In a world where Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or any number of other television streaming sites are accessible with a few pushes of a button, our society is spending a lot of time watching TV. We’ve all been in a situation where we get engrossed in a new show and spend an entire evening watching episode after episode. This phenomenon is called binge watching, and while it may not be harmful in small doses, it may be indicative of a much larger problem.
Binge watching is usually defined as watching two or more episodes of the same television show in a row. Some people binge watch TV all day every day, while others watch less regularly. If you find yourself in the former category, you may want to take a more introspective look at your health.
A link to depression
Recent studies have found a link between binge watching television and depression. These studies discovered that people who were experiencing feelings of loneliness and depression were more likely to binge watch. This is not to say that all people who binge watch TV have depression, but that those who do may be at a higher risk for depression.
Unfortunately, binge watching can make depression and its symptoms even worse. Binge watching is also being linked to addiction, similar to that of drugs and alcohol, because it triggers dopamine receptors, which are the “reward centers” of the brain. Additionally, watching a lot of TV might be considered a distraction for people suffering from feelings of depression, but television could potentially trigger even worse feelings.
It is still uncertain whether binge watching television causes depression, or if depression itself leads people to binge watch television more frequently. In either case, consuming continuous streams of television may be harming your mental health and overall wellbeing.
The dangers of binge watching
Regardless of whether you are someone who suffers from clinical depression, binge watching a lot of television on a regular basis can be disastrous for both your mental and physical health.
Watching hours of television can make people less productive. All those hours spent watching take away from time you have to get necessary tasks done or spend time with friends and family. People with depression already tend to struggle to complete routine tasks, and binge watching might make this even more difficult
Additionally, watching television might get your heart rate up during intense scenes, but long hours spent sitting on the couch does little for physical health. Sedentary lifestyles have been proven to be harmful to people’s wellbeing, both because of the higher risk of disease and because physical exercise is often recommended to help ease feelings of depression. Watching TV also usually goes hand-in-hand with eating snacks. Combined, a lack of physical activity and eating can lead to obesity, heart disease or diabetes.
When it comes to mental health, watching intense television shows can have a severe impact on your mood and cognitive wellbeing. Some shows may cause high stress, fear, anxiety or sadness, all of which can be triggering to someone with mental illness or who is already severely stressed in real life. Too much of these emotions in a single sitting can be overwhelming.
Finally, watching TV at night can also alter the way your body gets ready to go to sleep by interfering with melatonin production, causing sleeplessness or poor sleep at night. A lack of a quality night’s rest is also linked to feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as a lack of focus and poor moods.
Alternatives to TV
While TV in small doses is usually fine for the average person, consider trying out other activities before clicking “next episode” and put a halt to your binge-watching session.
- Read: Reading a book may provide a similar feeling of enthrallment with new characters, settings and plots without the harsh light of a TV. Reading keeps your mind active by processing and helps you stay alert.
- Puzzles and games: Solving crossword puzzles or doing a physical puzzle or game can help keep your distracted from negative feelings while maintaining an active mind and holding your interest. If you are able to play games with family or friends, the social interaction may also help ease feelings of stress or depression.
- Light exercise: Taking a walk, going for a jog, swimming, dancing or other activities can be an excellent and effective way to treat symptoms of depression. Exercise helps your brain release endorphins and other feel-good chemicals. Additionally, exercising keeps your body fit and active to help prevent conditions like obesity and heart disease.
It may be hard to turn off the TV when your favorite show leaves you in a cliffhanger, but switching gears for a while and doing something else may benefit your brain and overall wellness.