Could boredom be beneficial for health?
"I'm bored!" is something we all seem to find ourselves saying on those quiet weekends - you know, the one before payday or the one where all your friends suddenly seem to have plans! Modern society has conditioned us all to be busy, all of the time, and we're constantly planning and organising activities, booking appointments, filling our diaries and rushing from A to B and back again.
Just take a ride on the Tube in London, the bus in Edinburgh or public transport in any busy city and you'll find hundreds of commuters doing everything they can to avoid the boredom of a commute to work or home again - whether it's reading on their e-reader, playing games on their smartphone or dipping in and out of a newspaper. Digital technology has a lot to answer for when it comes to our attitude towards boredom. We're almost constantly engaged with emails, texts and social media. Seriously, how many times in the last month have you just felt like throwing your iPhone out the window?! We view boredom as the enemy, so it might come as a surprise to learn that a little bit of boredom (everything in moderation) is actually something that we should embrace - it could even be beneficial for our health.
What is boredom?
It's nothing new, that's for sure, and everyone from Roman Emperors to world leaders and even your neighbour will have experienced boredom at some point or another. Today, scientists are trying to discover more about boredom and exactly how it impacts our health and wellbeing. For example, we bet you didn't know that there are actually five different types of boredom (1)?
Researchers from two different continents came up with these different types of boredom, and you can differentiate between the types according to whether you feel positive or negative about your boredom and your level of mental arousal (which could range from blissfully calm to climbing the walls).
- Indifferent boredom - A relaxed, withdrawn feeling
- Calibrating boredom - You'll feel uncertain and receptive to distraction or change
- Searching boredom - When you feel restless and are actively looking for a distraction
- Reactant boredom - You're bored, but extremely motivated to leave the situation for a specific alternative
- Apathetic boredom - Unpleasant boredom which is similar to depression or learned helplessness
But how would you actually define boredom? In terms of attention, it is, "The frustrating experience of wanting but being unable to engage in satisfying activity." For example, if you're half watching episodes of a show you've already seen on Netflix whilst absent mindedly checking Facebook (and there's not a lot going on) this could lead to boredom as your attention isn't actively engaged. So boredom can be pretty annoying, but what benefits does it have for our health?
Researchers say that activities we consider to be 'boring' such as attending a work meeting, waiting for a bus or reading, could actually make us more creative (2). So the next time you're at a work meeting and bored out of your brain, you might find yourself daydreaming and coming up with great ideas! It's true that boredom can be hard to deal with - nobody likes to be seen as lazy, and we feel like we should be constantly multi-tasking and pushing ourselves to get things done. But remember that a little boredom can actually boost creativity and can be a motivator for change - if you're stuck in a rut, boredom could help to get you out of your comfort zone and push you to pursue new goals, whether they are career, relationship, health or fitness goals (3).
How can boredom inspire change? Well, if you're always bored at work - we're not just talking about a couple of bored days - and find that your job makes you unhappy, maybe it isn't the right job for you, or maybe you need a greater challenge. You could try speaking to your boss and ask for more challenging tasks, or you could hunt around for new career opportunities!
A little bit of boredom can do wonders for your creativity and motivation, not to mention your stress levels, but chronic boredom is bad news for your health! If you're bored for an extended period of time, you might find yourself turning to mindless eating or snacking, which could lead to weight gain. Our brains enjoy the mental effort involved in choosing, cooking and preparing food as a way to alleviate boredom. Chronic boredom could also have negative effects on your mental health and if you're bored all the time, you could be more prone to OCD, anxiety and depression.
There's nothing wrong with being bored occasionally. You don't need to jam pack your weekends and free time with back-to-back activities, and it's ok to turn down a social event and just do nothing now and again. No plans for Saturday night? It's fine, the world won't end! A healthy dose of boredom, coupled with some alone time, should be viewed as a positive thing - unplug yourself from the world, let your mind wander and see where it takes you!
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