Netflix may be the source of stress, worry

By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor 

Raise your hand if you spent spring break binge-watching the newest season of “House of Cards” from your couch, bed or anywhere in close proximity to snacks.

While you might have justified those many hours in front of a television or tablet screen as a way to unwind from the early stress of the semester, a new study shows that it might actually have the opposite effect.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the University of Toledo, the more time participants spent binge-watching, the more likely they were to feel “anxious, depressed or stressed.”

So basically, it’s far less “Netflix and Chill” and much more “Netflix and Advil.”

This study took a look inside the binge-watching mentality, something that hasn’t been examined closely since becoming popular in recent years. Researchers chose 408 different people to observe, 35 percent of whom claimed that that they were “binge-watchers.” The University of Toledo defines this as watching television shows “at a stretch over an extended period of time,” usually between two and five hours.

Out of the participants, 77 percent also said that they watched at least two hours of television each day for a week without taking a break.

Now don’t completely freak out and cancel every subscription you have. The study says that it might show correlation rather than causation. This means that the participants could have been stressed or depressed beforehand, and binge-watching just amplified those feelings rather than being the sole cause of them. As of right now, there’s really no way to know.

But that itself presents an interesting idea to think about. Are young people so taxed and anxious today that even their mode of relaxation becomes inherently stressful?

Binge-watching isn’t so much an experience as it is an escape. It’s not about savoring an episode of a favorite drama or comedy over dinner; it’s about swallowing a season of “Parks and Recreation” whole one night to avoid responsibilities back out in The Real World.

But all of a sudden, you remember you’ve put off those responsibilities for hours and then worry about them all over again. It’s a vicious cycle.

According to Entrepreneur, millennials spend nearly six hours a day watching television. While that consumption may not be back-to-back, technically excluding itself from the binge-watching definition, that’s still a lot of television. And while that TV may not be the direct source of your apprehension, it’s still not all that great for your health.

A separate December 2015 study conducted by researchers at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education found a link between watching long periods of television and having lower cognitive function.

This particular study examined data collected over a 25-year span from 3,200 various 18- to 30-year-olds. Researchers found that those who watched the most television (more than three hours a day) and performed the least physical activity had weaker working memories, slower processing speed and worse abilities to plan and complete tasks, even after being adjusted for education. They were also more likely to score twice as low as other study members on brain comprehension tests.

These results were more obvious in the younger age brackets. Researchers project that these behaviors will worsen as participants get older if their behaviors do not change.

The key here, like with most things in life, is to practice moderation. It’s okay to pull up Netflix on your computer when you feel like taking a pause from studying. But put a time limit on your shows or create a deal with yourself that incorporates some exercise. A decent rule of thumb to use would be to get 30 minutes of physical activity for every two hours spent watching television.

After all, sometimes a walk clears the mind more than all six seasons of “Gossip Girl.”