Reducing Stress with a Television Series

Suppression, containment, and well-chosen words create a certain calm.

Posted Jul 13, 2019

by Chloe Barron
Source: by Chloe Barron

Can British TV help with American cultural stress? Studies show that distraction and culture, from art and film to ritual and tradition can be useful for mood elevation. Quietude, containment and suppression can serve emotional health. 

More than a few people have mentioned that they feel unsettled or down these days. Sometimes anxiety and depression can be situational. It can come from a troubled culture as we know via sociological studies from Durkheim to Du Bois. Feeling undone by political polarization, people saying or doing upsetting things without reserve, a decrease in empathymorality and a sense of transcendence, feeling disconnected and lonely, an overall feeling that there is too much to do or deal with. The list goes on. 

My curiosity about British TV started because a friend recommended the series Broadchurch. There was something about this show. You cared about the characters. Repeating images and sounds of water and waves had a certain pull and magnificence. It takes place in a small town where everyone knows each other's name. Quietude and simplicity come through in spite of the drama. The community bands together to address a moral problem in a controlled and thoughtful way.  People are devastated and survive.

We moved on to Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre and Downton Abbey.  Walks, tea and working it out in your own mind, rather than "let's talk about it" are frequent responses to stress for these characters. Worry about offending others, well-chosen words, and distilled phrases are a theme. Pause and reflection and the use of ritual to work out problems seems to be a built in quality. Classical works do usually deliver in some way, but there is something about the self-control in these characters that feels particularly compelling. 

What is the point? Our cultural tastes can be a reflection of inner need. In a world where everyone has a platform and can use it to say things that are hurtful or untrue, suppression and containment can serve the greater good. Suppression is considered a mature psychological defense because mastery over what you say and when you say it is good for you as well as others.

Containment, a concept introduced by psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion refers to accepting, owning and managing the stirrings of inner life before taking action. It is linked to resilience and well-being.

While self-expression can be crucial for emotional health and communication enhances relationships, unbridled expression can be damaging. Suppression, containment, and quiet, slow moments that give rise to inner thoughts and feelings can be good for health. Wherever you find it, in British TV or somewhere else, certain cultural experiences can help you cope.