While binge watching Netflix might sound like the perfect way to wind down after a busy day on campus, psychological studies suggest that this may end up actually making you feel more stressed. The key here is the idea of “Flow,” a concept and term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Psychology and Management professor at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. The state of flow can be described as when a person is “in the zone” of whatever activity they are doing, completely concentrated or immersed.
So what does this have to do with watching Netflix? Flow states often occur during activities like sports, creating artwork, playing games, or even simply hanging out with your friends. However, the flow state can only be achieved when skill level is equal to challenge. Too much challenge and not enough skills produces anxiety, while too much skill and not enough challenge results in boredom. The money spot is right in the middle-where the goal set is within reach of your current skillset.
The reason watching your favorite show on Netflix may increase your stress as opposed to reducing it is due to its lack of a challenge (No, staying awake doesn’t count!), and the passive state of the mind leaves you with a feeling of simply wasting time with nothing to show for it.
Cool… so why should you care?
Studies show that incorporating more flow into your daily routine increases well-being and creativity. If you’re stuck in that mid-semester rut, picking up one of these hobbies could be the key, boosting those feel-good dopamine levels as well as relaxing the prefrontal cortex (may be responsible for the sense of timelessness and lack of self-criticism in flow state). Basically, it feels good to do and be rewarded for things you’re good at- sounds legit! If you’re having trouble thinking of a “flow inducing” hobby to get involved in, here are a few that are easy to start up any time!
- You will obviously have something to show for this- your beautiful artwork! No worries if your tree looks like a broccoli stalk either – it’s “abstract.”
- Simply going out dancing with friends or dancing around your own kitchen can induce a flow state. You are constantly receiving feedback from others in a social situation, and dancing alone may be rewarding in its sense of personal achievement as you hit a move at just the right moment in that Beyoncé song.
- The best part about this one is that you get to enjoy the (literal) fruits of your labor – delicious food! There are recipes out there for almost anything your heart desires, like these 10 breakfast recipes. Even a box recipe can be rewarding if you add a personal flair or get it just right. The sky is the limit, really.
- This skill is relatively cheap to pick up, and there are so many cute things to make from blankets to scarves to hats and mittens. Grab some yarn and some knitting needles from the craft store, and let the all-knowing YouTube teach you its ways.
Talking to Friends… even about Netflix
- Netflix is not the destroyer of all happiness. In fact, it can be quite the opposite when you use the shows you’ve been watching as a topic of conversation. Social situations give very simple feedback, and they do have a certain level of challenge in maintaining an interesting conversation. A successful convo with a friend can be just as rewarding as any hobby!
If this is sounding like a whole lot of work, think of it this way – you are making your time work for you. Try many of these things, and see what you enjoy or already have a knack for. The list of flow activities is extensive. Getting “in the flow” of these hobbies will leave you happier and healthier, not to mention you may have some sweet new skills to show for it.