‘Only boring people get bored’, is what our parents used to tell us during school holidays when the days seemed to stretch before us in an endless haze.
It was a kind of boredom specific to childhood that manifested almost as a physical ache. A bone-crushing need to be entertained, distracted, energised.
And, despite the parental wisdom of our youth, it isn’t only boring people who get bored – anyone can hit a wall of boredom, particularly if they’re used to being busy.
And we are all normally busy. Very busy. So busy we can barely stop to catch our breath. Between working long hours, dating, socialising, exercising and writing a blog or starting a side-hustle – we live life at a breakneck pace and don’t often have time to rest, let alone get bored.
But our normal routines have been abruptly knocked off course with social distancing and isolation looming. Our diaries are suddenly clear for the foreseeable future, and we have already binged half of our watch list on Netflix.
The heavy cloud of boredom is about to descend on thousands of UK households, and we might not be equipped to deal with it.
What is boredom?
Boredom is where you have a certain level of energy and nowhere to direct it. It can also be when you feel unstimulated or unsatisfied with what you’re doing.
Studies have shown that you have to have a certain level of energy or arousal in order to feel bored – which might be why children are more prone to chronic bouts of boredom. And it might be why you’re more likely to feel bored during a crisis.
Many of us are probably feeling anxious right now, which can cause energy and adrenaline to course through your body. It’s when you have nowhere to put that energy that you begin to feel bored.
So, rather than feeling relaxed and content at the thought of an evening of reading or watching a TV series, it makes you feel restless and uncomfortable instead.
Another key trigger for boredom is a lack of control. And a global health pandemic is a lack of control on a major scale.
Researchers have found that normally, we react to unpleasant situations by changing the situation. ‘If you don’t like a book you are reading, for example, you close it and do something else,’ reads the results of one study. ‘Boredom happens when you are unable to change the situation.’
Like when you’re unable to leave your house or see your friends, for example.
Neurodiverse coach Anna Granta, says boredom often stems from loneliness.
‘The best way to combat loneliness is to lean into our best and deepest relationships,’ Anna tells Metro.co.uk.
‘A video call with an old friend will leave us feeling much better than hours spent on social media. social media gives us that quick hit but doesn’t satisfy the deep need.’
She says the other side of boredom is anxiety.
‘We are scared to be bored because then there is nothing to distract us from our thoughts,’ Anna explains.
‘Mindfulness is very helpful here as we need to connect more to the present moment and let go of worries about the past or future.
‘Anything that’s done in the present and engages the senses can be “mindful”. For example preparing food and just enjoying the process, the textures, smells, colours, without worrying about how long it takes or what the end result is.’
How to be OK with being bored
So, the boredom is coming. It might last for a really long time. How are we going to cope with it?
Rather than finding endless ways to distract yourself, it might be best to learn how to lean in to the boredom, be OK with being bored, and turn those feelings of frustration into something much calmer and more accepting.
‘There was a time in my life where I was a member of the “I might die of boredom if I don’t do something” crew,’ admits life coach Emma Case.
‘Going from a fast-paced career in the fashion industry to starting a home-based business, I had to learn to be ok with having gaps of time throughout the day. It wasn’t easy.’
Emma says that one of the biggest problems is that we have internalised the idea that we must always be in action and productive, if we want to be successful.
‘No wonder so many of us feel uncomfortable or even ashamed of doing nothing,’ she says.
Emma has ADHD and boredom is the number one challenge for her. She says slowing down and grounding herself has been a game-changer.
‘Your experience of boredom will improve once you change your thinking about it,’ she explains.
‘Boredom isn’t fatal, it’s natural! It’s ok to sit with your thoughts, it’s fine to slow down and to pause.’
She adds that doing nothing will feel uncomfortable at first, but instead of fighting boredom, she would urge people to ‘get curious’ about it.
‘Boredom is an essential part of the creative process,’ says Emma. ‘When we let our minds wander freely, we open ourselves up to fresh insights and ideas.’
Boredom could be an opportunity to think and behave differently. But it will take time to get used to a slower pace of life.
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