Binge-watching of shows from various streaming services has become a global phenomenon. The instant gratification of cozying up with your smart devices, with favorite snacks and shows seems great but think again. Watching your favorite shows on a continuous streak may seem fulfilling but what about its impact. Experts have warned that binge-watching of shows can be harmful to the brain. It is vital to understand that the brain isn’t an isolated organ, it responds to the environment created around it. Here when we speak of the environment, we mean isolating ourselves from social engagements and snacking on large amounts of unhealthy food for watching our favorite shows on a continuous run.
What is “Binge” Watching?
In simple terms, it means the activity of watching a show or shows for hours together and forgetting about the work you have to do. Once a while is fine but if you indulge in this often, there are negative effects on the brain and can lead to undesirable changes in one’s body. It is an absolute red flag if watching third, fourth, or fifth episodes of the show are at the cost of healthy routine or activities.
What’s the harm, I am just watching a few shows?
Research shows that indulging in binge-watching each day could lead to cognitive decline in memory and language. This is because of the rapid changes in sounds, images, and actions, etc that your brain is continuously processing while you are passively receiving the information. Here, you aren’t interfacing with what you are seeing, in the way you would while playing an online game or researching something. With some shows being stressful, and it is this long exposure to a stressful viewing that is associated with impairments in cognition. You tend to lose out on sleep, staying up late into the wee hours of the morning to complete the series. As a result, the next day, you will end up being groggy, disoriented and unproductive.
What is the Impact?
Since binge-watching, the shows make the viewer feel amazing and is taken as an enjoyable activity hence the brain releases a chemical called dopamine or neurotransmitters. This chemical, in layman term, can be termed as a “messenger” between the brain cells. Dopamine is important for many of our daily behavior and plays a vital role in our movements, how do we eat, respond, learn and even whether we become addicts to drugs, any activity and in this case addicts to binge-watching programs. So the “feel good” factor is actually because of this chemical that is released and the brain signals the body to continue doing it because it feels too good to stop the said activity. And in turn, the body keeps producing dopamine that gives you a feeling of being happy or high, akin to taking drugs. So to conclude, the addiction to a particular show is actually your body’s addiction to dopamine. And the effects of binge-watching are more or less similar to one’s body as it happens with an addiction to any drugs. The body doesn’t understand the activity that you are indulging in be it binge-watching shows or eating food that comforts you, alcohol or drugs per se, but it is bound to get addicted to anything that helps it release this chemical — dopamine.
How to put an end to it?
It is up to you to create a healthy lifestyle routine by understanding the ill-effects of such activities. The happiness or the high you get out of binge-watching is temporary, and once the series or the show ends, you either tend to feel a little lost, unable to focus or start the habit all over again with some other show. To keep your body and brain active, try getting up, and walking around instead of staying put in one place. Our brain can generate new cells, according to a recent study, through a process called neurogenesis and exercise is the key to that process. Make sure to have ample exercise or dedicate time to do yoga or meditate.
Here are some more ways you can keep the binge-watching habit in check:
- Commit to setting up a time for watching the show and follow it through. This can be tough owing to the cliffhangers faced in every episode, and which seems to be resolved if you would just stay up for another episode. But to develop healthy viewing habits, it is important to set parameters for ourselves
- Try allocating a certain time during the day especially your break time at work and enjoy few episodes. Watching your favorite shows will be helpful in elevating your mood, and blowing off some steam Do something fun or interesting after you finish the episodes. Pick up a hobby that had been long forgotten. Go out, meet friends, hit the gym or just go for a stroll in the park. By creating an additional source of pleasure, you will be less likely to be addicted to binge-watching
- When viewing shows that weigh in with too much emotional, disruptive, violent or depressing content, feelings tend to linger on even after the show has ended. To avoid these, try some brain-stimulating exercises like solving a puzzle or some board games. Take time off from online activities while keeping in mind that it was just a show which is based on fictional characters and plot made for purely entertaining its viewers