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How Binge-Watching Can Affect Mental Health

By: Ashlee Stumpf, LPC

With the invention of streaming, people are not only being able to consume more content than ever before but from nearly any location. No need to wait to get home to watch that next episode, you can just open up your laptop, tablet, or phone and boom! Get a show in on your lunch hour and maybe another one or two on your commute home and if you stay up a little later than usual you could even finish that whole season before falling asleep. Maybe even start the next season. This is known as binge-watching, or the act of consuming many television episodes in one sitting, and it has become a common behavior. A 2018 poll found that 73% of 18 to 29-year-olds binge-watch at least once a week.  

Can You Stop at One Episode? How Binge-Watching Can Affect Mental Health

But what does it matter? Are there really any consequences of ingesting hour after hour of high-definition programing? I mean, sure we know there are more productive things we could be doing, but that could be said about watching any entertainment. What makes binge-watching different?

Potential Health Consequences

It’s not that someone who’s binge-watching will necessary watch more than someone switching from program to program, but it does invite the person to do so. And as a result, there is a higher risk of poor diet, sleep issues, and lack of exercise, all which have an effect on a person’s mental health. In addition, a pattern of consuming multiple episodes at once increases the risk of social isolation and developing a behavioral addiction. 

Poor Diet

At the 67th Annual Conference of International Communication Association (2017) researchers pointed out how binge-watching often leads to unhealthy snacking and consumption of unhealthy meals, like fast food. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted it can also encourage distracted eating, i.e., eating without thinking. Poor diet can cause fatigue, poor self-esteem, and feelings of depression. 

Sleep Problems

Besides the before mentioned propensity of watching episode after episode into the night, there is also the difficulty of then getting the brain into a relaxed state to fall asleep. Our brains are not like a phone that can just be turned off with the push of a button. According to Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, binge-watching keeps our brain in a state of engagement, making it difficult for it to shut down. As a result, you get less sleep, and your body has less time to recover from the day before. 

Lack of Exercise

Besides the physical conditions that can result from inactivity, i.e., obesity, heart disease, diabetes, it can also impact a person’s mood, increasing anxiety and depressive symptoms. The more a person is immobile the higher the risk is of developing any of these conditions. Now, binge-watching isn’t the only reason many of us are sedentary. A lot of us have desk jobs or spend a considerable amount of time in traffic, and the pandemic hasn’t made staying active any easier. That needs to be acknowledged. However, it doesn’t make spending several additional hours in front of a screen any better for us. 

Social Isolation

When do you watch more, by yourself or with others? Yourself, right? There is no other person to take breaks for or who may get bored. It’s just you. You could keep going for as long as you want, and no one would know. And that can lead to problems. Studies have found a correlation between binge-watching and self-isolation. Depending on how much a person is watching, it could also affect their work or relationships. Family, friends, and responsibilities can get neglected when screen time becomes a priority. 

Behavioral Addiction

Currently binge-watching is not recognized as an official behavioral addiction, like gambling or sex, but the Journal of Behavioral Addictions suggest that it has similar neurological features. To be clear, whether something is an addiction or not is not determine by what the individual is addicted to, but rather how it affects their life. Does it occupy much of the person’s time? Have they tried to cut back and were unsuccessful?  Is it their main (or only) way to cope with stress? If the answers to these questions are yes, then it is likely the person is dealing with an addiction and should seek help. 


Sometimes it can be nice to turn off your brain for awhile and watch a favorite show, but it’s important to remember that binging doesn’t come without consequences. There are numerous mental and physical repercussions that can occur if it becomes a habit. Engage your mind with different interests. Your screens aren’t going anywhere. And if you notice you’re having difficulty cut back on shows, feel free to contact a counselor at Symmetry Counseling. We are ready to help. 


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