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Insight: Rewatching old cartoons helps ground me

Cartoons gave me a sense of certainty when it couldn't be found anywhere else


"The pretend and make-believe of fiction can help us be bigger than our stress and anxiety." Illustration published on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

During my sophomore year of high school, I felt like I hit rock bottom. 

Anxiety had begun to occupy my life as I spiraled into stress due to academic and social issues that overwhelmed my mind. 

As another bleak Maine winter set in, a sense of hopelessness accompanied it — I spent most days under blankets watching “Teen Titans” and “Sailor Moon” on my laptop to take temporary leave from my problems. 

Although this happened three years ago, I still find solace in cartoons whenever life gets to be too much — this past year I fell back into this habit. 

Even while I have received more specialized help, cartoons provided me with a mental health benefit that is both comforting and grounding. 

Watching these cartoons gave me a sense of certainty when it couldn't be found anywhere else in my life.

The repetitive "Sailor Moon" story arc of trials and tribulations with an ultimate end victory allows for a predictable outcome with no stress attached, all while introducing new characters and beautiful art to stimulate my brain.

Beyond the predictability, children’s cartoons have an ever-present theme of optimism and a better tomorrow, regardless of the hijinks that ensue. Watching characters in a fictional environment work through relatable problems all while maintaining a sense of positivity provides a subliminal yet vital message to look at the world through a different lens.

When looking at this phenomenon, the effect cartoons have can sometimes be chalked up to the effects of nostalgia and simplicity. By re-watching an old cartoon, it can bring up feelings associated with happiness and comfort, reminding us of the capability to move past worries.

For some, escapism is the best form of dealing with anxiety, and cartoons can provide a safe method for this coping mechanism.

Cartoons like “Avatar: The Last Airbender” allow for real world problems to be stripped from the narrative, engrossing the watcher in fantastical worlds with no talk of money, employment or academics — topics that so often plague an anxiety-ridden mind. 

For me, it was less a form of escapism and more a way of simplifying the world around me. 

Dealing with the scattered emotions of a 15-year-old was difficult, but looking at it the same way Raven deals with her Emoticlones in "Teen Titans" created an idea more abstract and less tangled. 

This abstraction of complex ideas is yet another reason as to why cartoons can be so beneficial to mental health and world understanding. Beyond stress relief, cartoons provide a point of view that tackles complex subjects in a concrete way. This tactic allows for re-examination of thought processes and a more simplified world view, opening up dialogue where others found it too difficult to begin. 

When I watched Aang grapple with the concept of letting go to move forward with his thought chakra, this allowed a me to open up a conversation with myself to place importance in the right things — something that my high school sophomore year self did not do so well. 

READ MORE: 'Avatar: The Last Airbender's' themes, characters leave lasting impact 

Steven Universe” is another show that welcomes the challenge of speaking on difficult topics in a cartoon setting, touching on minority representation, mental illness and injustice through mythical allegories. For many, this representation and the conversations started as a result provide a sense of hope and faith for the future when other outlets do not. 

Children have long been considered the demographic for cartoons due to the creative way they approach problems — in the adult world, much of society has been conditioned to follow rules and regulations to get by.

However, when looking at cartoons as a way to deconstruct complex world problems, the typical stereotype crumbles. Cartoons can provide something for anyone, particularly in the realm of coping.

There is no cure-all for mental health issues. But at the end of the day, we must work with the tools we have to manage our mental state as best as possible. 

If cartoons are able to give you an oasis away from the turmoil of life, or at least help you rest your brain and laugh, you’re on the right path to a more positive tomorrow. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @jillianecote on Twitter.

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