If you have children, raise your hand if you’ve heard in the last hour, day or year, “I’m bored!” Let’s be honest, you’ve probably contemplated your own boredom too.
While boredom can mean many things to many different people, it is often synonymous with being unproductive or wasting time. But quite the contrary, boredom is not a bad thing.
“We are programmed at a young age that boredom is associated with ‘nothing going on,’” said Scott Bartlett, a case management director at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “In today’s technological world this can especially be true, because instant gratification is always in reach with our phones and tablets. When we don’t have something to do, it’s like an alarm goes off signaling we need to make some sort of change.”
Bartlett shared two circumstances in which you might try to avoid boredom and some tips for you and your little ones to maximize the benefits of being bored.
Reasons why we get bored
“People identify with and experience it differently, but boredom can be a motivating force for everyone to do whatever it takes to ease it,” Bartlett said. “There are several circumstances that can contribute to it, and two are mental fatigue or disengagement, and masking underlying feelings and emotions, such as depression or anxiety.”
Disengagement: I’m doing the same thing repeatedly and there is nothing new going on. I am just going through the motions. I’m in a routine and only have to use a small portion of my capabilities to continue in this routine.
Masking Mental Health: I have a lot going on underneath this surface feeling of boredom. I know there is a lot of upsetting thoughts going on in my head, but I can’t focus on those. I may face a lot of challenges if I stop my normal routine and give myself time to think.
Why boredom isn’t a bad thing
If we get five minutes to ourselves, what do some of us often find ourselves doing? On our phones, scrolling, liking and tweeting without really giving ourselves time to just walk, sit and think. While technology may fill that boredom hole, it can really interfere with our sleep, our relationships and even our mental health. Our minds are not meant to constantly “go, go, go.”
“The hardest thing for some people to do is sit still, quietly and be with themselves,” Bartlett said. “The younger we can start our kids, the more they will see they have inner resources they can tap into. Increasing our tolerance for quiet and alone time is healthy at any age.”
“In the midst of boredom some amazing things can happen,” Bartlett said. “Creativity can be engaged, you might find new routines and interests and become more mindful. Slowing down, breathing and pausing can also just be a good mental break.”
Channeling your boredom
Today is the day to lean into boredom. Put down your phones and tablets and embrace it. Bartlett shared these tips for you and your family.
- Go for a walk: If you can, leave the phone at home and soak up the fresh air. Notice the trees, the birds and people.
- Learn a new craft: There are many crafts that can be learned via YouTube videos that are evidence-based activities for reducing anxiety, such as knitting and crocheting. Kids are less locked into what they think they can or can’t do than adults, so be willing to participate with them.
- Get some sleep: Take a nap or go to bed early – both can have benefits.
- Journal: It doesn’t have to be much but jotting down your thoughts and feelings is a great way to process problems, fears or concerns you might have.
- Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Find a few minutes either together with your children and/or by yourself to practice relaxation methods like diaphragmatic breathing and mindfulness meditation.
- Create a list: Go online and create a list of low-cost things you can do. Encourage your kids to help make the list. Have them cut the list into separate strips and place them in a basket or jar. The next time either of you feel or say you are bored, draw a few strips out and commit to doing at least one of them.
Boredom can happen to anyone at any age but learning how to find solace in the quiet and mundane can be healthy.
If boredom is part of a larger issue, such as depression or anxiety, get help from a behavioral health specialist. Talking through your feelings with your doctor can help you better understand your needs and ensure you get the right treatment.