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Binge watching: relaxing or harmful?

The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine held a survey in which 81% of the 423  people who participated claimed to be binge watchers. Photo by Tamika Wiley.
The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine held a survey in which 81% of the 423
people who participated claimed to be binge watchers. Photo by Tamika Wiley.

What started out as an innocent relaxation technique after a long day of classes has quickly taken a wrong turn. “Just one more episode,” whispers procrastination at 7 p.m. A few episodes later, it’s suddenly 3 a.m. and the room is covered in empty Cheeto bags.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “binge” means “an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence.” In the context of “binge watching,” this means watching an excessive amount of television in one sitting.

Binge watching is an immensely popular form of relaxation; especially since TV access has increased. But the question must be asked: is there a limit to how much a person can watch without inviting negative effects?

“Most people use TV as a method of unwinding and when watching TV, not a lot is going on in the brain,” said Dr. William Ranahan, assistant professor of the Biology Department. “Watching TV is like a sedative and when you are anxious, your brain wants to help it get to normal and balanced.”

To further explain the brain’s need for sedation in times of anxiety, Ranahan used an example of people bouncing their leg or clicking their pen. Repetitive muscle movements can cause a low level of pain that the brain responds to by releasing endorphins. Binge watching is a similar form of sedation.

“[Binge watching is a] great indicator that you have some things in your life that you are directly avoiding, and somebody who has good priorities and a healthy emotional life generally doesn’t just go and watch 57 episodes or something,” Ranahan said. “I think it’s an indicator that we are imbalanced, anxious or afraid, and we’re using [TV] as a medication. Binge watching is literally when you get to the point where you absolutely don’t want to deal with reality.”

While binge watching may seem harmless, Ranahan believes that in order to relax and rest well, long-term solutions are more important than the false, short-term relief from anxiety or stress that can accompany TV.

“If you really want peace and rest, the way is not to watch TV. It is not going to help you,” Ranahan said. “If you really want peace and to unwind and rest, then focus on prayer and meditation. You need to take your concerns and cares and anxiety and bring them to God and leave them at His feet. Once you accept His answers and feel His presence, you’re not going to need TV.”

Dr. Randall Feller, Chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department and Professor of Psychology, highlighted the importance for students to filter what they watch, especially in regard to binge watching.

“We’ve let down our guard because we’ve laughed about it for so long or because we’ve become exposed to so much of it,” Feller said. “We’re systematically desensitizing ourselves to those boundaries that otherwise we might hold up.”

It is difficult to filter everything in the media, but as Feller advises, try to filter more often than not. Take time to reflect on what’s being watched.

“There is nothing wrong with TV. It is just what we do with it,” Ranahan said.