“I was perfectly happy in my boring life before you came along.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.
Does this tell us anything about the phenomenon of boredom?
Experiencing occasional boredom is normal. However, carrying on in life with a lack of interest or purpose may then cause a disconnect with everything else around you.
Science defines “boredom” as a lack of neural stimulation. Our brain responds to inputs, but when our responses to those inputs become predictable, boredom sets in.
Knowing the source of boredom is the key to dealing with it. If it’s due to external factors, taking a break from the normal routine can help fix the problem. This is why vacations do so many good things for us. Even a small change in the daily routine can help reset things.
However, if underlying conditions such as depression, alexithymia (inability to describe and identify emotions), or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are responsible, distractions bring only temporary relief. There may be more fundamental work required — as with a licensed therapist — to rediscover the joy of living.
The emotional impact of boredom
Discontent: Long–term boredom can trigger thoughts of hopelessness. This may lead to conflict, especially within relationships. At the onset, as the brain is constantly stimulated, everything feels fresh and exciting. Yet with time, the daily grind wears us down. We may start to see others as the source of our dissatisfaction, while the problem may lie within us.
Lack of self-worth: Lack of stimuli, limited choices or a feeling of confinement, add to a sense of emptiness. Our self-esteem takes a hit as we constantly misjudge our self-worth. Low self-esteem adversely impacts our decision-making abilities.
Emotional Eating: With the stress and isolation that comes with boredom, eating seems like an easy outlet. Reaching out for frequent snacks acts as a short-term stimulation for the brain. High on MSG, refined sugar, or processed fats, the body experiences a spike of dopamine that momentarily acts as a stimulative. According to a 2015 study, 24% of millennials are prone to snacking at least four or more times per day.
Ways to effectively deal with boredom
Embrace It: Let the discomfort that arises out of boredom come forth. Feeling ashamed or being self-critical will only validate it more. Flow with what you’re feeling.
Self-Awareness: Doing things “consciously” makes us more satisfied. Pushing ourselves without being aware, can make life seem pointless. We may lose joy in our work and interactions and end up feeling burnt out. Living life mindfully helps us get back on track by establishing connections every day.
Manage Procrastination: When you’re not feeling motivated, putting things off seems like the most natural thing to do. But over a period, that builds an even longer list of to-dos that winds up making us feel even more overwhelmed. Tackle just one tiny thing on your list; you might be surprised at how that energizes you to do one more…and one more… As we complete small tasks, each “win” acts as a stimulus for the brain and leads us to accomplish the bigger tasks.
To shake off boredom, we may have to be deliberate in breaking the monotony. The upshot is that our self-awareness, will-power, and self-control become stronger and will help us rebuild a healthier connection with life.