Game of Thrones has aired its last episode for the season and viewers have been left with an ice giant of a cliffhanger. Now, the waiting begins for next season. Unless, of course, you are one of those fans who has waited for the season to end to avoid the between episode wait. For those viewers, binge-watching season has just begun. Many people get so wrapped up in a television show that they are unable to avoid knowing how a cliffhanger resolves. These people have been known to sit out the entire season and then watch the entire season’s worth of episodes over a weekend, or in extreme cases, over the course of a single day. While experts disagree as to what actually constitutes binge watching, most people would agree that watching an entire season’s worth of episodes would qualify.
‘Binge’ as a word, has negative connotations that dredge up images of glassy-eyed, zombie like viewers with the remote control clenched in their fist like a lifeline. These images are not necessarily what you would see if you were to walk in on a group of your friends binge watching a series, though. Most folks who binge-watch are actually happy people. This is because their brain releases endorphins during their favorite show, which causes them to feel good. When they stop watching, however, the feelings go away but, for the majority of people, this is only a temporary compulsion. For these people, watching television is a temporary escape.
Sometimes, however, binge watching is used as a substitute for human companionship or as a coping strategy. Studies have shown that viewers who binge watch for this reason are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness, depression, and self-regulation deficiency. These people are using television to avoid negative feelings, which also happens to be the same method of coping used by binge eaters and binge drinkers. When they are lonely, they seek the companionship of fictional characters. As these binge viewers finish a sitcom series, that companionship disappears and they go through a period of bereavement, mourning the loss of the ‘friends’ they spent the weekend or afternoon with. Then, loneliness sets in again.
Other times, binge watching occurs because people feel an exceedingly compulsive need to resolve cliffhangers to overcome the anxiety brought on by the uncertainty of a character’s future. Unfortunately, cliffhangers were originally built into the episodes to ensure that viewers would return the following week. The season finale would have a much more dramatic cliffhanger to ensure viewers would return after an even longer hiatus. This episodic pattern predated streaming video and has not changed overmuch as technology has advanced. Copious amounts of time spent with these characters can become the new reality for some viewers and can even occupy their dreams and nightmares. For viewers who watch an entire season, this means that the cliffhanger will affect them on a much deeper level and can potentially lead to emotional trauma.
Emotional trauma aside, binge watching television series can have lasting effects on your physical being and, as is often stated, the body and the mind are intrinsically linked. Binge watching can lead to obesity, diabetes, loss of muscle mass, loss of sleep, shrinkage of lung capacity, loss of focus due to lack of oxygen, and reduced circulation. The best way to protect your physical and mental health is to prevent becoming a regular binge watcher. If you finish a season, or even an entire series, don’t automatically move to the next season or series. Take some time off to mentally digest each show. Stretch out the process and savor your favorite characters. If you feel the need to resolve cliffhangers, then, my suggestion would be to watch only the first portion of the next episode. Let the cliffhanger resolve then save the rest of the episode for later. Finally, if you cannot control your viewing habits, seek out professional help. Television viewing, like many other habits, can become habit forming and, like any other addiction, needs treatment.