch it then it’s automatically getting ingrained in my head. No ok (for me).
      I like watching shows that are done or cancelled and on a streaming platform. That way I know there’s an ending in sight and I don’t have to wait for cliffhangers and stuff (like Miss Fisher’s, hahaha!).

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  18. I AM THE EXACT SAME. I’ll watch a movie or show with friends and everyone else can go right to bed, and I’ll be up at night feeling sick for a week.

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  19. You’re not crazy, I think a lot of people react emotionally to shows and movies! I won’t watch anything with even a hint of dog abuse or where the dog dies. Like even if it’s an animal planet show about rescues and nursing them back to health, will not watch. It makes me want to find dog abusers and stab them (although, would it REALLY be that bad if I acted on that?…)
    I mostly watch lighthearted stuff, but I’m okay with the crime things like you mentioned (Criminal Minds, Dexter, and all that), those don’t seem to bother me.

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    1. I agree- no animal shows for me either. K is actually worse. I was watching an African savanna documentary once and they were alluding to the chance that the 4 cheetah cubs might not make it through the night. K flipped out and told me to change it because he didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t change it in time and he was mad at me for multiple days over it.

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  20. OMG, girl. High five! I too get so affected by movies I watch that I have to wisely choose what to see. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, right? You are so right in taking care of your mental health because everything in our lives start in the mind.

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    1. Yes! We talk all the time about eating good foods and experiencing good things and self-care, but I think sometimes we forget to monitor what we feed ourselves entertainment-wise! Everything really does start in the mind!

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  21. Yes to all of this. There are certain things I can’t watch (and it changes over time). Right now it’s anything to do with babies dying, so call the midwife is out until I’m removed from my current phase of my life. I can’t do real life violent drug stuff, so breaking bad and dexter and lots of current shows are out too. I fully believe in this and this post makes me feel like I need to be even more intentional about it!

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    1. I can’t watch anything that has to do with abuse/rape or drugs. I just don’t enjoy it. I also hate shows where all the characters are nasty to one another. There’s enough of that in the world- I don’t want it in my entertainment.

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  22. Interesting post! Last year I started taking note of what I watch. I stopped watching ‘reality’ shows – the ones with all the drama, nastiness, petty arguments that mount into huge fights! I felt calmer watching sitcoms or something positive.

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    1. I much prefer comedies in TV and superhero or historic stuff in movies. It’s too easy to compare myself to TV character or reality TV people. Or to pick up on their personalities or behaviors. I know that I am easily influenced or affected sometimes, so it’s my job to remove myself from that kind of environment ๐Ÿ™‚

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  23. This is so entirely true for me. You have to know yourself. I can’t watch overly gory or creepy shows, either. And certain types of storylines hit me so deeply–after seeing the Hunger Games I literally had nightmares for months. I enjoyed watching House with Angel but any storyline about pregnancy and something not going right with the baby I knew I couldn’t sit through. When Angel worked night shift back in the day I used to stay up late reading Agatha Christie murder mysteries in my creaky farmhouse in the middle of nowhere–but that wasn’t a problem at all for me because those books focus way more on the mystery and the detection rather than any creepiness–that makes a big difference for me. I like “crime” shows like Psych and Castle–lighter on Crime, heavier on personality.

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    1. I love mysteries but I dislike thrillers. I love historical dramas but I hate modern dramas. I don’t mind war-time TV shows or movies but I hate violence. I just can’t handle any thing with abuse/rape or drugs either. I don’t enjoy it and it makes me anxious. 10 years ago I watched and read stuff like that all the time and never thought twice about it. The last few books that have really messed with me or stuck with me were books about slavery.
      I just don’t like how terrible humans can be to other humans. There’s no entertainment in that for me.

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  24. I have the other side of the coin – I find that shows/movies can allow for a more healthy release of emotions. If I’m feeling overwhelmed and sorry for myself, a sad movie can be the perfect reason to have a teary evening and let out a few emotions. They are also good for reminding me how lucky I am.

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  25. Such an interesting thing to think about! I LOVE Dateline, but I find that when I watch too much of it, I get jumpy and Booand can’t even fall asleep at night because I keep thinking I’m hearing things in the house! Books don’t affect me in that way, but some music makes me feel really sad/melancholy.

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