Is Binge Watching Bad For Your Mental Health?

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

In 1997, Netflix was founded. Initially a video/DVD postal service, it morphed in to a streaming service and more recently has become a production powerhouse – making its own content and increasingly dominating its market.

Netflix, obviously, has competitors (e.g. Stan, Foxtel Now) but on its own it has more than 100 million users globally and approximately 8 million in Australia alone!

On average, a typical Netflix user watches at least 12 hours each week; which is almost 2 hours each and every day (and these numbers are rapidly increasing). But most users don’t spread out their viewing evenly. Rather, many binge watch episodes or series on a regular basis. According to a recent Netflix survey 61 percent of users regularly watch between 2-6 episodes of a show in one sitting

There’s no doubt many viewers find this pleasurable, in fact we probably wouldn’t do it if it didn’t feel good or at the very least, relieve stress (that same Netflix survey found that 73 percent of participants reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching). But some health professionals are starting to ask, “is there any downside?’

Although the answer to this is complex, and although it will almost certainly vary from person to person, the simple answer is yes, it definitely can have a negative impact. After the pleasure and excitement can come tiredness and exhaustion. Some viewers have even reported feeling depressed they have no more episodes to watch!

According to a number of studies looking to understand this relatively recent phenomenon, experts have identified several causes and explanations. On the one hand, it can be explained as a form of loss; and so we grieve for what we no longer have. Another finding identified that for a significant proportion of binge watchers the experience is isolating; and we know the negative impact loneliness can have on our mental health. Another, relatively obvious consequence of binge watching is the extent to which it can detract from sleep, both in terms of quality and quantity. Poor sleep is closely correlated with poor mental health as it’s hard to be happy and productive if you’re tired all the time.

  • So, go ahead and binge watch your latest, favourite series. Enjoy the rush and the post-viewing conversations and analysis with your friends. At the same time, however, make sure you consider the following do’s and don’ts:
  • Set a time limit: by definition, binge watching involves watching multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession which at the very least, will be several hours. Too much of a good thing, however, is not always good anymore. So ideally, decide BEFORE you get sucked in, how long you want your session to extend for and be strong enough to turn off at the agreed time.
  • Don’t neglect your relationships: there’s nothing at all wrong with watching TV or engaging in any other recreational activity. Unless, that is, you’re spending so much time watching on your own that your relationships with family and friends suffer. Commit to ensuring this doesn't happen.
  • Along the same lines as that referred to above, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing and chilling. But there is something wrong with letting your physical health and wellbeing deteriorate. Make sure, then, you get at least some exercise and activity in your days or weeks.
  • And set aside time, also, for other recreational activities, ideally ones that involve connecting with others. We all need some alone time, but one of the most significant contributors to health and wellbeing is connecting with others and building positive relationships.
  • Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. Adequate, good quality sleep is vital for real mental health, and binge watching late into the night can most definitely impact on this. So make a decision to end your binge watching early enough to allow yourself time to wind down, relax and drift off.

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

Category:Mental Health

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