Life Beyond Screens: Are You Binge-Watching Your Way to Obesity, Paranoia?
We discuss binge-watching, the latest addiction that’s gripped Millennials and the Gen Z.
Illustration: Instagram/Little Woarriors
Rishi works at an IT conglomerate in Pune. He clocks in 10 hours at his office everyday, most of which he spends working on his laptop. After work, most nights, he watches films or shows online till he sleeps. Rishi is 28. He weighs 96 kg and complains of constant back-ache.
Sejal has dropped a year after graduation to prepare for CAT. She studies for 12 hours a day. When not studying, she is hooked on to her smartphone. “She is either buried in her books or is watching something on her phone. She doesn’t do anything else—doesn’t go out anymore, doesn’t meet friends. She doesn’t even eat with us at meal times,” says Sejal’s mother Seema Gupta.
At 22, Sejal has already had Lasik (corrective eye surgery) done but still gets watery eyes and regular head-aches.
Rishi and Sejal aren’t the only ones. With the explosion of online content, thanks to the aggressive marketing and mind-boggling penetration of countless OTT platforms, the way we see and consume entertainment has changed drastically. We no longer just watch. We binge-watch. And there lies the problem.
Though a seemingly harmless activity—especially popular among Millennials and Gen Z—binge-watching poses a severe threat to not just your physical health but also to your mental well-being and social identity. Here, we find out how and what you can do about it.
Dangers to physical health
“The posture of about 95% people who binge-watch is not right. They are either lying down or are slumped or are watching it on their phone, with their necks hung down throughout, straining muscles which are already overworked. This weakens the muscles and creates knots in them, messing up the posture even further. It can also create problems in your cervical area and may even lead to injury,” says Sahil Rasheed, a celebrity fitness trainer in Mumbai.
“Our bodies are meant to move. So when you are sitting in one stationary position for a long time, you lower your energy levels, which saps your metabolism and leads to fat accumulation. Your flexibility goes for a toss and even your receptors get dull, making you slow and tired all the time,” he adds.
“Also, whenever you’re watching something continuously, you feel the urge to munch. Very few people are conscious about what they are eating while watching. Most of them end up eating sheer junk. It therefore is a very serious issue, because first you’re not moving at all and then you’re also challenging your nutrition,” says Rasheed.
An attack on mental wellness
“Everyone has certain pent-up daily frustrations and fatigue that they want to overcome as soon as possible and without making too much of an effort. The easiest thing is to start watching something on your phone/laptop/smart-TV and get lost in it,” says Dr Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist based in Puducherry.
Likening binge-watching to substance abuse, Dr Sharma says, “Psychologically speaking, there is no difference between them. The same thing happens with alcohol and drugs. You rely on it to change your mood and then you lose control. You then need a higher and higher dose of it with your mind thinking that this is safe and normal because everyone does it.”
“It is highly addictive and before you know it, you form a dependency on it. When you quit drinking alcohol, there are very intense physical withdrawal symptoms. Here the physical withdrawal symptoms are not as intense but the psychological withdrawal symptoms are much the same. After a point you have little control over it, you begin to plan your life around it and you keep away from doing meaningful activities, engaging in social interactions. It’s very harmful,” he adds.
Dr Sharma says the two most dangerous things about binge-watching are the easy escape that it provides from reality and the notion that it’s a harmless activity. “If someone is drinking alcohol or doing something drastic, they somewhere are aware of the harm that it can cause. But binge-watching is usually considered harmless by the person doing it, which slowly grows into addiction because it makes you feel better and then you want to continue with it for as long as you can. It then becomes very difficult to control your watch-time and stop yourself.”
The new fast food
Even Sameer Saxena, The Viral Fever’s (TVF) Chief Content Officer, agrees that it’s better to keep coming back to a show than to watch it all together. “Binge-watching is like fast food. When you consume content all at once, you enjoy it for only as long as it lasts. Once you’re done with it, you move on to other things and forget about it,” he says.
“But when you are watching something week after week, then you absorb the content better, you talk about it, think about it and it stays with you for a longer period of time. So binge-watching is not good for the audience even from the entertainment point of view,” he adds.
The way out
You can cut out the dangers of binge-watching by watching mindfully, say experts. “You can watch content online without having to lose out on other things. Watch on days you are not working or over weekends when you can spare the time. No streaming platform intends to waste your time. The basic intent is to give you a couple of hours of entertainment packaged together. How you consume it is entirely up to you,” says Saxena.
Dr Sharma agrees. “Don’t watch because you’re tired or because you want to change your mood. This should not be a mood-elevator for you. If you’re tired or are feeling bad at the end of a long day, first do something actively to change your mood and then when you feel better, you can watch whatever you want. Like this, you’d watch for sometime and will then feel like getting up after a while. That’s very important. Also, plan your watch-time and stick to it,” he says.
According to Rasheed, right posture, taking regular breaks and ensuring body movement is the key. “You need to be aware of the right posture because it’s not a one-time thing. You’re going to make a habit of it and your body will get adapted to it, which will lead to posture, muscle imbalance if not done right,” he says.
“You can watch stuff but make sure you take 15-minute breaks every now and then to allow your body some movement and to enhance blood circulation. There are many videos available online which tell you little things that you can do seated on your chair only. It hardly takes 10 minutes,” he says, adding that even stretching every 40 minutes or doing something that gets you moving can go a long way in releasing muscular tension.
“Just balance it out by keeping yourself physically active. Your joints need regular movement. You may not understand the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle right now but it will start showing in 10 years or maybe even earlier. There is life beyond Game of Thrones and Sacred Games. You need to start thinking think about it,” he says.
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