Boredom and the pandemic
The year 2020 is going down in the record books as the craziest year ever. Yes, it was wild and unpredictable, but it has literally made us more crazy.
The pandemic and its consequences have created all sorts of conditions that have impacted our mental health such as stress from loss of work and the dangers of illness, restricted freedoms and mobility, and the lack of access to the people, places, and activities that we are used to and that we enjoy.
The pandemic has separated and isolated us. When we have unwanted solitude in our lives or experience the loss or deprivation of desired or routine activities, we can experience stress as a reaction to boredom, loss, or deprived access. Some people enjoy solitude. The key distinction is whether its entry into our life is wanted or unwanted, whether it creates a void or it fills a void.
The difference between solitude and loneliness is whether
being alone energizes us or drains us.
We typically think of stress as a negative event or condition that is actively present that we must respond to. I call these ‘problems of presence.’ These are easy to identify. We can usually solve them by seeking information, the advice of others, and by making sound decisions.
However, stressful conditions can include things that are absent as well. I call these ‘problems of absence.’ To be healthy we need to be sustained, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. When these supports are taken away, we can feel stressed. These types of stresses are harder to identify. Signals can include feelings of detachment, emptiness, loneliness, a lack of energy, or a dull longing for something that is missing, even when we have trouble identifying what it is. Solving these problems often requires us to shift our focus inward and ask ourselves some deep questions. What am I missing? What do I really need to be happy? How would I know if I was happy? What would be different?
Boredom is more than simply not having anything to do. A bored individual wants to be stimulated but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect to their desired environment or a desired activity. The unfulfilled desire for satisfying activity leads to feelings of stress. The reaction can cover a wide range of responses. A bored individual may be lethargic and feel a loss of energy. Or, they may become hyperactive, perhaps pacing or tapping their foot to release energy.
The pandemic lockdown caused us stress by taking away
the connections and activities that sustain us.
Boredom can also influence our thought patterns. Research has found that when people are chronically bored, they are disengaged from satisfying activity and more likely to focus their thoughts in a negative and repetitive cycle. It is not surprising that research has found that chronic boredom and depression tend to be related.
The causes of boredom hold the secret to its resolution. We are either bored because what we are doing does not hold our attention or we are bored because what we are doing does not have meaning. This is why we can be busy, yet bored, at the same time. Repetitive tasks have this quality, they do not hold our attention and they often do not have meaning to us. We can reduce boredom by pursing activities that are engaging and that are meaningful to us, or we can re-evaluate the meaning of the things we are already doing.
Fortunately, we live in the internet age. It is easier than ever to get connected to others and to find new activities. Of course, one of the best ways to strengthen our connections it to pay attention to and cultivate the social relationships that we already have and the activities that are close at hand. It may be as simple as creating something with your own hands, such as a favorite meal, or enjoying an everyday activity such as having a coffee outside, going for a walk, going to the market, or visiting a friend.
But, sometimes doing something new or reaching out to others to expand our social connections requires a dedicated effort on our part. This can be especially true if we become depressed during the lockdown and begin to socially withdraw and lose our sense of motivation. Sometimes, we have to make an effort. The key is to get up, get out, and get going. Even if you do not go far.
For more insights see my books and blog at https://www.jamesmcginley.com.
James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor. He is interested in cross-cultural and applied psychology, whether at work, as a part of a team, in our personal lives and in our relationships with others, or when we face adversity in life – whether from stress, addiction, or exposure to crisis.
(Image credit Photo by Engin Akyurt is licensed under the Unsplash License)
(Image credit Photo by Keegan Houser is licensed under the Unsplash License)
(Image credit Photo by Anastasia Chepinska is licensed under the Unsplash License)