You’re sitting down in front of the TV after a long day and decide to start watching that new show everyone's been talking about… Cut to few hours later and you find that you’ve cruised through more than half a season and find yourself battling the temptation to stay up to watch just one more episode, even though you know you'll be paying for it at work the next morning. If you can relate, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It happens to the best of us; and thanks to streaming platforms we're granted instant access to several hundred show options that we can watch all in one sitting.
Binge watching is essentially not a new concept as many people did this earlier especially on their favourite movies and shows through television and DVDs or what we call, movie marathons, but now, the concept of binge-watching is related to watching hours of content on online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ to name a few. There's no official, universally accepted definition of a binge-watching - Is it the total length of watching? Is it the number of shows watched? Does it matter what time the activity occurs? Is binging different for each person? While we don’t have one definition of how much content or activity qualifies as a binge, but we do know that this behavioural pattern has several implications for our minds and Mental Health, and keeping that in mind, we need to be mindful of our behaviour around binge watching.
A binge-watch essentially implies watching a succession of your favourite shows or series is unhealthy. It is easy to assume streaming consecutive shows is inherently bad or unproductive. When a relatively new form of entertainment or technology like streaming comes along, it can be viewed suspiciously or is misunderstood. But now in the era of a pandemic that we’re not allowed to go out and are instead finding ourselves spending every day of our lives at home, one of the things we do to fight boredom and anxiety aside from scrolling through our social media feeds is binge-watching.
Have you ever thought about why you feel good after watching episode after episode of your favourite series? Some experts believe that this is linked to the chemicals being released in our brains and in this sense, the effect of binge watching on our mind is often similar to that of addiction. When we are engaged in an activity that's enjoyable such as binge watching, the brain produces dopamine which 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!' and this drives us to further continue that behaviour.
That being said, there are some positive effects as well of binge watching. At the outset, it helps to decrease stress and promote relaxation as it offers us a temporary escape from our day-to-day grind, and thus serving as a helpful stress management tool. Given that we are all bombarded with stress from everyday living, especially in a time where information floods us constantly, it can be hard to shut our minds down and tune out the stress and pressures. A binge watch can thus work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts. Additionally, it can also help us find meaning and insight. Given that we are engaged with the content we watching, we are finding meaning in it and trying to learn or develop deeper insights into the content. Lastly, binge watching can also promote socializing, something which is integral and healthy for our species. There are a lot of people who resort to binge watching as a social connection and a way of having a shared experience. This has been particularly true and helpful during the pandemic as it has helped to connect people that aren't always together physically due to the restrictions imposed.
While binge watching offers some benefits, it is important to be responsible while doing so. There are a few ways in which this can be achieved. It helps to at the outset have a reasonable plan which outlines what the stopping point will be while trying to not let it impede on your bedtime. This can help maintain a healthy schedule while also prioritizing our body needs. We know that sleep is paramount for human health. If watching-sessions are continually obstructing adequate sleep and rest, it is likely to lead a problem. When planning it is important to remember that it is not about the three shows in a row you choose to see but rather the time of day that you opt to do it. It is imperative to have parameters for the time you spend with your television and while this can be tough to do when you're faced with cliff hangers that might be resolved if you just stay up for one more episode, it is important to look after our own health too. Next, it is important to not multitask as it can make things worse - you are better off pausing and doing what you need to do. If you want to derive the benefits of your binge watch session and enjoy it to the maximum, trying to work or complete tasks while also trying to relax, reduce stress, or immerse oneself in storytelling is not a useful way to achieve these positive effects. When binge watching, do have some healthy snacks around as well as it can lead to regular junk-feasting which can also have detrimental health effects. Lastly, when it comes to binge watching, it is important to be balancing your binge with other activities. After binge-watching, you can look to schedule to time go out with friends or do something fun as by creating an additional source of pleasure, you will be less likely to become addicted to or binge watch the show.
So next time you choose to enjoy a good binge watch, remember the pros and cons of it and make a plan to keep it in check. Remember a binge watch can be a beneficial, vital reprieve, especially after a rough day or week; Or, in our case, an ongoing ordeal with a tiresome, uncertain pandemic! As mentioned, it can have a positive and negative effect on our health as it is wired like an addiction in our brain. However, most people use binge-watching as a stress reliever, especially in our current situation. Be a responsible binge-watcher and watch out for your health while enjoying the films and series you love. Happy watching!
Written by: Vedica Podar
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