There is a joy to being lazy. And believe it or not, some health benefits too. Whether you’re cruising through episodes of your favorite show so you can trade notes on the finale with friends or indulging in that comfort flick you’ve seen a million times, you’ve inevitably found yourself prioritizing chill time on the couch over time spent ticking to-do’s off your list. Estimates show that in 2023, the majority of Americans spend two hours and 33 minutes per day watching TV.
“Taking a break to do something you find pleasurable can trigger the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness,” Sanam Hafeez, a licensed psychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind in New York City, tells Yahoo Life. There’s also a case for leaning on loafing — whether you’re watching TV, getting lost in a book you can’t put down or simply scrolling through cat memes on Instagram — to recharge and reduce burnout. But, as with anything, moderation is key.
Here’s what Hafeez, other experts and science have to say about the psychological benefits of chilling out on the couch — sometimes.
No. 1: Don’t feel guilty about loafing
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the majority of Americans are too sedentary, given that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults are struggling to hit the recommended amount of daily activity. At the same time, hustle culture — which centers on work above all else — can’t help but affect how we feel about finding time to chill out. Slowing down and spending time catching up on episodes of Succession may actually feel more like a guilty pleasure than something you can easily accept as part of your routine. “We’ve been so socialized from a young age that achievement needs to be a top value,” Lauren Cook, a Pasadena-based psychologist, tells Yahoo Life. “We equate productivity with worth, and we think that if we’re not producing, then we’re a failure. This is a systemic issue that so many people are struggling with.”
Colleen Marshall, a licensed marriage and family therapist and vice president of clinical care at Two Chairs, agrees, telling Yahoo Life that if you’re not spending time on an activity that’s connected to making progress on your goals, you’re letting yourself down. “The problem with that, though, is that all of us need to have some way of de-stressing and [taking] breaks from that constant flow,” she explains, equating chill-out time for most people to rest days for athletes. “They have a leg day, and then they don’t work on legs for a while. That’s how you actually build muscle — to work and then have a break.”
Marshall acknowledges that de-stressing activities, like watching TV or reading a book, may seem “unproductive” or as though you’re wasting time, but they’re actually helping you rest and recharge.
In other words, as Cook points out, “rest is productive.” “We have to be boundaried with our rest time and say to ourselves, ‘I am going to take this time and I do not need to choose to buy into the guilt that may come with that. I’m taking the rest of the night off,’” she says.
No. 2: There are many benefits to chilling out
Loafing isn’t only a way to step back from work to rest and recharge. In moderation, it’s also an opportunity to enjoy a variety of psychological benefits, points out Hafeez.
Several perks of taking time to cuddle up and catch up on your favorite show:
“Rest and relaxation allow your brain to wander and make new connections,” explains Hafeez. “This can foster creativity and innovative thinking.” For example, in a 2022 study, watching nature videos was associated with the promotion of alpha brain waves, which are linked to relaxation, daydreaming and creativity.
A 2020 study published in the journal Psychology and Aging found that older adults who spent more time sitting excelled at knowledge-based activities like vocabulary, reading comprehension and reasoning tasks. The researchers concluded that this may be owed to the fact that sedentary time is often also time spent on brain-stimulating activities, whether that’s reading a nonfiction book or doing a crossword puzzle.
Whether you’re carving out time to get caught up on And Just Like That... or that buzzy new celebrity autobiography, you’ll benefit from chilling out in a way that ultimately fuels connection with others, whether in real time or down the road.
Binge-watching can be an entryway for conversation, Jamie Schenk DeWitt, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Life. “You may see somebody the next day, and you say, ‘Did you watch the recent episode of Succession? It was so good,’” she notes. “And you start talking, and you both get really excited. And you may ask them, ‘What did you make of it?’”
In turn, discussing your shared experience can lead to a surge of oxytocin, the bonding neurotransmitter, says DeWitt, which has anti-stress effects like reducing blood pressure and cortisol levels. “In that way, it can be a positive experience for your whole body,” she says.
“Consistently working without taking breaks can lead to burnout,” points out Hafeez. On the other hand, finding time to disconnect from work-related stressors makes it possible to recharge your mental and emotional energy. That way, once you do get back to traditionally “productive” tasks, you can tackle them with renewed vigor.
No. 3: There is such a thing as too much loafing
Just as overwork takes a toll on your overall well-being, the same is true for carving out too much time for loafing. For instance, research has shown that moderate or severe depression is associated with more TV watching and other screen time.
And an abundance of sedentary behavior can also heighten a variety of health risks. For example, the CDC points out that not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease, even for people who have no other risk factors, and can boost the chances of developing other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. The CDC adds that recommended physical activity can also reduce the risk of many cancers, like cancers of the breast, colon and uterus.
In short, it’s a must to ask yourself if you’re chilling out to the point that you’re forgoing behaviors that are integral to your overall health and well-being. DeWitt advises asking yourself the following questions:
Are you binge-watching at the deficit of doing physical exercise, connecting with friends, getting enough sleep?
Is it impeding your daily functioning and your ability to thrive?
Are you using it as a tool or a mechanism to avoid things in your life that you don’t want to deal with?
If any of the answers is yes, it is likely advisable to cut back. When it comes to knowing the ideal amount of time to spend loafing, know that it’s not one-size-fits-all, explains DeWitt. “[There’s a difference between] somebody who has a busy week and is so productive and may say to themselves, ‘Sunday, I am binge-watching that show, and I feel great about it’ versus somebody else who’s really been avoiding confronting [challenges] in their life, and things are piling up, and they haven’t gotten their mail all week, and then, Sunday, they say the same thing,” she says.
No. 4: Consider mindful loafing
No matter which restful activity to opt to dive into when you’re loafing, you’ll do well to truly embrace it, says Marshall. “If I’m going to watch an hour of Gilmore Girls, I should do it fully,” she recommends. “I should be fully present in the moment, enjoying the show instead of thinking about my meeting tomorrow or the laundry I need to finish.”
In turn, you’ll be practicing mindfulness, which can improve physical health, reduce stress and bring more joy and happiness into your life, she says. Ultimately, opting to engage entirely with whichever de-stressing activity appeals the most can leave you feeling fulfilled and better than you did before you watched your favorite show or read your current, go-to book, says Marshall. She concludes, “When we feel better, we’re more productive and successful.”