TOAD Talk: The Comfort of the Familiar

An honor and responsibility for the TOAD (teacher on active duty) most Mondays is to give what’s called a TOAD Talk at the day’s Assembly. The topics of each talk are completely up to the TOAD and have ranged from sea slugs and feminism to vampire bats and glitter. A recent talk by Associate Director of College Counseling Courtney Cronin focused on finding comfort in the familiarity and predictability of the shows and books we rewatch and reread. Read on for a transcript of her talk.

In March of 2020, when the pandemic first locked everything down, I read something on social media that went like:

“I just found out that people who suffer from anxiety tend to rewatch the same tv shows all over again because we already know what’s going to happen next. Therefore it creates a sense of safety/comfort and that’s the reason we keep rewatching them.”
This was coupled with the monkey puppet doing the side eye thing.

And wow. Did I feel seen. 

I have long been teased for my rewatching and rereading tendencies. I honestly thought something was wrong with me that instead of indulging in a new series that came highly recommended, I’d turn on an episode of something I’ve already seen before. I’ve always been shocked that people feel they can’t buy books because they won’t ever read them again. 

But it makes sense. Growing up the oldest child of divorced parents, I suffered from a multitude of anxiety-related issues – perfectionism, people pleasing to an extreme degree, self-martyrdom, the need to serve as a role model to my sister – and to have these tie back to movie rewatching and book rereading, well everything fell into place.

I had never actually considered myself as someone dealing with anxiety; I thought my experience with heart-wrenching stress, nauseating worry, disordered eating, and emotional exhaustion were normal, but I was just worse at dealing with it. 

Enter stage left, Covid 19.

When you add in a pandemic, my anxiety was exacerbated to an insane degree. I started following different accounts on Instagram that led me to the same conclusion - I was just a highly functioning sufferer of anxiety. Living alone (Coach was not in the picture yet) and needing to stay 6 feet away from all other beings, including when outside, took a major toll on my mental health, and launched me into a period of intense introspection. Like INTENSE. Still working through those thoughts now with the help of a therapist and some medication.

But anyways. What did I rewatch? What did I reread? How did I alleviate my anxiety with the written and spoken word?

My go-to rewatch movie is Miracle, which I believe may be the best movie ever made. Miracle follows the 1980 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey team as they beat the undefeated (for like decades) Soviets. This team was made up of former college hockey players (not the pros like you see now in the Olympics) from all over the country (though mostly Boston and Minnesota). It is funny, it is sad, and it leaves you feeling good. One week I watched it each night because I needed the emotions it brought out in me.

My go-to TV shows to rewatch are Schitt’s Creek (25 min is a perfect length), Gilmore Girls (hello fall), and New Girl (when I need something besides Schitt’s Creek). The pandemic gave me plenty of time to turn these on multiple times all the way through. The same can be said for Gossip Girl (the original, not the new one). And, of course, The Office. But only the early seasons.

I found that channels with predictable TV shows also helped. Chopped was too stressful, but other Food Network shows with gentle music worked. HGTV is fabulous because the shows are all set up the same way. I know I’m getting a positive ending.

And that is what’s special about rewatching and rereading – you know what you’re going to get.

When I need a good cry, P.S. I Love You always does the trick (10/10 recommend). A young wife loses her husband (not a spoiler, it happens like 2 minutes into the movie) and grapples with grief and recovery with his help. 

When I’m feeling homesick, I always watch On Golden Pond (filmed on Squam Lake in NH) or Little Women. The Orchard House, where the Alcotts grew up, was at the bottom of the hill I grew up on and it was actually my bus stop. I also love Maine Cabin Masters as the crew tackles summer camps on the lakes of Maine.

When I need motivation to clean or organize, it’s Under the Tuscan Sun. Diane Lane redoes an old Italian villa and it makes you want to redo your entire house.

The Holiday. Home Again. Anything directed by Nancy Meyers. All scream comfort and stability (and beautiful homes). And I rewatch them all all the time.

As a kid I reread every Harry Potter book multiple times; I think probably close to 10 each. At least. Each time I found new things, and learned more deeply about the characters. This allowed me to make connections with Latin, with astronomy, with Greek history. The Time Traveler’s Wife, I know, will make me cry every time, as will almost any Kristen Hannah book.

There is something calming, something comforting about watching and reading something you’ve experienced before. Nostalgia, which I talked about in last year’s TOAD talk, is powerful. The way things were. You knew who you were during that time. There was order and peace, even if there wasn’t, because now you aren’t in the middle of living it. The exact opposite of what Covid felt like. “Unprecedented times” indeed.

But I do watch new things, and I do read new things. Mostly over breaks (summer mainly), when my anxiety levels are low, I can tackle new plots, new characters. But starting something new, like The Queen’s Gambit or Euphoria (it took me a week to finish last week’s episode), took a lot of courage and strength on my part, and it takes even more energy to sustain it. When watching new shows, I find myself pausing it often, needing to give myself time to process and decompress. I multitask watching new things so that I am not so anxious with not knowing what happens next. The same is true for books. It takes me longer to warm up to a new book than it does an old one.

All of this is to say that anxiety affects us all in different ways at different times. Some need to take a run. Some need to meditate. Some need different things at different times.

So if you’d rather watch something you’ve already seen, or read a book that gives you comfort, know I’m on your team.

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