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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is led by reporter Syeda Hasan and is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Binge-Watching: Why Too Much Of A Good Thing May Be Bad

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A recent study found 70 percent of Americans binge-watch TV shows, sitting through an average of five episodes per marathon session. But that trend raises some health concerns.

Malissa Melton-Otunba, a mental health counselor with Parkland Hospital, cautions there’s little difference between the person who watches several or all episodes of a series via a streaming service and a classic “couch potato” who watches a lot of television.

In either case, she says it means we’re less active physically when watching for several hours at a time and more prone to food choices that can both contribute to obesity. Binge-watching can also affect stress levels and sleep and even contribute to depression.

However, Melton-Otumba says there are steps you can take to enjoy the best new series in a healthier manner.

Interview Highlights:

Binge-watching can affect your sleep: It really causes your brain often times to get activated to the point where if you’re doing it near normal sleep time hours, it’s really hard for you to kind of wind down to be able to get the type of sleep you need to feel rejuvenated.

What you watch matters: If you’re watching something that’s very dramatic, violent, maybe a lot of negative images in it, that can increase normal stress hormones produced in our brain. That also has negative consequences because there’s higher anxiety or even higher depression rates, and then sleep deprivation.

Seniors beware: We’re seeing a little bit more of a negative side effect because seniors already have other things that they’re dealing with like heart issues. Binge-watching and some of the side effects as it relates to the chemicals that are being generated in their brain exacerbates some of the problems they’re already experiencing health-wise.

As for teenagers and twenty-somethings: What we see there is, again, sleep deprivation. That will affect their ability to function at the level they need to for school, being productive, helping out at home. We’re also seeing it can increase their anxiety levels and their depression levels as well.

Ways to break the habit: Making choices to be intentional about what you know is best for you. Setting a limit of watching one to two episodes instead of five to eight. Making sure you’re productive and doing other things in between episodes, like folding a load of laundry or doing a homework assignment, and letting that be the motivator to watch another episode rather sitting and watching several back to back. 

Consider watching with a friend: When you’re binge-watching with other people, technically you’re still interacting with people. There’s still conversations going on. Maybe you’re still doing other things versus really being sucked into that show by yourself and there’s not a lot of other stimulation going on because you’re really involved in the storyline of that show.

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