Binge-Watching Guilt Is Self-Fulfilling

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Photo: Sam Diephuis/Getty Images

So, that post-work Netflix binge — you know, the one that feels so good until you’re shame-spiraling into your eighth consecutive episode of Orange Is the New Black? You can stop feeling guilty about it. Or that’s the takeaway from a new study published in the Journal of Communication, at least.

Previous studies on the psychological effects of media use as a form of relaxation have often contradicted one another. Some have hypothesized that they facilitate mental recovery from stress, while others have found that they cause people to feel guilty, depressed, and frustrated. The new study adds a bit of nuance.

"We are beginning to better understand that media use can have beneficial effects for people's well-being, through media-induced recovery,” said professor Leonard Reinecke of Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in a press release.

The researchers found that watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the web can help you psychologically unwind, but the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to see it as procrastination rather than innocent battery-recharging. The guilt that follows can deplete the positive effects of your media use, thus rendering the chill time less beneficial. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more you think watching TV is a waste of time, the more it will feel like a waste of time.

“Our present study ... demonstrates that in real life, the relationship between media use and well-being is complicated and that the use of media may conflict with other, less pleasurable but more important duties and goals in everyday life," said Reinecke. "We are starting to look at media use as a cause of depletion. In times of smartphones and mobile Internet, the ubiquitous availability of content and communication often seems to be a burden and a stressor rather than a recovery resource."

So go ahead, click that “next episode” button. You might still be stressed afterward, but if there’s nothing you can do to fix that, might as well finish season two.