Binge-watching may be fun, but here are five reasons why it can be utterly harmful for health as well
There’s a flip-side to binge-watching, and most people indulge in it without realising the harm it is doing to their mind and body.
It starts with one episode at 9 pm: a single episode of that show you love to watch. Yet the next time you look at the watch, it’s 4 am - you haven’t slept a wink, and you’ve watched almost an entire season. That’s binge-watching for you.
Binge-watching, or watching multiple episodes or movies back-to-back, is such a phenomenon today that you’re probably judged by your peers for not doing it enough. Chances are you even feel left out of conversations — at parties, and in the office — if you haven’t watched every episode of the latest binge-worthy show on a live-streaming or video-on-demand platform.
That’s the sort of pressure to binge-watch that most people live with now, but it’s enjoyable too. With entertainment literally on our fingertips, binge-watching is, in fact, more than just fun. It gives everyone access to stories from around the world, unites global communities of fans, and breaks the monotony after a day’s hard work is done.
But there’s a flip-side to binge-watching, and most people indulge in it without realising the harm it is doing to their mind and body. Here are a few things that could go wrong if you binge-watch too much.
1. It’s like being on drugs
Your brain produces a chemical called dopamine whenever you engage in an activity you love. This chemical makes you feel good and happy by inducing a “high” that many drugs do too. If you love binge-watching, your brain is likely rewarding you with dopamine when you watch a show. You may be addicted to that “high” and chasing it by binge-watching some more. The moment you stop binge-watching, you feel a low and only a fresh dose — a new episode — can satiate that hollow feeling. This addictive behaviour can be highly intrusive and stop you from accomplishing your daily goals and activities.
2. It isolates you
Yes, watching television shows and movies is the perfect way to unwind and disconnect from the world whenever you need a break - whether it’s after work or on your day(s) off. But binge-watching is a different ball game altogether. Since it is addictive, you are more likely to forego the chance to socialise in person in your free time, and instead, binge-watch without limits or the thought of long-term consequences. Your binge-watching habit is more likely to isolate you from your family and friends than you realise.
Psychologists have compared isolation as a result of binge-watching to isolation because of spending too much time on social media.
3. It interferes with sleep patterns
Binge-watching is essentially a non-stop engagement, and since you might not be able to do it while you are at work, it is highly likely that you will do it through the night. As mentioned before, it may start with the resolution to watch just one episode, but if you are addicted to it, you may get excited about the next episode or season and end up binge-watching through the night - giving up on sleep rather than giving up on watching the latest series you’re obsessed with. In this case, your sleep cycle will inevitably become irregular and it can lead to sleep disorders as well. The ultimate result is that you won’t have had enough rest or sleep to function properly.
4. Induces stress, anxiety and depression
You might ask: if watching a show can help you unwind, then how can binge-watching induce stress? This might be confusing but think about it: if you are so invested in a show or its characters that you feel you must binge-watch to know what’s going on, then feeling anxious about what happens next is a real possibility. Not being able to watch the next episode (especially due to network issues) can lead to stress and anxiety, too. There’s even a fancy term for this condition: show hole, where finishing a series or waiting for the next season to drop can make you feel empty like there’s a hole inside you that cannot be filled. Needless to say, these feelings of stress and anxiety, when coupled with the addictive and isolating nature of binge-watching, can lead to depression.
5. It may lead to weight gain
Recent studies have indicated that binge-watching is a type of obesogenic behaviour, which means that it can lead to weight gain and obesity. Not only are you isolated and immobile when you are binge-watching, but you are also most likely to be indulging in junk food and binge eating without thinking about what you’re putting in your body. This sedentary life pattern, where binge-watching and binge eating go hand in hand, can lead to weight gain.
How to kick the binge-watching habit?
We all binge-watch a little bit - no one wants to hear or read spoilers before they get to the end of that much-awaited series! But if you feel that this habit is taking over your life, then it is time to reassess your priorities. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Set a time limit: Fix the amount of time you will dedicate to watching shows every evening or night and stick to it. Use a timer or alarms if needed.
2. Balance it right: Don’t let a show become the central focus of your life, and balance it with hobbies and exercise routines. Activities, like reading books or going for a walk, will help you limit your screen time as well.
3. Separate areas for watching and sleeping: Keep your viewing limited to areas other than the bedroom and the bed. Keep the lights on when you are watching a show, and switch off both the television or mobile phone and the lights once the time limit for watching is up. This separation of zones will help you sleep better without craving yet another episode.
4. Be social: Don’t indulge in viewing alone. Ask a friend or family member to share your time. This will help you switch the show(s) off and give you a social circle where you can discuss your shows instead of binge-watching in isolation.
For more on this topic, please read our article on Depression: Symptoms and Treatment.
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