Mental, physical health issues linked to binge watching

Graphic by Carly Adams | THE COLLEGIAN

As the country undergoes a shift in video media from traditional television to online streaming, the worries about addiction to television services have also shifted to the newer medium, Drew Zaitsoff, psychology intern at K-State Counseling Services, said.

“I like watching the shows on Netflix, and it’s easier than watching the shows on cable TV because you can watch whenever,” Gwen Pitts, freshman in architecture, said.

Netflix and YouTube made up 50.31 percent of Internet traffic during peak usage times in 2013, according to Sandvine’s 2013 Global Internet Phenomena Report.

Last year, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin linked the act of binge watching to mental health problems such as depression and loneliness, as well as physical issues like obesity and fatigue, according to Andrew Wallenstein in the Variety article “Binge-watching TV linked to depression, loneliness.”

People sometimes use Netflix as a coping mechanism, Zaitsoff said.

“It’s Netflix: There’s shows you want to watch on there,” Zaitsoff said. “Sometimes, we use games, TV or exercise as a form of escapism, getting away from our problems. When you throw these two things together, one being doing something that you enjoy and the other being doing something to get away from your problems, there can be trouble.”

For some students, watching online television also brings interest and excitement, especially when viewers can relate to characters.

“I think part of it is the rush that people get from watching other people or characters’ stories,” Ella Popova, senior in biology, said. “It’s almost like they’re living vicariously through the characters, so maybe if they feel that their lives aren’t very interesting, they can still experience all of the different stuff that the characters go through.”

A 2013 survey by Harris Interactive Inc. performed on behalf of Netflix reported that more than 61 percent of American adults who stream video content said they regularly binge watch videos, according to the PR Newswire article “Netflix declares binge watching is the new normal.” In the survey, three-quarters of the viewers identified binge watching as watching several episodes of a TV show in one sitting.

“The thing about Netflix that is really interesting is that Netflix will autoplay the next episode,” Zaitsoff said. “It is really easy to just sit there and continue on. The problem is that the default is to just keep watching.”

Zaitsoff said, however, binge watching itself is not an inherent problem.

“I think it becomes a problem when it interferes with whatever else you’re doing,” Zaitsoff. “If you’re talking about somebody binge watching, say, ‘House of Cards’ within a week, that’s still a lot of TV you’re watching. But to me at least, there’s a big difference between watching all that TV, still going to class and getting papers turned in and watching all that and not being able to keep up with your obligations. There can be big differences in the impact watching Netflix has on your life.”

As streaming technology becomes a popular alternative to cable, the underlying treatment for people with addictions to video streaming remains the same as traditional treatment for people with traditional behavioral addictions, according to Zaitsoff. He said treatment of the addiction must start with self-awareness.

“It’s really easy to fall into that hole of just letting the episodes keep playing,” Zaitsoff said. “You have to ask yourself whether you’re the sort of person who deals with stress by taking five or 10 minutes to do your own thing, or whether you lose an entire night to watching Netflix.”

The next part is identifying any underlying issues that may cause behavioral addiction, according to Zaitsoff. For those issues, the staff at Counseling Services has many resources and staff to help students deal with whatever may cause them to become addicted to video streaming and other behaviors, Zaitsoff said.

I'm Rafael Garcia, and I'm a 2019 K-State graduate in journalism and former editor-in-chief of the K-State Collegian. I believe that much of the world's problems come from a lack of understanding of other people, but by telling other people's stories and finding the good in the world, I think we can increase our understanding and appreciation of each other. Questions, comments, concerns, news tips? Email the Collegian team at