Could Watching TV Worsen Your Pain?

Health Writer

Many of us think of watching television as a way to relax and unwind. However, recent studies indicate that watching stressful events on TV could actually add to our stress levels and therefore to our levels of pain.

For example, three years after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., researchers found that people who watched more than one hour a day of 9/11-related TV coverage in the week after the attacks experienced increases in post-traumatic stress.

After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, researchers at the University of California conducted similar research to see if watching the bombing event on television increased stress even for those who were not at the marathon. The researchers studied more than 4,500 people around the country, including 850 people who were in Boston on the day of the bombing. As they expected, both direct exposure to the event and indirect media exposure to the event were linked to stress symptoms. However, the people who consumed a lot of bombing-related media in the week after the bombings were six times more likely to report high acute stress than those who were actually at the Boston marathon. Researchers theorize one reason for this result is that the media exposure was often graphic and was played over and over. For those actually at the event -- those who were not injured, that is -- the bombing happened once and then, for the most part, ended.

We are just beginning to understand the role of media in shaping our emotions. However, based on the latest research, it stands to reason that if you are living with chronic pain, limiting your exposure to stressful events on television is probably wise. After all, it is well established that increased stress can make chronic pain levels worse.


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Dr. Tracy Davenport is a health writer, advocate and entrepreneur who has been helping individuals live their best life. She is co-author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux. Follow Tracy’s love of smoothies on Twitter.