Unless you’re part of the essential workforce or continuing work from home, there’s a high possibility that boredom exists in your daily quarantine routine. But even those who follow regular schedules experience the dragging effect of boredom, which is why it has to be understood—along with its potential to motivate.
According to James Danckert, a psychology professor from the University of Waterloo and co-author of the book “Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom”, boredom is the lack of ability to engage in meaningful activity, which leaves feelings of ineffectiveness and unproductiveness. Oftentimes, boredom can be confused with other state of emotions such as having a downtime or rest period, when in fact they are good for you. If anything, boredom is an indicator that you need to do something to change your current situation. And what you do next matters most.
There are many types of discomfort people are experiencing after the COVID-19 disruption. Before the structured daily rhythm became an all-day stay-at-home routine, we greatly depended on different points of the day to tell us what to do next. Before you intend to act on boredom, it’s best to first identify what you really feel. Is it agitation? Tiredness? Anxiety? Accurately pinpointing your emotional state and the notions associated with it, which can also be linked to your physical condition, will help you get to the right activities and not make any major missteps in the middle of a crisis, especially if what you really needed all along was a quick break.
Here are five types of boredom according to a 2013 study that assesses each type’s associated emotions and behaviors, and what you can do to combat it:
Associated emotion: Relaxing
Associated behavior: Indifference or withdrawal from the external world
Strategies: Seek better ways of relaxation instead of taking a break then abruptly returning to the task
Associated emotion: Slight unpleasantness
Associated behavior: Wandering thoughts and openness to change but not actively looking for alternatives
Strategies: Get started on creating a momentum by taking the first simple steps to reach your goal
Associated emotion: Restless
Associated behavior: Turns to distractions or thrill-seeking to minimize boredom
Strategies: Take a break and choose productive activities instead of mindless chores
Associated emotion: Dislike, aggression, angry, extreme unhappiness
Associated behavior: Tends to leave the situation and avoid those responsible for it
Strategies: Reduce negative emotions by mindfulness exercises, such as adapting breathing techniques, and try to modify the current environment you’re in
Associated emotion: Extreme aversion
Associated behavior: Linked to learned helplessness or depression and is less likely to actively change the situation
Strategies: Novel experiences will shun away depressive characteristics that come with apathy so try to pick out new activities to start fresh
Who says you can’t be curious about boredom? There are surprisingly a handful of studies that attempt to fully grasp the concept of boredom, and a lot are still in progress. Despite its potential to yield innovative, even unique, results, boredom should also be treated with caution. Filling your days with activities from morning to evening will take your mind off the idea of boredom, even dampen the common discomforts you usually have, but it can also lead to destructive behavior (such as substance abuse) that will affect your social, emotional and mental health. As quarantine boredom becomes an invitation for self-reflection, problem-solving and creativity, the stagnant and monotonous nature of the past months actually amplifies the need for change and leaves room to experiment on valuable ways to deal with it.
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