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In this session I am re-posting on BOREDOM – I think it is a centerpiece in our society’s misfortunes. Having too much is becoming a regular problem and reinforces addiction and bad choices.
Every person who has a substance use disorder has a unique experience and path that lead them to their addiction. Some people are dealing with unresolved mental health issues or trauma, while others have genetic and environmental factors that have lead them to drug use. Another interesting factor that can sometimes contribute to someone’s addiction is boredom. Boredom isn’t just for people who “have nothing to do”. Plenty of very busy people can also experience boredom from their everyday responsibilities. Often we think of teenagers being bored with school or being grounded, but adults with careers and families can experience boredom as well, which can lead some to seek out ways to entertain themselves with substance use.
It’s hard to think that anyone could get bored with all of the interactive apps, social media, and streaming content they can access online at the reach of their fingertips on smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs. Boredom isn’t so simple, however, it’s more than not having anything to do. Some may reach for drugs and alcohol due to peer pressure, but what about when they feel isolated or “stuck” in their home or family environment and are looking for ways to escape? The same goes for stay-at-home parents who spend their days at home, looking after their small children, often stretched thin with childcare and household responsibilities. Businessmen and women who spend long hours at the office, sometimes dealing with monotonous meetings and long commutes, can also experience everyday boredom that drives them towards substance use.
After people begin to use substances as a “mental escape” from boredom on a regular basis, it becomes difficult to face that boredom again sober. This is how easily an addiction can begin and also the reason why people in recovery often have to deal with the risk of boredom leading them to relapse. Once drugs have taken a person away from their boredom for so long, it can be difficult to return to “real life”, making addiction such a complex disease that requires a lot of strength and work to rehabilitate.
Boredom and Addiction
Doing drugs or drinking can provide somewhat of a mental vacation from people’s current situation. When someone feels trapped and doesn’t know what to do with themselves, getting high or drinking can provide the same kind of mental stimulation as doing a fun activity. Many of these people are also dealing with profound loneliness, anxiety, or are suffering from other situations that prevent them from being involved with hobbies or activities. People with anxiety and depression may feel that leaving their homes to engage in social activities is too stressful, and instead, prefer to stay home and numb themselves.
Most people who are in recovery report that their greatest fear is facing the boredom they once felt while they were still using. Unfortunately, boredom is reported as one of the biggest reasons many people who are in recovery experience relapse. For people who were using drugs regularly, the drugs eventually became the center of their world. Those who are trying to stay sober will avoid old friends they used to do drugs with, causing many people in recovery to feel like they have no friend, or need to take on the overwhelming task of creating an entirely new social circle. Since drugs used to take up so much of their time, former drug users need to find ways to fill their lives with activities and hobbies to avoid boredom at all costs in order to prevent the risk of relapse.
For people who think that their boredom is leading them to misuse substances more frequently than their previous “recreational” use and want to avoid the slippery slope of addiction, beating boredom is essential. The same advice can be applied to people who are in recovery and are finding their motivation and confidence in their sobriety starting to slip. The main issue that can lead to boredom is being stuck in a familiar environment where substance use has most frequently occurred in the past. For some people, it’s a recliner in the living room, and for others, it’s a familiar setting like a long train ride or sitting on a lawn chair on a hot summer’s day. Pinpointing these trigger environments that can evoke cravings due to boredom or monotony need to be avoided as much as possible.
Boredom can also be avoided with the start of new interests and hobbies. Many people in recovery discover their love for fitness and outdoor activities which are healthier ways to keep boredom at bay. Others may require a quieter, mentally stimulating activity like learning to play chess, painting, or knitting. The main goal is to stimulate the brain to be engaged instead of being left to find its way back to using drugs or alcohol.
When mindfully avoiding boredom, people have succeeded in creating entirely new lives for themselves. Something that starts off as a hobby while in recovery can be great for abstaining from drug use, but can also blossom into a new career or passion. When people discover how much of their time they had previously spent on drugs and getting high, they realize how much their time is worth and how it can be better spent. Recovery is a time for rediscovery. Avoiding boredom can lead to things beyond just staying sober. No matter a person’s age or experience with addiction, new hobbies and volunteer work are just some of the ways to begin avoiding the feeling of complacency in life.
Boredom should not be taken lightly. It’s a real issue that is leading people from all walks of life into potential substance use disorders. Making time for activities that stimulate the mind outside of life’s everyday activities is healthy for the body and mind, especially when avoiding addiction and relapse.
Bored to distraction
The first step toward vanquishing boredom is understanding what you’re up against. Imagine how you might feel after waiting in the DMV line for an hour. Time drags when you’re having a dull time, and all you can think about is how much you wish you were doing something—anything—more exciting.
But have you ever considered why you feel this way? John Eastwood, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, has given it a lot of thought. After scouring the scientific literature on boredom, his abstract in Perspective on Psychological Science identified three core characteristics of the emotion:
- You’re unable to engage your mind in a satisfying way
- You’re aware of the situation and consider it a problem
- You blame the environment (“this is so boring” or “there’s nothing to do”)
Never a dull moment
Based on these characteristics, there are three sure-fire ways to beat boredom:
1. Learn how to engage your mind in a more satisfying way — When you’re bored, you aren’t able to focus your mind on something that interests you, and that leaves you feeling dissatisfied.
Regaining your focus can help. Here’s how:
- Practice mindfulness. In a nutshell, mindfulness involves being fully aware of your moment-to-moment experience. You notice sensations, thoughts and feelings without judging or resisting them, and then you let them go as your focus moves on to the next moment. With this mindset, you’ll feel more engaged in whatever you’re doing — even a mundane chore such as folding laundry — and less preoccupied with wishing you were doing something else.
- Turn off the screens. Your smartphone, tablet, computer and TV provide nonstop access to texts, tweets, shows, news and games, not to mention hilarious cat videos. So why are you still getting bored? Being bombarded with rapid-fire images and information can overload your capacity to pay attention, and constantly switching from one app or screen to another just magnifies the problem. Soon, your ability to focus on anything for long is shot. To prevent this, try to do just one e-task, such as answering emails or searching the Web, at a time. At home, spend at least an hour every day unplugged from your devices.
2. Redefine the situation so it doesn’t seem like such a problem – From time to time, everyone has to do routine or repetitive tasks, from entering data to washing dishes.
Putting a positive spin on the situation helps keep boredom at bay. Here’s how:
- Make it meaningful. Remind yourself of the value in what you’re doing. For example, if you’re raking and weeding in your backyard, remember the fun times you’ve spent there in the past, or imagine the good times to come in the future.
- Call it an opportunity. Rather than describing a less-than-thrilling activity as “monotonous,” tell yourself it is “meditative.” Think of it as your chance to take a mental break — a welcome respite from any pressure to make tough decisions or come up with clever ideas. (Ironically, I find that some of my most creative ideas bubble up unbidden at times such as these.)
3. Stop blaming the environment, and start taking charge — The interesting thing about boredom is that it comes from within. Taking the steps outlined above won’t rescue you from sitting through a dull meeting or standing in a long line, but it can help you feel less bored while you do so. If you still feel your eyes glazing over, shake off the sluggishness in a healthy way.
Depending on the situation, you could:
- Imagine that you’re a detective, journalist or anthropologist who is investigating the situation, noting every detail with great interest
- Entertain yourself by daydreaming or doodling
- Go for a quick walk or climb a flight of stairs
- Call a friend who’s a good conversationalist
- Listen to a song that makes you feel energized
- Make a list of fun things to do this weekend
Watch out for the urge to reach for a beer, cigarette or candy bar when you’re bored. Dulling the pain of dullness never works for long, and it can set back your recovery from addiction or your progress toward healthy goals. Instead, be ready with strategies for managing boredom effectively and constructively.
We found that those who report quite a lot or
a great deal of boredom are more likely to be younger,
to be women, to rate their health worse, to be in low
employment grades and to report lower physical
activity levels (Table 1). We also found that those
with a great deal of boredom were more likely to
die during follow-up than those not bored at all
(Table 2). In particular, they were more likely to die
from a CVD fatal event [hazard ratio (HR) 2.53; confidence
interval (CI) 1.23–5.21]. Furthermore, we
found some suggestive evidence of cumulative effects
in the mortality after Phase 2, as those still reporting
boredom at Phase 2 had slightly higher risks than
those reporting it once or never.
Have you ever felt bored (Fig 1)? Ever found yourself with nothing engaging to do? Experienced a lack of interest in everything and everyone around you? Although not a pleasant state in which to find oneself, is boredom bad for health? In a rare moment of idleness one day, we pondered whether the expression ‘bored to death’ has any basis. Are people who are bored more likely to die earlier than those who are not?
Boredom levels were reported in the later versions of the baseline questionnaire (1985–88) of the Whitehall II cohort study. Participants were civil servants, based in London, aged 35–55 years. They were asked in a self-completed questionnaire about boredom during the past 4 weeks (response options were ‘not at all’, ‘a little’, ‘quite a lot’, ‘all the time’). At the risk of participants becoming bored of answering this question, it was repeated at Phase 2 some 3 years later, but not since. Information on mortality was ascertained through the NHS Central Registry, by using their unique NHS identification number. Follow-up for total mortality was available up to the end of April 2009. Excluding those with prevalent cardiovascular disease (CVD) at baseline, gave a sample size of 7524 men and women.
We found that those who report quite a lot or a great deal of boredom are more likely to be younger, to be women, to rate their health worse, to be in low employment grades and to report lower physical activity levels (Table 1). We also found that those with a great deal of boredom were more likely to die during follow-up than those not bored at all (Table 2). In particular, they were more likely to die from a CVD fatal event [hazard ratio (HR) 2.53; confidence interval (CI) 1.23–5.21]. Furthermore, we found some suggestive evidence of cumulative effects in the mortality after Phase 2, as those still reporting boredom at Phase 2 had slightly higher risks than those reporting it once or never. With further adjustments for employment grade, physical activity levels and poor self-rated health, the hazard ratios for CVD for those with a great deal of boredom were reduced and did not reach statistical significance (1.96; CI 0.94–4.05).
We conclude that those who report being bored are more likely to die younger than those who are not bored. However, the state of boredom is almost certainly a proxy for other risk factors. Whilst some aspects of life may not be so easily modified (e.g. disease status or position in society), proneness to boredom, particularly in younger populations, could be indicative of harmful behaviours such as excessive drinking, smoking, taking drugs and low psychological profiles.1 Finding renewed interest in social and physical activities may alleviate boredom and improve health, thus reducing the risk of being ‘bored to death’.
The results also indicate a significant relationship between boredom proneness and a negative social orientation, as described by the HSCL interpersonal sensitivity
subscale (e.g., “feeling that people are unfriendly or dislike you,” “Your feelings being easily hurt”). This adds tangential support to the findings of Leong and Schneller (1993), Maroldo (1986), and Tolor (1989), who reported boredom proneness to be significantly
associated with alienation, low sociability, and shyness, respectively.
The significant relationship between BPS scores and the HSCL obsessive–compulsive (OC) subscale appears somewhat surprising at first glance. However, many of the OC subscale items consist of statements regarding difficulty with attentional deficits (e.g,
“trouble concentrating,” “Your mind going blank,” “trouble remembering things”). When discussing the construct of boredom (or the boredom-prone individual), several authors
have stated that boredom is connected with distractibility, low attentional control, and concentration difficulties (Damrad-Frye & Laird, 1989; Farmer & Sundberg, 1986; Hamilton,
1981; Hamilton, Haier, & Buchsbaum, 1984). For instance, Fisher (1993) stated, when bored, an individual “. . . feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating
on the current activity” (p. 396).
Finally, our finding that high boredom-proneness scores are related to greater somatization
complaints adds empirical support to previous work that reported negative associations
between boredom and eating behaviors (e.g., Martin, 1989; Pascale & Sylvester,
1988) and physical-health symptoms (e.g., Ferguson, 1973; Smith et al., 1981). It should be noted, however, that this prior work did not assess boredom levels using psychometrically sound instrumentation. Perhaps one reason for the relationship between boredom proneness and greater symptom reporting is that individuals with high BPS scores may be overly focused on themselves (or their internal states) and therefore be more likely to perceive that problems may exist. For instance, many authors (e.g., Eisnitz, 1974; Weinberger & Muller, 1975) have discussed the connection between boredom and the tendency to dwell on oneself (e.g., narcissism). Recently, Wink and Donahue (1997) found greater BPS scores to be related to high narcissism scores. In a related vein, Spacks (1995) argued that the focus on oneself is a primary reason for the increased incidence in reports of boredom in society. As she has stated, “The inner life comes to be seen as consequential, therefore itsinadequacies invite attention” (1995, p. 23). Finally, Seib and Vodanovich (1998) found
that individuals with high BPS total scores had greater scores indicative of “maladaptive” self-awareness, as indicated by greater scores on the Self-Reflectivity subscale of the
Self-Consciousness Scale (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975).
Boredom is a common problem. In a survey of North
American youth, 91% of respondents reported that they experience
boredom (The National Center on Addiction and Substance
Abuse, 2003). It is often perceived as a fairly trivial and
temporary discomfort that can be alleviated by a simple change
in circumstances, such as finally being called into the doctor’s
examining room. However, boredom can also be a chronic
and pervasive stressor with significant psychosocial consequences.
Indeed, boredom is even associated with mortality,
lending grim weight to the popular phrase “bored to death”
(Bloomfield & Kennedy, 2006; Britton & Shipley, 2010;
For example, boredom
is correlated with mental health symptoms, such as
depression and anxiety (Goldberg, Eastwood, LaGuardia, &
Danckert, 2011; LePera, 2011; Sommers & Vodanovich, 2000),
alexithymia (Eastwood, Cavaliere, Fahlman, & Eastwood,
2007), and somatization complaints (Sommers & Vodanovich,
2000). Furthermore, boredom has been identified as a complicating
factor in the psychiatric rehabilitation of mental disorders,
such as schizophrenia (Newell, Harries, & Ayers, 2011;
Todman, 2003), and in recovery from traumatic brain injury
(Kreutzer, Seel, & Gourley, 2001; Oddy, Humphrey,
& Uttley, 1978; Seel & Kreutzer, 2003). Boredom is also negatively
correlated with a sense of purpose in life. boredom is linked with impulse control deficits such as overeating and binge eating (Stickney & Miltenberger, 1999),
drug and alcohol abuse (Lee, Neighbors, & Woods, 2007;
LePera, 2011; Wiesbeck et al., 1996), and problem gambling
(Mercer & Eastwood, 2010). Boredom at work (Fisher, in
press) can cause serious accidents if safety depends on continuous
vigilance, as in medical monitoring or long-haul truck driving.
As the saying goes… “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” Anyone with too much time on their hands may find themselves in hot, troubled waters. People who tend to be bored may also be weary or restless because of lack of any personal interests. They are bored with themselves, their jobs and life.
Boredom usually stems from one’s own lack of motivation, endeavor or creativity. Everyone gets bored now and then, but it is the difference between changing that mood to healthy alternatives versus sitting around with friends “passing the pipe” for a few high flying hits. This kind of boredom can ultimately lead to an anti-social, destructive path toward addiction.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being bored today; even if they are not interested in stretching their muscles, feelings or their minds. Computers, IPods, IPhones and game boxes can provide hours of (in my opinion) useless activity, so it seems that one has to look hard and actually seek out boredom. Boredom takes some perseverance to shake off. It is a state of mind and requires a committed determination to do something about it or change up the routine.
One can form a habit out of being bored because it can present a degree of comfort and safety. Eventually, since no one expects anything from you and in turn, you don’t expect anything from yourself, drugs and/or alcohol can seem like an acceptable choice of behavior and the easiest and quickest fix requiring little or no effort is to “get high” or drink.
Drugs or alcohol can appear to take away the pain of emotional, mental or physical challenges. Boredom is often simply a state of awareness that shows up just prior to the surfacing of difficult, painful things we have stuffed away from our conscious awareness.
As difficult a challenge as boredom can present to overcome for anyone of any age, the answer lies in confronting and moving through and beyond the CAUSES of boredom. Anyone experiencing significant levels of boredom needs to ask themselves what challenging (and likely unpleasant) experience they are attempting to avoid. .
When children or adolescents are spending too much time in front of the television (or screens of any kind!) or listlessly whiling away hours it is time to step in. Curtail the screen-time hours and help your child look for and plan stimulating activates or hobbies. If they are not interested in pursuing them independently then get involved yourself or recruit other members of the family.
Strong, positive energy coupled with the right attitude is important to infuse into your child to shake his or her lazy, boring life and get with a new productive program. If executed early and properly, then boredom will have no opportunity to lead to dangerous experimentation with potentially addictive behaviors.
If you are an adult and active yet bored with work or mundane, tedious activities, push yourself to discover new adventures and even make new friends. If your job represents a form of security, but is painstakingly boring, explore new possibilities for employment even if you never fill out an application or get a job interview.
Talk to other family members and tell them of your boredom so that they can support and work with you in determining other paths to avoid your boredom. This might help to deter you from turning to alcohol or substance abuse in order for you to alleviate your own boredom in a self destructive, detrimental way. It also makes you accountable to others and them to you, if you have put out your hand for help.
Being bored is no fun. It’s a waste of precious time and has zero productivitychips.
Be creative and shake things up in your life. You never know what might happen, especially if you keep an open mind. The alternative is either a stale, lackluster lifestyle or one where the only entertainment is destructive, out of control addictive behavior. Take responsibility and choose (hopefully) the more creative and productive path.
If I can be of service, please visit my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and I invite you to explore my book Reclaim Your Life – You and the Alcoholic/Addict. It can be purchased through PayPal or at Amazon. In addition, my book is available as an audio through PayPal only.