Boredom (or apathy) is a mental state that has been made possible by the incredible progress in most activities that support human life. We no longer have to spend hours a day to hunt, cultivate and cook food. With the onset of Covid lockdowns, most of us learned that we could simply reach for our phone, and within the hour, just about anything was delivered courtesy of grocery stores and ride-share apps.
- We no longer have to walk significant distances.
- Virtual communication has alleviated the requirement to leave our homes or workplaces to actually meet with people.
- Physical exercise (once intrinsic in daily activity) is now a choice, or for some, a luxury.
- Once rare, self-indulgence, entitlement, and immediate gratification are now promoted as desirable behaviors through social media.
How often do you hear yourself or someone else says, “I’m bored”? When we feel bored, we have to ask ourselves – what’s really going on? Have we become so accustomed to high levels of stimulation that when we find ourselves with quiet time – it makes us uncomfortable? Do we become apprehensive if we feel lethargic or cognitively dull?
Boredom has become an undesirable, if not intolerable, state. Some of us who are uncomfortable with boredom naturally seek to alter or up-regulate our mood state. We may frequently find ourselves aimlessly foraging for food or drinks high in sugar and/or caffeine. Others habitually reach for cigarettes, alcohol, or other stimulating drugs that (initially) up-regulate mood. Some may go to extremes to induce stress and adrenalin (release norepinephrine and endorphins) by engaging in risk-taking behaviors, extreme sports challenges, or intense gaming.
The key to stop eating in response to boredom, is to become aware of how often it arises and then evaluate and reframe what “being bored” actually represents. As we’ll learn later, mindfulness has us accept our low-energy states, so we can appreciate and enjoy them! In addiction recovery, significant emphasis is placed on achieving peace-of-mind, serenity, and contentment. So much so, that some form of mindfulness work or emotional regulation is included in most rehabilitation programs.
A constant state of activity doesn’t allow for stress reduction or micro-moments of restorative repair. Downtime is a luxury we can learn to appreciate with little effort beyond the organization. We can retrain our brain to celebrate the absence of stress and it will improve functioning in key areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. This area, that supports memory and our ability to learn, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of prolonged stress. Over time, stress will damage the functions of these neurons (and the ability to generate new neurons.) This damage can result in a decrease of hippocampal volume and functioning that, in turn, increases a person’s vulnerability for developing mental illnesses as well as the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Author’s Note: One BT group client decided that she had to quit a job and environment she despised. She was supported by everyone who knew about her situation. The next week she came to the group concerned that she had a brain tumor because she always felt stoned. She hadn’t recognized that with the release of extreme stress, her brain was simply content and at peace.