Everyone gets bored at some point. But when feelings of boredom become chronic, science is starting to tell us that there may be something to the old adage about being “bored to death.”
Chronic boredom has been linked in many studies to depression and anxiety, increased drug and alcohol abuse, overeating and obesity, and an increased risk of making mistakes. Mistakes alone can be fatal, if for example you are tired of driving a car at high speed or working with heavy equipment, but the health conditions related to the above boredom can even be life threatening.
The more often you experience boredom, the more likely you are to die early,
As surprising as the above title may sound, it’s the exact finding of a study published inInternational Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers Annie Britton and Martin Shipley of University College London surveyed questionnaires completed during 1985-1988 by more than 7,500 civil servants in London. In the questionnaire they were asked if they felt bored at work during the previous month, and if so, how often. Researchers then traced the medical records of the original participants in the study to find out how many of them had died. Respondents who said they were often bored were 2.5 times more likely to die of heart problems than those who reported not being bored.
The researchers point out that other variables and risk factors may be involved, but even then chronic boredom may be to blame. A commentator on their study agreed, saying, “A person who is bored may not be motivated to eat well, exercise, and have a heart-healthy lifestyle. That might make them more likely to have a cardiovascular event. Others have commented on the study linking boredom with suppressing anger, which can raise blood pressure and compromise the immune system.
Additional studies conducted in the UK have found that the problem appears to be not in occasional boredom, which everybody experiences, but in chronic boredom. Employees tested in a study who reported being often bored were much more likely to use stimulants and alcohol, and 80% of them admitted that boredom often caused them to lose concentration and make mistakes at work.
So what precisely is boredom and how can we stop it?
Thomas Eastwood, a psychologist and co-author of the book entitled The Uninvolved Mind, says that conceptually boredom is “the aversive experience of wanting, but not having the ability, to engage in satisfying activities. All examples of boredom involve a failure of attention, and attention is what you use to drown out the numerous stimuli around you when you focus your awareness on a particular topic.
Many react to an inability to focus on what is interesting in the moment by trying to “shrink” the moment. They immerse themselves in media like TV, music, computer games, and texting – you name it bother them of what is occurring in the here and now. As Eastwood says of this trend, “The problem is that we became passive recipients of stimuli. We say, ‘I’m bored, so I’ll turn on the TV or watch a loud movie.’ But boredom is like quicksand: the more you struggle, the faster you sink.”
Experts who have helped those suffering from depression overcome boredom offer some suggestions for how we can fight or eliminate boredom in our own lives:
• Become realize out of boredom and “sit with it” rather than trying to chase it away. That is, rather than taking action, take it NO action. People who have tried it report that their boredom often dissipates.
• Do something “out of the box,” even irrational. Sometimes boredom arises simply because of doing the same activity time and time again. Try doing something new, something that forces you to feel more alive. For some that might be taking dance lessons, for others, it is just going to a new restaurant. What’s important is breaking your habitual patterns and building some new ones.
• If you are often bored, look at the people around you – are they boring, or “doers?” Boredom tends to be “contagious” or contagious, like the flu. If you find that your normal friends often do not talk much and act bored, consider expanding your circle to include other people who do not seem to get bored easily.
• Play. We love to watch kids when they play because they do at this time. Their full attention is involved in play, and the sense of joy and pleasure that full involvement with an activity brings to them. So if you are feeling bored, try to remember something that’s all the time there thrillingfor you, and it all the time makes you feel like you are play. Then go out and do it.
About the Author: Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after earning her Master of Public Health, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for healthcare professionals around the globe. Circle Juliette on Google+!