Andrew*, an executive in his early 40s, walked into my office announcing, “I don’t like the idea of therapy but I’m dying of boredom and need a strategy.” He wondered, “Do you think I’m overreacting to life? Should I learn to deal with feeling the opposite of excited for hours a day?”
Andrew didn’t feel clinically depressed, though he did share that he struggled with attention deficit disorder and some anxiety at work. Boredom has become an increasingly common plight I see in my practice.
Boredom isn’t just a snooty complaint— it can take a toll on you. In longitudinal researching tracking over 7,000 employees in London, those who described feeling bored were two and a half times as likely to die of a heart attack.
One possible link between the inevitable experience of feeling momentarily disengaged and significant health risks may stem from the ways people fight feeling disgruntled—overeating, substance use, and risk taking.
Instead of letting boredom deepen your suffering, here are some strategies to cope with feeling anxiously alienated:
1. Build a life
Lacking a sense of purpose or meaning during a given period of times feeds boredom. It can seem like time is being squandered when our minds meander without purpose. Giving your mind an “objective” of some kind—even an arbitrary one—could help make an otherwise unpleasant task much more bearable. For example, if you’re at the airport facing a flight delay, remind yourself this is a time to hone patience.
If you find your job— ostensibly the greatest time investment of your day— devoid of meaning, rather than trying to covertly entertain yourself, courageously brainstorm ways to enhance your sense of purpose, possibly taking classes or seeking new opportunities.
2. Limit your virtual existence
If you feel bored and compare yourself to your social network, you may feel even worse! Scanning and jumping around social media venues doesn’t build focus or the enriched feeling that stems from facing a life in 3-D. Given the choice to watch tennis or play tennis, I’d imagine you’d find playing more thrilling. The more active you feel in your own life, the less you are to feel passively frustrated. Get offline and get out there!
3. Don’t act bored
Obsessively checking the time, feeling sorry for yourself, complaining, letting your eyes wander, and reloading websites is not a solution— it’s a problem! If you find yourself at the most thrilling activity and engage in bored actions, you will feel bored. Boredom isn’t just an emotion— it’s a set of actions. Experiment with this: Instead of slipping into a seat in the back at a meeting you typically dread, sit tall in the front of the room and act passionately by participating. Notice how you feel up there, compared to how you feel when you manage to catch some sleep in the back… my bet is you’ll feel more full of life!
4. Get good sleep
We may confuse boredom and fatigue. It is really hard to feel engaged if you feel exhausted. Instead of getting into a cycle of feeling bored and turning to fleeting entertainment and distraction in the evenings, go to bed! Think about what you may accomplish tomorrow rather than getting stuck in thinking short term about tonight.
5. Remember, dull moments happen…
On your way anywhere important, you will face moments that feel less than thrilling. I absolutely love my job and did not enjoy studying statistics and other tasks required to find myself where I am. To create a delicious meal, we need to patiently peel and chop. If we remember that dull moments create a lush life, we may not give up before we land somewhere good. My friend Ari loves participating in ultramarathons that span atleast 50 miles, often in places like an unadorned desert. No finish line feels so fulfilling and no process feels so tedious.
Jennifer Taitz is a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City. She is the author of End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop Healthy Relationship to Food. Visit her website drjennytaitz.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.