As someone who's had anxiety for the better part of her 25 years on this planet, I'm always learning new ways to cope when I'm feeling anxious. Some of the tried-and-true strategies I've picked up: Go for a run, call my mom, play my guitar, write in my journal. My latest go-to strategy: watch HGTV. Stressful day at work? That calls for some Flip or Flop. Racing mind for no apparent reason on the weekend? Hit me with some Property Brothers, and I'll most likely feel better in an hour. There's something mind-numbingly relaxing and pleasant about HGTV renovation shows, and I find myself turning to the channel again and again when I'm feeling agitated—and it almost always works.
I first realized HGTV calmed my anxiety when I was visiting my mom in Florida over the holidays. I was already getting back-to-work jitters, and Chip and Joanna Gaines came into my life during one magical Fixer Upper marathon. If you haven't seen the show, the concept is simple: The Waco, Texas, couple helps a customer find and buy a run-down house, and then they design and renovate it, turning it into their customer's dream home.
Watching that first episode, I noticed my anxiety decreasing with each corny joke from Chip and each chic design plan from Joanna. My racing thoughts slowed as I focused on the couple's quirky dynamic and the renovations at hand (so many open floor plans!). It was an insanely satisfying and relaxing experience, and, post-episode, I felt like I'd just done a mindfulness meditation. Naturally, I sat on the couch and saw the marathon through to the end.
One main reason the show put me at ease: The couple always came through. Joanna can turn any dingy home into a clean, rustic paradise—a space heavy on shiplap and good vibes. (Shiplap is that style of wood paneling where the boards overlap like you'd see on a country barn, for those of you not yet indoctrinated into HGTV design speak.) No matter how dingy the house looks at the outset of an episode, there's no need to worry—she'll turn it into a gem.
Another reason: The show literally has no drama. If Chip does something to annoy Joanna, it's always resolved with one signature eye roll.
If little skirmishes arise during construction, everything is fixed by the next commercial break. And when it's time for the big reveal, the customers always love their new home, which they'll usually tell the Gaineses in the coziest Southern drawl you've ever heard.
And it's the same deal for most HGTV shows: no drama, beautiful homes, corny hosts, and happy people all around. It's a guarantee that when you sit down for an episode, you'll see an entire renovation done right or a house hunt with a successful ending—and it's so satisfying to me. The people always get the home of their dreams, whether it's a tiny house they can transport across the country or a beachfront bargain home on an island I'm adding to my bucket list.
For my anxious mind, the simplicity, order, and charm of an HGTV show is a recipe for serenity. And according to Ken Yeager, Ph.D., a mental health expert in the department of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, it makes sense that HGTV shows would be calming. "A lot of my anxious patients like HGTV," Yeager tells SELF. "The shows soothe and hit the need for curiosity."
Yeager (who's a fan of Fixer Upper, in case you're wondering) says the predictable nature of HGTV shows specifically might make them soothing to someone with anxiety—which is fueled by uncertainty about the future—and in the world of HGTV, the future is crystal clear.
"No one ever says [at the end of a show], ‘You know, Property Brothers, I hate this home!’ " he says. "The reality is everyone is happy—and that’s a really good outcome. Life isn’t really that predictable, but it’s nice to know for 30 minutes to an hour you can have your curiosity piqued, you can be entertained, and, at the end, you know you’re going to end up with a really beautiful project that came out well."
Interestingly, he also says some people might find respite in HGTV shows since they offer what a lot of people can't accomplish in their day-to-day lives: The satisfaction of a finished product. "With the [renovation shows], you get to fast forward to the future and see three months' work in 30 minutes—and that’s very appealing," he says. "You get to see a finished product at the end, and a lot of people in their workday don’t get to see a finished product."
Curious, I took to Twitter to see if anyone else was praising HGTV as a coping tool for anxiety. A few people were—but surprisingly, a lot of people on Twitter say the shows on the channel actually give them anxiety, especially Tiny House Hunters. To quote one prolific Tweeter: "I'm watching people looking to live in tiny houses on HGTV, and I have serious anxiety right now.... like who would? Why? What? F*ck bro."
The mixed reviews on the calming effect of HGTV illustrate how caring for one's mental health is different for everyone. One person's love of Fixer Upper is another person's extreme anxiety when Tiny House Hunters is on. It's all about finding what helps you feel calm, regardless of whether or not it works for other people. And, to be clear, it's important to seek professional help for serious mental health issues. A therapist, not Chip and Joanna, got me through my toughest times. Gratuitous use of shiplap in a Texas home can only fix so much.
Since my anxiety is manageable, HGTV is just the latest tool I use when I need to hit pause. It distracts me from big worries and focuses my attention on smaller issues, like, "Which Property Brother is which?" And Yeager said it's totally fine to self-soothe with the show—as long as I watch in moderation and it doesn't interfere with my day-to-day life. "A healthy use would be setting up a relatively basic schedule that says, ‘Ok, I'm going to accomplish A, B, and C, and then I'm going to do a little bit of a reward and watch an hour’s worth of HGTV or two hours worth of HGTV,' " he says.
What's also not healthy: When someone chooses to binge-watch a TV show instead of addressing their mental health issue. "Avoidance of things that are difficult to deal with does not build skills in dealing with them," he says.
But I'm in the clear: I've taken the time to build skills in dealing with my anxiety, and I only watch an hour of HGTV each night, maybe two if I tune in while I'm at the gym. Maybe four if I'm celebrating hitting a big deadline. Maybe six if there's a marathon on. So much shiplap, so little time!
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This story originally appeared on Self.
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