The manner in which people watch TV these days is very different from even just a few years ago. Gone are the week-long waits for a new episode of your favorite show. Now you can burn through an entire season in one sitting. But that can have an impact on your brain, and your overall health.
Whenever you do something that brings you pleasure, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. That dopamine rush could come from using drugs, alcohol or something like simply watching TV.
“TV binge watching is very similar to other addictive behaviors, including harmful ones,” says SSM Health’s Dr. Mandira N. Mehra. “You’re getting that dopamine surge over and over and your brain starts to crave that feeling. It can’t distinguish between good behaviors and bad, it just tells you that you need that feeling again.”
As you start to develop a pattern of watching more TV, there are acute and chronic effects. Acutely, you may miss out on certain experiences. If you spend several hours in front of the TV, you’re curtailing the chance at other things like spending time with friends, reading a book or exercising. Many people, thus, replace healthy activities with an unhealthy one. Over time, that can lead to things like social isolation, depression, obesity and potentially sleep disruption.
“While those issues are certainly alarming, some people say they don’t want to give up their favorite show because it allows them to relax and de-stress,” says Dr. Mehra. “That is a valid argument and we just need to remember to have balance in our lives.”
So what can you do to sustain balance?
1. Set a TV limit before you start watching – Say you’re going to watch a certain number of episodes or for a certain amount of time. Don’t let cliffhangers lure you into another episode or new season.
2. Don’t be a couch potato – Go for a walk in between episodes or consider working out while watching.
3. Make it a social activity – Invite your friends or family over to watch the latest popular TV show so you can watch together, and talk about it afterwards.