It used to be that to have a TV or movie marathon, you had to plan it. You had to get box sets or rent what you wanted to watch in advance. You had to think things out and make it an event. Now, every few hours, Netflix asks if you’re still watching, and you realize you’ve been having a marathon accidentally.
With the advent of streaming services, movie marathons and binge-watching have become all too easy. And, what once was a planned event became a Tuesday night. Last year when things were closed down and we were told to stay home, TV became our default form of entertainment. And, over the last few years, it’s become common for people to watch complete seasons of shows the weekend they are released to streaming services to avoid spoilers. But, it isn’t healthy, and it should be avoided.
If you find yourself constantly saying, “Just one more episode,” you are not alone. More than 61 percent of Americans admit to binge-watching. And, the majority of binge-watchers are consuming 30 hours of TV in a week.
“When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge-watching, your brain produces dopamine,” said Dr. Renee Carr, a clinical psychologist. “This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When binge-watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine.”
But, like any addiction, our brains can go into withdrawal when we finish a show. And it can have a negative effect on our lives. “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing,” said Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist. “We call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.”
People who self-identify as binge-watchers suffer from higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress. People often put binge-watching alone over other forms of interaction and sleep. Neither of which are conducive to good mental health. According to a study, binge-watching also puts strain on your eyes and can even contribute to premature death.
The good news is, there are ways of breaking the habit of binge-watching. You can block the site on a computer with browser plugins like Self Control for Mac or Cold Turkey for Windows. You can set the times of day when you cannot access a streaming site through your computer or iPad. If you watch through your TV, hide the controller from yourself. You can also plan out your watching and use it as a reward for getting other things done: allow yourself one episode after you complete a task. Go into the options menu and turn off the autoplay feature. We often watch the next episode because it’s there, already going. If you have to think about it and recognize that one has ended, that might be enough to help you move on to a different activity.
One piece of advice we like is to look up spoilers. How often are you racing through a show just to find out what happens next? If it’s a great show, it will still be a great show, even if you know who gets the girl, if they pull off the heist or who survives. You can take the urgency away and give yourself a way to slow down and enjoy the ride.
Another tip is to not be a completionist. Everyone absolutely loves Game of Thrones, but if you start it and it’s not for you, don’t bother watching it. Many people binge-watch these supposedly “culturally important” shows just to get through them. It’s called “purge-watching,” and it’s a waste of your time. You can also do something else that’s often frowned upon — stop an episode in the middle. Even if you like a show, don’t watch a show until the end of the episode each night. Frequently, they end on a cliffhanger. If you plan to watch two episodes and something exciting happens in the last scene, you might find yourself watching a third just to find out what happens next. Streaming services hold your spot for you. When your show hits a quiet moment, quit for the night and pick it up there tomorrow.
Hopefully, this advice gets you away from screens, sitting less, interacting more and sleeping better. We don’t demonize TV; we have some shows that we love! But watching episode after episode isn’t a healthy choice. Use this advice to take a break and enjoy other activities!