Turns out "I'll be there for you" isn't just a lyric from the Friends theme song. It's also a promise from the show to its fans with anxiety. When you are suffering from anxious thoughts, a psychologist has said, binge-watching shows like Friends can help calm you down. Netflix can't take it away now, can it? It's a public health concern!
While the show hasn't been on the air for 15 years, it remains a staple with people from all age groups. I kid you not, my 16-year-old cousin is obsessed with it, watching reruns nonstop on Netflix even though she was barely even a person when it ended. What can I say? The show has staying power, and now, according to Marc Hekster, clinical psychologist at The Summit Clinic, it has healing power, too.
"Having worked for over a period of 20 years with those experiencing anxiety," Hekster told Metro, "I can conclude that among other factors, it is the repetitive and relational nature of programs such as Friends and Big Bang Theory that will be doing the trick" when it comes to easing anxious thoughts.
"Anxiety is in fact the human minds' alarm system, indicating that something is wrong, and usually the result of pent up and unprocessed feelings," he continued. "If [the feelings] can't find a way of being expressed, the alarm system triggers, and it is usually not very pleasant for the person suffering with anxiety."
As someone who has experienced anxiety here and there, I can tell you with certainty that it is no fun. It can totally consume you and make you unable to perform basic tasks. There are many tricks for easing anxiety that mental health professionals recommend, from breathing and counting exercises to meditating to doing yoga.
But I have a feeling this new one, binge-watching your favorite comfort show, will resonate with a lot of people. Just a hunch. Even if you don't suffer from anxiety, you probably find great comfort in rewatching shows like Friends over and over. Why is that?
Well, aside from the fact that they still mostly hold up and are pretty funny ("Smelly Cat" is still my jam, y'all!), each episode is reassuring for a specific reason. Hekster said, "[Friends] is about an experience of repair, of watching the characters in the show repeatedly having worries, which then get repaired and soothed, usually in the context of other relationships in their lives."
This makes sense. Even when Ross is yelling, "We were on a break!" over and over again, you know that things will get resolved. It's a shock when Ross says, "I take thee, Rachel" during his wedding to Emily (man, Ross, get it together!), but you know that because it's a show, and a show you've seen before, it will eventually work itself out.
"Complex problems are made the focus of each episode," Hekster told Metro, "and then they are resolved within the relationships which are the essence of the shows. It is pure escapism, excellent, bring it on." We get to focus on Rachel's problems at work and Monica's complicated relationship with Richard instead of, you know, all the real-life issues we're facing, and there's a lot of comfort in that.
"This is about the healing nature of repetition," Hekster explained. "We see this in children, resolving child-like feelings and emotions by doing the same thing over and again — often to the incredulity of their parents." Oh, so we're all just big babies. Great. But it's true.
"It is soothing to see the same outcome every time and know you can depend on it. This is at the heart of human development," Hektser continued.
Hekster warns us that while this repetition is comforting and soothing in the short term, it can also sort of trick you into believing that real life is like TV just a little too much. "On the negative side," he said, "none of it is very real, and how can life ever be so...kind of perfect? It can't."
So while watching Friends repeats can be a great way to ease your anxious thoughts and bring you back down to earth, don't get too deep into it and think this is how life really operates. What we should all really be focusing on instead is achieving unagi. (JK, JK, just more Ross nonsense for ya!)