February can be a particularly gloomy month. Grotty weather and dark days make it easy to slip into the habit of inertia that’s hard to break. The perception that doing nothing is relaxing is flawed. Whilst we all need downtime, too much of it can be bad for both our mental and physical health, thus making us feel like we’re stuck in a rut.
Boredom is a form of stress we are often reluctant to own up to. Admitting to being stressed implies that we are needed, busy, and possibly quite important. But to say that we’re bored suggests a lack of imagination or initiative or the good fortune of having a fulfilling life of purpose and achievement.
In the days when children should be seen and not heard before technology delivered unlimited entertainment, boredom was a normal childhood experience. This was considered a healthy part of the development of an inquiring mind. In our faster-paced world, children rarely have to make their own fun.
Whether or how much this inhibits progress is hard to know. Neurologically, brains need stimulation to remain focused and productive. Socially and culturally, we need inspiration and motivation to turn up for work, education, friends and partners. And ourselves.
Chronic boredom is associated with mental health problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety and depression. Self-care requires effort and we have to care enough about ourselves to make that effort. If you’re bored with yourself and your life, it’s hard to be carefree.
Can you die of boredom?
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A study of 7,500 British adults found that people who were often bored at work were more likely to die earlier and 2.5 times more likely to die of heart disease than those who weren’t bored. They also reported less physical activity and poorer health. It seems that dying of boredom is a thing.
With reduced attention spans, less impulse control and no patience for delayed gratification, pointless pastimes like endless scrolling through the mundane and trivial or sitting in front of the telly are favoured over purposeful occupations. And yet, it’s the difficult things to master that take time and effort which lead to fulfilling and satisfying states of mind and robust mental health.
Take the Time
Finding the inclination to commit to a rewarding activity means making time. ‘I’m too busy’ is a worn-out excuse and can be resolved by sticking something in the diary so you have to schedule it into your day. Do it regularly at the same time so it becomes a habit and new year resolutions are more likely to continue into February and beyond.
What’s Your Limit?
Like depression, boredom can creep up over time until it becomes normal. Boredom as a state is down to circumstance and lifestyle. As a trait, it’s a characteristic that some people are more prone to than others. People who don’t like change will tolerate boredom for longer than those who are less anxious and more able to take risks. For some, boredom is safe and comforting, for others, it’s a prison or a trap.
Change Your Mind
As a nation of negative thinkers, we tend to overthink and catastrophise, often concluding that no good will come of any effort made so what’s the point? That way lies more of the same boring life. Turning that mindset around can be achieved by nurturing an attitude of gratitude towards yourself and all that’s good in your life. That then helps you to accept the things you can’t change and change the things you can.
Know What’s Possible
Whether or not you take charge of your life, the world will keep changing around you. Boredom, like happiness, can be fleeting or cyclical as you go through different phases of your life. Sometimes, sitting with it for a while, knowing it will pass is the right thing to do although procrastinating for too long can prolong the misery. Equally, making decisive change is good if you’re well-informed and have taken the time to assess all options. Otherwise, you could end up replacing one boring job (or marriage) for another.
Take Chances to Avoid Getting Stuck in a Rut
Putting grown-up pants on and jumping out of your comfort zone is exciting and excitement is the opposite of boredom. Those who are risk-averse are more likely to be stuck in a rut than the brave and the reckless. There’s a happy medium and we all have our limits and boundaries to push. For some, parkour is a challenge and for others, stepping off the pavement is a milestone. Some will leap towards meaningful purpose and some will take baby steps.
To be bored is to be stuck in the waiting room of life, eating rubbish and staring at a screen of meaningless content with no one to talk to. Sometimes, starting a conversation with someone you haven’t spoken to for a while will stimulate an arrangement which will relieve boredom and inspire other conversations and activities.
There is a misguided assumption that, if someone is bored, they must be boring, just as if someone is lonely, they must be unloveable. This is unfair and suggests that when life becomes normally tedious, it’s somehow shameful to own up to it. Pretending life is one big adventure when it isn’t will lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Making a boring life more interesting means owning and challenging it with determination and an intuitive understanding of your own needs.