Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

Bored young manWhy is boredom so stressful?

It 'messes with your head'

These two states present different kinds of ways boredom is stressful.

  1. Boredom allows your stress brain free reign to invade your head with worries and fears – boredom and depression go hand in hand – I call this 'agitated boredom'
  2. Or it does the opposite and you feel 'brain dead' with no motivation to even think about your goals let alone set them – I call this 'listless boredom'

For example having no action and distraction – that is nothing to focus your attention on to – presents great opportunities for the limbic brain to nag you about worries, negative thoughts, and things you're procrastinating about or should be doing – and in this case the reaction is one of being nervous, twitchy, restless, anxious – i.e. stressed/anxious.

Alternatively, having nothing to focus your attention on to can induce almost a 'fugue' state when the brain, again having nothing to focus its attention on, goes into 'idle' mode – just ticking over – aimless and listless.

Either of these states could be associated with anxiety or depression. Boredom is not trivial.

So why does boredom happen?

It could be because there isn't anything sufficiently stimulating to interest the brain – boring tasks at work for example that is repetitious. Certain personality types don't mind this kind of task while it can drive others into extreme states of agitated boredom. So personality has something to do with it.

It could also be that our unconscious feels it needs some 'me' time to reflect, or cogitate (think deeply about something; meditate or reflect). Evolutionary psychology says this could cause the kind of boredom associated with depression.

Either way boredom is stressful and we need to address it because:

It can shorten your life.

Researchers at University College London found that civil servants who reported being bored in questionnaire were less likely to be alive when the follow-up questionnaire was produced. So the saying "I'm bored to death" might have some validity.

Other researchers found cortisol levels in bored subjects were higher than their less bored counterparts. Cortisol is a stress-hormone that along with adrenaline produces the arousal response. Here are some of my other articles related to cortisol levels:

It can stop you from giving up smoking

Boredom is a known trigger for smoking.

It can cause you to binge eat or drink

When you're bored and unfocused your brain turns to easy comfort solutions.

Solutions for boredom

If you feel bored:

Researchers found nostalgia can be quite an effective antidote to boredom so think about the good times.Daydreaming about future plans can also beat boredom.

Don't react by getting frustrated or stressed – calmly think of something to do.

Know when you're bored – be mindful – get in early as soon as you start feeling fidgety or listless and:

  • Accept and take action (“What can I do to make myself feel better)
  • Move to a different environment (the brain is activated when we change environments)
  • Meditate
  • Have a cup of coffee or tea (a little caffeine is not a bad thing)
  • Doodle
  • Sharpen your focus on what you are doing (for example distractions from study can make us bored – like extraneous noise or people talking in the next room)
  • For major boredom (“I'm bored with my whole life”) – make a plan or consult someone to help you change your lifestyle (I often work with clients on this)
  • Music is always a good standby
  • Walk out the door and go around the block – look in people's gardens or shop windows

Do you have any ideas on what to do to banish boredom? I'd love to hear them: comments on my articles are always welcome.

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