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Balance key to mitigate health costs of binge streaming: Experts

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Rahul (name changed), a 23-year-old Delhi-based working professional, loved the online streaming services. It gave him the ease of watching premium original content from his couch, all for a yearly price.

With Covid-induced lockdowns in the last two years, and the ensuing work from home scenario, it became easier for him to pass his time. Without even realising, he soon became an addict to the OTT content. He would watch and complete any show on the same day of its release.

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He did that without sleeping, which then affected his functioning the next day. But he ignored it and managed without sleep. And this eventually became a habit — about two to three times a week. The sleep-loss pattern continued for several months.

He slowly started developing insomnia — a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep — and also began having anxiety-related issues. His work performance took a toll and he lost all social contact because of spending more time indoors.

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Rahul is a typical example of people’s condition after getting addicted to online streaming.

Binge watching, where people remain glued to their seat for long hours, often ends up with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, fatigue, poor attention and difficulties in concentration, being forgetful, and body pains.

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They also tend to engage in unhealthy eating habits and thus go on to have weight related issues, which can further spiral into cardiometabolic diseases such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Binge watching can also lead to conflicts between family members, friends; affect work and academics.

According to Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, although the addiction caused by binge watching and the resulting consequences have not yet been categorised as a behavioural disorder, they are of major concern.

“You’re spending several hours in a sitting position or in a lying position. You are spending several hours on a digital interface. It is taking your time away from social engagement, any other work you had to do, or some physical activity that you could have done or done something that you otherwise liked doing. And so many hours go by without noticing,” Parikh told IANS.

What does it mean to be addicted to online streaming? It is similar to addiction to online gaming, Parikh said.

“It means that you spend several hours doing an activity, and you are not able to stop yourself. When you don’t do it, you feel restless and then it affects your quality of life because social, occupational and self-life starts getting negatively impacted because of the time spent on binge watching,” Parikh explained.

The online streaming services, which came to the fore since 2018, were making slow but good inroads into India’s entertainment industry. But the two years of pandemic accelerated its adoption among the masses. Because people were unable to step out during the Covid period, they became increasingly dependent on OTT platforms. It did tackle boredom and loneliness, and also helped people relax.

While entertainment on OTT and other forms of social media helped people stay connected, binge watching became a norm in many households, especially among the youth, affecting their lives.

“People also depended on it as a means of distraction from what was really happening around the world. This therefore became a defective coping mechanism to deal with problems. Youths and adults alike were seen to have increased phone and social media usage, leading to neglect of their duties,” Sruthi Annie Vincent, Clinical Psychologist, Deptartment of Clinical Psychology, Amrita Hospital, Kochi, told IANS.

The academic work and assignments were seen to be lagging in students and youths. There were also reports of rage and aggression among teenagers when they were hindered from using OTT platforms; and in adults, work related responsibilities and commitments were seen to lag, leading to increased stress.

Vincent noted that research evidence points to increased anger and aggression being prominent among individuals with the tendency to binge watch. This was stipulated to be the result of their personality; studies also indicate that binge watchers are likely to be low on self-control, they are impulsive and generally avoid problem solving.

Other behavioural changes include “increased dependence of caffeinated drinks and sometimes substances such as alcohol and nicotine. Changes in socialising and interpersonal relationships are also likely as when people start to binge watch, they tend to avoid any form of interaction with the outside world”.

“Relationships may turn sour as a result, giving way to more interpersonal conflicts between couples, parents, siblings, or even co-workers,” Vincent said.

Thus the key would be to strike a balance, Parikh said.

“One needs to understand along with bingeing on something, one must do some physical activity, indulge in social engagement, do some other things and tasks etc. This balances out things. But if you spend several hours of a day just doing one thing, that’s where the balance gets impacted,” Parikh said.

–By Rachel V Thomas

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