Why Rewatching Your Favorite TV Show Is So Comforting Right Now

In these times of high anxiety, something familiar can be calming.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
April 1, 2020

At a time when everything in the world is so uncertain, it’s nice to know that some things never change, including your favorite TV shows and characters. Even though we are completely spoiled for choice when it comes to media — TV in particular — many people (myself included) find themselves drawn to watching the same shows over and over (and over) again. Sure, I could start that new critically acclaimed drama…or I could pop on an episode of The Golden Girls that I basically know by memory at this point. But why is rewatching the same shows or movies so comforting? As it turns out, there’s a psychological reason for gravitating towards reruns.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research looked into the calming benefit of rewatching a favorite TV show and found that once we discover something that brings us joy or comfort, naturally, we’re going to want to experience the same thing again. So if we’re drawn to nostalgic shows we loved during our childhoods, watching them again could help us relive those good feelings. “When people are stressed, or anxious, or feeling out of control, nostalgia helps calm them down,” Krystine Batcho, a licensed psychologist and a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York told The Today Show. “It’s comforting. It’s analogous to a hug from your mom or dad or being cuddled.”

Comfort TV is also easier on our overworked brains, because we already know what’s going to happen. Sure, sometimes a little drama is fun, but right now, when so many things are unknown, knowing how an episode of a sitcom ends means that our brains can sit back and enjoy the show, without having to keep track of details. “When we do something challenging, we are using beta brainwaves and we get tired doing that after a period,” psychologist Danya Braunstein told ABC Life Australia. “Whereas doing something relatively passive like watching TV uses alpha waves, which relaxes us. There is something about that in terms of watching something you have watched before — it demands less of you.”

Everything is hard right now and we’re all tired. When you finally get a minute to sit down and relax, do or watch something that makes you feel calm and happy (or at least, a little less anxious). 

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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