What Binge-Watching Says About Your Mental Health

What Binge-Watching Says About Your Mental Health

Does binge-watching make you lonely and depressed, or do you binge watch because you are already feeling lonely and depressed?

In roughly two weeks time, oodles of people around the world (me included) will be glued to their televisions, binge-watching the new season of “House of Cards”. And while this whole binge-watching phenomenon might seem like a harmless habit – since, you know, everybody’s doing it – new research suggests it could be a sign of something more serious.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that the more lonely and depressed you are, the more likely you are to binge-watch.

Researchers asked 316 18- to 29-year-olds about their binge-watching habits: How often they watched TV, how often they had feelings of loneliness, depression and struggled with self-control (i.e. the ability to step away from the TV), and finally how often they have binge-watching sessions. They found the more lonely and depressed participants were, the more likely they were to use binge-watching as a way of avoiding negative feelings.

Seventy-five percent of participants admitted to binge-watching, with most watching an average of one to three hours of TV and 13.5 percent watching up to five hours. (Five people reported watching seven hours or more!) Researchers found participants who watched the most episodes at once were lonelier, sadder and had less self-control over clicking to the next episode than people who didn’t binge watch at all.

This doesn’t mean that binge-watching causes loneliness and depression, it just means there’s an association between the habit and the emotions that might trigger it. I totally understand this rut – you know, because I’ve experienced it myself – and it’s such a slippery slope. I struggled the most with it when I first learned I had severe adrenal fatigue, and was much more interested in what was going on with the characters on “Grey’s Anatomy” than in my own life. Mainly, because the characters were capable of functioning in a compelling, high-octane environment, and at the time it took me two hours to pep talk myself just to check the mail.

But the more you avoid the things that are bothering you in your life, the more likely you are to create an even bigger mess – and the more likely you are to avoid it by hanging out in Shondaland. Slippery. Slope.

Here are a few things that helped me get out of my binge-watching rut:

1. Take breaks between episodes

Instead of watching one episode right after the other, I’d take a break between episodes and tackle something in my life I was using binge-watching to avoid. I’d head into the next episode feeling as motivated as I was relieved, until before I knew it I wanted to tackle life more than I wanted to watch TV.

2. Don’t binge on workdays

I never binge watch during the week now – only on weekends (and not every weekend, obvi). For me, binge-watching after a busy week is a refreshing way to relax because I feel like I’ve “earned” the time to decompress. And I always take breaks between episodes to get things done around the apartment and catch up with the people in my life. It’s become more of a casual pastime than a borderline addiction.

3. Exercise while binge-watching

I bought a FitDesk specifically for the shows I still don’t trust myself with – mainly, anything from Shondaland. No matter how hard I try, there are certain shows I just can’t peel myself away from after one episode. My mind is still thinking about the show while my physical being is bumping into walls and tripping over things. So now, I exercise in a pathetic attempt to make up for it.

Do you have any quirky binge-watching habits?

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Image: Binge-watching photo via Shutterstock

Krissy Brady

Krissy Brady is a women’s health + lifestyle writer who’s so out of shape, it’s like she has the innards of an 80-year-old. Instead of learning how to crochet, she decided to turn her emotional baggage into a writing career (genius, no?). You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (you know, if you want).