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How Boredom Affects Mental Health

Dangers of Boredom, Boredom in Recovery

You may remember being a kid and saying “I’m so bored!” every half hour or so during the long summer days. Maybe you don’t say that out loud anymore, but maybe you feel it often–that sense of restlessness and/or lethargy that seems to dull the mind and numb the emotions. As you know, you don’t have to be doing anything to feel bored. You can feel bored at work, bored with the TV show you’re watching, bored when out with friends. 

Boredom doesn’t feel good, but does it have any real dangers? Does it have an upside? Let’s take a look. 

Two Kinds of Boredom: State and Trait Boredom

Psychology Today defines two kinds of boredom: state boredom and trait boredom. State boredom is a temporary, in-the-moment feeling of boredom that comes from an unsatisfying or monotonous situation. Trait boredom is an inherent trait some people have that causes them to feel bored more intensely and more frequently. It has been linked to traumatic brain injury, suggesting that certain parts of the brain control feelings of value and reward.  

While state boredom is fairly neutral in its effects, and may even offer benefits (which we’ll discuss later), trait boredom is dangerous to mental health

The Dangers of Boredom

Research has found that people who experience boredom intensely or frequently are more likely to engage in behavior that hurts themselves or hurts others. Boredom proneness can lead to addictive behaviors, recklessness, and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. It puts people in a state of feeling disengaged or disconnected from the world. 

Unlike depression or apathy, Scientific American points out, boredom is “a specific mental state that people find unpleasant—a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioral, medical and social consequences.” For example, the article notes, boredom frequently triggers binge-eating. It affects driving behavior as well; people who are bored drive faster, are slower to respond to hazards, and have more trouble staying in their lane. Boredom at work is one of the main reasons people leave their jobs.  

What Causes Boredom?

According to PsychCentral, boredom can have several causes:

  • It can be a defense against emotional pain. Boredom is a kind of numbness – it can be a symptom of being out of touch with intense feelings like sadness, anger, fear, disgust, joy, and excitement. Life feels dull when we cut ourselves off from emotions. 
  • It may be a sign that we’re under-stimulated. It can be easy to settle for a job we don’t love because it pays the bills. Boredom can be a signal that it’s time to get in touch with our true interests and pursue them. It might also be a sign that we have some fear of exploring something more stimulating and meaningful because we’re afraid of failure. 
  • Prolonged boredom keeps us from knowing what we really want. Doing so requires tuning into the mind and body, feeling the pain we may have been avoiding, and then making the courageous decision to try something new. 

The Benefits of Boredom

Even people who are not prone to boredom still experience “state boredom” from time to time, a temporary feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction. Rather than immediately trying to distract yourself from this kind of boredom, it might be helpful to let yourself feel it for a while. Why?

Because state boredom can have benefits. It asks you to pause and take a moment to notice your thoughts. Doing so might lead you to ask important questions about your current situation, which can spark change. Boredom may help you generate a creative solution to a problem or think of a new way of doing something. If nothing else, boredom might be the cue your body needs that it’s time for a break.  

How to Combat Boredom

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or frequently struggle with feelings of anxiety or sadness, boredom proneness will exacerbate your symptoms. So what can you do to protect yourself from boredom’s consequences?

  • Work with a therapist. Get in touch with your emotions, discover what you want, and work through the fear you may have of pursuing your dreams. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Stop multitasking and start approaching each activity and task with your full attention. 
  • Get treatment for any accompanying mental health disorder that may trigger–and be triggered by–boredom. 
  • Make socialization a regular part of your life. Go for a walk with a friend once a week. Find a local group dedicated to a hobby you enjoy. Join a gym instead of exercising by yourself at home. 
  • Take up journaling as a way to get to know yourself. Describe your thoughts and feelings. Reflect on what you want to change. 
  • Set SMART goals for yourself–goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 

If you’re feeling chronically bored, chances are that you may also be suffering from a mental health disorder. Reach out to Highland Hospital in West Virginia for help. We provide psychiatric and substance use disorder treatment to children, teens, and adults. Our admissions counselors can help you decide what type of treatment will work for you. 

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