Binge Watching TV and Depression
How do you like to unwind after a long, busy day? For some people, the best tonic (pun intended) is a chilled glass of wine and conversation with a good friend. Others prefer going to the gym to work out any residual stress in a kickboxing class or a run on the treadmill. And there are plenty of those who would say there is nothing better than turning on the television for hours of mindless viewing time to relax. If you fall into that third category, though, beware. New research suggests that watching multiple episodes of your favorite shows in one sitting might be associated with some psychological troubles.
The study, which took place at the University of Texas at Austin, found that binge watching of television programs may be a warning sign of mental health issues including depression and loneliness.1 The subjects were 316 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. They answered surveys that addressed topics such as their typical television viewing behavior and their emotional state, including how often they experience depression or loneliness.
Defined as indulging in anywhere from two to six episodes of the same television program successively, binge watching really represents any time you are non-stop viewing anything on TV for hours on end. Many people do it on a cold winter night to catch up on missed episodes of a favorite show or use a weekend to overdose on a full season of a show that came highly recommended, fully immersing themselves in "Breaking Bad" or "Orange is the New Black."
The scientists discovered that those who said they felt depressed or lonely more frequently were generally the ones who watched more television. Many of the participants spending more time in front of their TVs were also identified as having self-control issues. They often admitted that they felt helplessly unable to make themselves shut off the television, even when they had other things to accomplish that were obviously more important.
The concept of binge watching is fairly new, as our technology has made it easier and easier in recent years. After all, televisions weren't even common in households until the 1950s. Then, before cable and satellite TV, we only had a handful of options--such as getting lost in reading fictional stories for hours on end about people whose lives were more interesting than our own. But with literally thousands of channels, services like Netflix and on demand, blu-ray players and DVRs, and streaming devices all available today, a person can literally watch whatever they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want if they are so inclined.
And other studies suggest that this habit of binge watching is a true form of addiction fueled by the same areas of the brain that controls the need to use drugs or alcohol or any "addictive" behavior for that matter. Once the addict starts watching, the levels of dopamine start to rise, creating a sense of pleasure and happiness within the brain's reward center.
However good it can feel, though, binge watching could potentially be dangerous to the health, particularly if it is a regular event. The hazards of being sedentary are well known. Let's face it, if you are regularly settled in on the couch watching television for several hours straight, chances are you are not terrifically active the rest of the time. And a 2014 study at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain found that viewers under the age of 40 who watched three hours or more of television daily doubled their risk of death.2
If you've been trying to convince yourself that your binge watching behavior is completely harmless, it may well be time to force yourself off the couch and on to other pursuits. Go for a walk or take a bike ride. Exercise will keep you away from the boob tube and has also been shown to be a great natural way to combat depression. Add to your social calendar in the evenings too, if the problem is that you are spending too much time alone. Join a book club, sign up for an adult's league of a sport you enjoy playing, join the church choir, or take an instructional class for a new hobby. Anything you choose that will keep you interested and busy and away from addictive behavior is a great step in the right direction. Oh, and whatever you do, don't switch from binge watching on television to obsessively pursuing some new activity. You don't want to swap one addictive behavior for another.
- 1. Firger, Jessica. "Depression, loneliness linked to binge-watching TV." CBS News. 29 January 2015. Accessed 4 February 2015. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/depression-loneliness-linked-to-binge-watching-television
- 2. Basterra-Gortari, Francisco Javier; et al. "Television Viewing, Computer Use, Time Driving and All-Cause Mortality: The SUN Cohort." Journal of the American Heart Association. 25 June 2014. Accessed 5 February 2015. http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/3/3/e000864.full?sid=7d563fb0-96f9-4fbc-8cb0-07fde9241ccc