Are You Still Watching?
Author: Diane Zhou (Torrey Pines High School)
With the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are at home, and some are more bored than others. But more likely than not, you have been binge-watching TV, be it Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+. We’ve all probably sat in front of our devices for an unhealthy amount of hours, wondering how we were still awake at three a.m.. Well, it’s not entirely our fault.
It’s no secret that binge-watching is addictive. The thrill of fan-favorite characters going on adventure after adventure, a dramatic cliffhanger being resolved, and the gold-standard couple everyone has been rooting for all season finally ending up together, leaves a craving for more. The brain is actually producing the hormone dopamine when all these enjoyable things happen. This hormone gives a feeling of pleasure, reinforcing the need to binge-watch and creating an addiction. In fact, the same neuronal pathways that cause heroin addictions are the ones that cause binge-watching addictions.  Binge-watching fuels hard-to-break neural habits and even produces a “high”. 
But the negative effects don’t stop there. Research shows that continuously watching episodes may excite the brain and thus interfere with getting enough sleep. One study found that increased amounts of TV were linked to anxiety and depression. Back problems, a lack of oxygen, and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke were all possible effects as well. This is likely because the prolonged period of inactivity lead to long periods with no exercise, bad posture, and lots of snacking on junk food. 
But why else do people binge-watch, besides its addictive properties? There are a variety of reasons that make it hard to stop, including the urge to know what happens next, social pressures, and procrastination and escapism.  
A primary reason to keep on watching is to see the resolution of a cliffhanger. Interestingly enough, those cliffhangers actually elicit a stress response by causing excess production of corticotropin-releasing hormone, or CRH, the hormone mediating stress hormone release in the body.  The urge to know what happens next is so strong, the body literally makes itself feel stressed out. Social reasons are another driver. These could include wanting to fit in, impress others, or even to feel more important. For others, binge-watching provides a way to escape from the real world or to procrastinate the latest chemistry assignment. It frees and relieves one from all the constantly nagging problems--family issues, friend group drama, grades, extreme emotions, etc. 
You may be asking yourself now why you still want to continue binge-watching after learning all these things. Or maybe not. But it is important to consider the consequences at this point. Remember all the harmful effects of binge-watching and determine if those are acceptable risks. While quitting TV altogether is not a feasible solution, mindfulness is. Consideration of wants, underlying reasons, and the current situation is a good start. But if you truly want to watch a quality episode, then there’s nothing stopping you--not even the embarrassment of hitting “Continue Watching” three more times.
 Page, Danielle. “What Happens to Your Brain When You Binge-Watch a TV Series.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 16 Feb. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-happens-your-brain-when-you-binge-watch-tv-series-ncna816991.
 Northwestern Medicine. “Binge Watching: Three Ways TV Affects Your Health.” Northwestern Medicine, www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/binge-watching.
 Bridget, et al. “Defining New Viewing Behaviours: What Makes and Motivates TV Binge-Watching?” Latest TOC RSS, Intellect, 1 Mar. 2018, www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/jdtv/2018/00000009/00000001/art00006.
 Sung, Yoon Hi, and Sung. “Why Do We Indulge? Exploring Motivations for Binge Watching.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08838151.2018.1451851.
 Franssen, Catherine L. “The Netflix Addiction: Why Our Brains Keep Telling Us to Press Play.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/the-netflix-addiction_b_8473094.
Edited by Annika Townsend (Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School)