In recent years Netflix has become a household name. Unfortunately, it has also become synonymous with binge-watching and related mental health conditions.
Watching Netflix for moderate amounts of time is not harmful to mental health. However, when viewed in excess, Netflix can cause depression by affecting our physical activity, diet, and sleep.
What is Binge Watching?
Binge-watching is a fairly new trend and is defined as watching between two and six episodes of a television program in one sitting.
According to a study published in 2020, this behavioral trend gained momentum in 2013 when Netflix started to offer new ways to watch TV shows. By streaming TV shows and movies on demand, viewers were provided with a large amount and variety of television programming.
This programming can be accessed at any given time allowing entire seasons of TV series to be viewed at once. Around 2015, binge-watching became an acceptable and normal way in which to consume TV content.
Although binge-watching did exist before Netflix, it wasn’t as common and was done through viewing VHS or DVDs. Now, Netflix has approximately 222 million subscribers making binge-watching an option for millions of people in 190 countries.
How Bingewatching Netflix Causes Depression
Both the individual and cumulative effects of binge-watching Netflix can contribute to depression. These effects include; decreased physical activity, poor food choices, sleep problems, and social isolation.
There is a large amount of evidence out there demonstrating that physical activity is one of the best ways to relieve symptoms of depression.
Moderate exercise performed over an extended time causes the body to release proteins called growth factors, which prompt nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This improvement in brain function leads to an overall better state of feeling in the body and mind.
Exercise also causes the body to release dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood.
Spending large amounts of time laying or sitting in front of your tv or computer is going to rob you of these exercise-induced benefits.
A possible solution to this problem could be to exercise while you are watching Netflix. A treadmill or rebounder placed in the room where you do your viewing could help offset the effects of inactivity.
Those that consume diets high in high-fat dairy, refined grains and sugars, red and processed meats, and refined oils are more prone to experiencing depression.
Binge-watching Netflix is linked to unhealthy food choices that often include items such as chips, candy, processed snacks along with high sugar and alcoholic beverages.
It isn’t often that we see people choosing to snack on a veggie tray while they binge-watch their favorite series and while indulging in unhealthy treats once in a while isn’t harmful, eating junk food for an extended period will negatively affect mental health.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, diets that are high in fresh produce, whole grains, fish, and olive oil help to regulate and reduce depression.
A study called Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illnesses, details how important the roles of B12, folate, and Omega-3 fatty acids are in treating depression and that most people suffering from depression are severely deficient in these nutrients.
Sleep deficiency can be a major contributor to depression. People with insomnia are ten times more likely to suffer from depression and most people that do suffer from the condition have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Those that binge-watch are likely to suffer from “pre-sleep arousal”, a state in which the brain becomes too excited and activated to enter into a calm, sleep state.
Marathon Netflix sessions can also keep us up past our bedtime. The lure of the series is just too much and we find it hard to turn off the tv.
Over time, this causes “sleep debt” where we struggle to catch up on the sleep that our bodies need.
Adequate sleep is critical for regulating our body’s chemical balance and a lack of sleep can directly contribute to mood disorders like depression.
It is a well-known fact that social isolation contributes to mental health issues such as depression. For obvious reasons, not having contact with others or lacking a support network in your life can cause someone to become depressed.
Humans are social creatures that require regular social interaction with others in order to be healthy, balanced individuals.
Binge-watching can easily become a solidary activity and take precedence over other aspects of a person’s life, including regular socialization with other people.
The more someone succumbs to the addictiveness of binge-watching a series, the greater their isolation will likely be.
A 2015 study out of the University of Texas found that participants who were already lonely and depressed were likely to use binge-watching as an escape from negative feelings. Participants were also likely to have a decreased ability to self-regulate and had trouble controlling the amount of tv they watched.
Binge-watching Netflix can exacerbate pre-existing depression by increasing the amount of time someone spends alone.
How Do I Stop Binge-Watching Netflix?
If binge-watching Netflix is contributing to your depression there are steps you can take to stop this behavior.
Limit Your Viewing
If you lack the self-discipline to do this on your own, consider removing Netflix from your devices or using an app like “Freedom” which is designed to increase productivity by blocking certain sites and can be used on Mac, iOS or Windows.
Spoil the Ending
Try looking up the ending to a series if you feel yourself getting hooked and you just can’t afford the wasted time or the negative effects on your mental health. If you spoil the ending for yourself, you are less likely to watch the series all the way through.
Spread Out Your Watch Time
Allowing yourself one episode a day or week will help alleviate any negative effects of watching Netflix. Try framing your watch time as a reward after accomplishing something else or save that time to watch a show with a partner or friend.
Turn of the Auto-Play Feature
If the episodes are on an automatic, continuous roll we are more likely to keep watching. Turn this feature off.
Mulit-Task While Watching
If you must watch, consider doing something else at the same time. Exercise is a perfect choice. Not only do you get to enjoy your show, but you are also being productive and taking action to decrease your risk of depression. A stationary bike, rebounder or free weights are all tv friendly ways to exercise while you watch.