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To binge or not to binge

As the stress of final exams draws near, many of us are in search of ways to cope with the pressure. So, we find ourselves nestled in the sheets of our beds with little to no willpower to resist binge watching hours of Netflix, Hulu, HBO — what have you.

It is difficult to find a concrete definition of what exactly binge watching is.

According to a study done by Sage Journal, watching more than two hours of content is the typical limitation. But four hours and several overlapping episodes later, I find myself falling into a horrible and consuming ritual. Each time an episode ends, the fear of being left without more drives me into watching another, until I pass out. This is binge watching.

After completing one of these cycles, feelings of shame and disappointment begin to manifest after the realization that a whole day was wasted. Laying in bed, entangled in show after show, I successfully managed to finish seasons in a day that should take me multiple days or weeks.

Recently, I began to wonder why I felt unsatisfied and unhappy with myself after watching what was supposed to be one of my favorite shows. According to an NPR study, binge watching isn’t directly accountable for poor mental health, but there is a clear connection between the two.

The connection results in the brain releasing dopamine, a chemical that stimulates the brain in order to create feelings of happiness and excitement when we stare at a screen in the act of watching a movie, playing a video game or browsing social media. Coincidentally, or maybe not so at all, this is the same chemical explanation for why individuals are addicted to drugs.

This explains why, in high periods of stress such as the finale of the semester, it is natural to turn to binge watching favorite shows.

So, why does any of this matter?

A recent poll done by Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter found that 60% of audiences that watch shows actually prefer to binge watch shows as opposed to spaced out content. Another study done by YouGov found 49% of Netflix’s audience is within the age range of 18-34, meaning a majority of their audience is college-aged students.

Students such as myself find themselves vulnerable to the lure of finishing whole seasons and shows in the span of days as a result of our frequent use of streaming services like Netflix. Due to the correlation found between binge watching and mental health, multiple studies have begun to offer solutions to improving unhealthy habits, and suggest controlling intake of media content as one method.

Often, the time spent doing this could be redirected into behaviors that can help to better cope with the depression and anxiety they are already experiencing due to stress.

Developing healthy methods of dealing with negative feelings means students must be proactive in preventing unhealthy binging habits. While binge watching is viewed as a form of relaxation by many, medical studies suggest that students should find solutions by setting limits to how much is being watched, what you’re watching and even how you watch it.

Other proactive ways of combating the temptation to binge include introducing new activities such as self-care, physical exercise and developing new hobbies.

All this may seem hard at the end of the semester, but I promise tearing yourself away from the screen and doing something else with your (very limited) time will have an overall positive impact on your mental health.

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