What to watch when you are feeling tense or anxious

While tension and edge of your seat moments in TV shows can be a lot of fun, it’s not always the best thing for you when you are already feeling tense from real life worries and anxieties. I know there are times when the last thing I need is added stress, and while TV might be useful for relaxing, not every show is suitable. When this is the case it can be therapeutic to find a show with very little moments of tension, especially if it is one that will also help keep your spirits up and bring some light into your day. It is hard to find shows without tension, as that is often used to drive the plot and keep you wanting to see the next episode. However, I have collected six recommendations here which I think keep the tension to a minimum and also keep the mood light. With all of that in mind, here are some recommendations for shows which have very little tension and aim to bring a smile to your face.

Better Off Ted

Air Date: 2009 – 2010

Seasons: 2

Network: ABC

Country of Origin: US

Genre: Comedy, Sitcom

PremiseBetter Off Ted centres on Ted, an employee at fictional company Veridian Technologies. Ted has a well-paid and interesting job, researching and developing scientifically ground-breaking products, hampered by his developing guilt over the morals of the company and his bosses.

Why it works for this category: This show is very light-hearted, with no tense or dark moments to be had. Ted’s work is comically silly and while he may feel stress over the morality of the work, the audience is never expected to feel that same stress. The characters in this fictional workplace are all exaggerated for comic effect, so while the bosses may be unpleasant to work for they remain entertaining for the audience. If your real life worries are coming from work this show is removed enough from reality that it shouldn’t remind you of it too much. The episodes are short and easily watched one after the other if you need to sit a while to relax. This is a fun and silly sitcom that shouldn’t provide you with any extra tension, while entertaining you and cheering you up.

Note: If you would rather not watch anything relating to a workplace at all then other suggestions on this list would fit your needs better.

Related shows:

Spaced (nerdy comedy with an interest in science fiction)

Arrested Development (over-the-top characters, similar comedy, Portia De Rossi)

Eureka (crazy science and experiments, light-hearted tone)


Web Therapy

Air Date: 2008 – 2015

Seasons: 4

Network: Hulu

Country of Origin: US

Genre: Comedy, Sitcom, Improvised

Premise: Lisa Kudrow stars as self-centred therapist Dr. Fiona Wallice, who is attempting to create a new brand of therapy, composed of short sessions over webcam. Each episode is composed of segments, all taking place on Fiona’s computer screen.

Why it works for this category: Web Therapy is without tension as although Fiona is often stressed over the successes and failures of her business, it is less of a concern for the viewer, particularly as we do not necessarily want her to succeed. Fiona is not a likeable character, but it is her complete lack of self-awareness that makes her so hilarious to watch. The short segments will give you lots of great comic moments without any tense build up or stressful drama. Fiona’s clients may have stressful things going on in their lives, but the segments are always comedic over dramatic or upsetting. The humour is of a darker nature because of Fiona’s insensitivity and incompetence as a therapist, but if you enjoy less likeable characters in your comedy then you will likely love this. There are many great guest starts in this show, providing lots of fun and surprises, and it should help get you to relax and laugh at someone else’s stress for a while.

Note: The humour can be darker at times as Fiona is often insensitive, or will give terrible advice to her clients.

Related shows:

Nighty Night (this show is a lot darker in its humour but there is a similarly selfish and manipulative lead character)

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (selfish and insensitive characters with little self-awareness, sometimes controversial topics used for comedy)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (selfish, manipulative lead character, comedy derived from this)


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Air Date: 1981

Seasons: 1

Network: BBC

Country of Origin: UK

Genre: Sci-fi, Comedy

Premise: This is the fifth version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy story, following the original radio play, first novel, and stage shows. It was later followed by further adaptations. All iterations of this story concern Arthur Dent who, after hearing earth is about to be demolished, is dragged along on a galaxy-wide adventure with his secretly-an-alien best friend.

Why it works for this category: While The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a sci-fi adventure with the characters always getting into trouble and having to work out how to escape, it is done with such light-hearted comedy that there is no long-lasting tension to be had. While the characters are panicking about how to get out of whatever situation they’ve fallen in to, you can sit back and laugh at the absurdity, in the knowledge that things will work out somehow. The tone is always light and silly, and there are far more laughs to be had than drama. The characters are all loveable oddballs, and it is a joy to watch them on their adventures. I have found the radio play, novels, stage play, TV series, and to a lesser extent the movie, to be phenomenally enjoyable and a fantastic way to unwind. I have often listened to the play, read the book or watched the TV series when I have been stressed and it has helped tremendously. There is nothing quite like it when I need cheering up.

Note: I would also highly recommend listening to the radio play, particularly if you have stressful commutes.

Related shows:

Red Dwarf (comedy set on a spaceship, exaggerated characters, madcap adventure)

Other Space (comedy set on a spaceship, exaggerated characters)

Doctor Who (sci-fi adventure with comedic elements and oddball characters)


First Dates

Air Date: 2013 – Present

Seasons: 6

Network: Channel 4

Country of Origin: UK

Genre: Reality TV

Premise: This reality TV show takes place in a restaurant where everyone is on a first date. The show sets up couples based on their taste and likes/dislikes, then lets us watch how the date goes, alongside some interviews with the couple.

Why it works for this category: First Dates is surprising for reality TV in its optimism. This is not a show about making fun of the people featured or exploiting them for laughs. This show is actually surprisingly sweet, touching, hopeful, and often funny. Sometimes the dates work out wonderfully and you get to see romances blossoming. There are often very honest interviews regarding why people are single and their dating history, which can be both interesting and moving. Other times the date is a complete disaster, which can be funny or sad. There is little stress or tension, you can simply sit back and watch how the various dates go and wish for romance or disaster, depending on how you feel about the people involved. This show has more of a slice of life/fly on the wall type feel to it than most reality dating shows, and there is no false or exaggerated drama to be found. There are enough touching and funny moments to bring your mood up, as well as sadder moments which may put life’s worries in perspective.

Note: If romance is the cause of your stress/worries then this will either give you hope or make things worse by not taking your mind off the topic. Also if you are not interested in monogamy or do not believe in it, then this show may bother you as it is very much set up in favour of finding ‘the one’ and features monologues and interviews on this topic. However, the individual dates may still be fun for you.

Related shows:

Celebrity First Dates (the same show but with some dates being celebrities)

The Undateables (despite the insensitive title this show is surprisingly heartfelt while it follows people with disabilities as they date and find love)

The Job Interview (a similar style of fly-on-the-wall segments this time watching people have job interviews)


Flight of the Conchords

Air Date: 2007 – 2009

Seasons: 2

Network: HBO

Country of Origin: US

Genre: Comedy, Sitcom, Musical

PremiseFlight of the Conchords follows a two-man band from New Zealand as they try to live and make it in New York, with the help of their inexperienced and useless manager. This is very much a fish out of water type story as the odd duo attempt to fit in and find success as a band and in another culture.

Why it works for this category: Flight of the Conchords is deadpan comedy at its finest, with Bret and Jemaine calmly commenting, bickering and mumbling through ridiculous and surreal situations. The show also features musical numbers, which interrupt the reality of the show and turn it into a music video. There is no tension to this show as the characters are simply stumbling through life seemingly unaffected by most situations, or very affected by ridiculously small issues. This show will not add to any stress you have, and will give you a good laugh while you try to relax. If nothing else then watching the band’s hopeless manager Murray should make you feel better about your own life and capabilities, as well making you laugh a lot.

Note: The comedy is very deadpan and may not be to everyone’s tastes, but the first episode should be a good indicator.

Related shows:

Galavant (musical comedy)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (musical comedy)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (musical comedy)


The Big Fat Quiz of the Year

Air Date: 2004 – Present

Seasons: 23 stand-alone episodes

Network: Channel 4

Country of Origin: UK

Genre: Comedy, Panel Show, Quiz

PremiseThe Big Fat Quiz of the Year is an annual panel show which airs after Christmas in the UK. There are also some special themed spin offs at other points in the year. The show is in the style of a pub quiz and features three teams, each composed of two celebrities, who are often comedians. The Big Fat Quiz is always hosted by Jimmy Carr. Guests compete to correctly answer trivia questions about what happened in the news and pop culture that year.

Why it works for this category: I have often watched episodes of The Big Fat Quiz when I have been at my most stressed, tense and anxious, and it always helps tremendously. There is nothing in this to bring you any more tension or stress, it is simply a long quiz taken by some of the funniest people on UK TV. The banter between guests and the silly answers given to the questions are a joyful delight, and every episode has had moments that have left me crying with laughter. This is a show of pure entertainment and joy; it will in no way add to your stress and will give you plenty of laughs and happiness. You can either start at the first episode and work your way through or catch up on the latest one for the most up-to-date questions. There are very few call-backs to older episodes so it is up to you where to start. There are lists online of the guests featured on each episode if you would rather start with an episode featuring someone you know you like.

Note: Episode length varies from 90 – 130 minutes depending on whether it is the main end of the year quiz or not. However you could watch each round separately if you don’t have enough time.

Related shows:

8 Out of 10 Cats (similar guests, panel show about pop culture and the news)

Would I Lie to You? (similar guests, panel show)

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe (similar comedians, from 2006 – 2015 has featured an episode comically reviewing the events of the year)


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