Are you Simply Bored or Depressed?
I want to talk to you this week about depression's near cousin boredom. I'm not talking about the type of boredom that we experience when we're outside of school waiting to pick up our children. Or the type of boredom we suffer when cable goes out, or our phone batteries die. I'm not even talking about the kind of boredom when it's Saturday night, and we have no place to go. I'm talking about existential boredom. This type of boredom can lead to depression and is oftentimes difficult to differentiate from depression.
Existential boredom is defined as the inability to find anything exciting in life. Existential boredom leaves us feeling listless and unable to relax. It leads to apathy, lack of concern, or little interest in something that would typically bring happiness. When we suffer from existential boredom, life feels meaningless, we feel little or no excitement, and we find it difficult to get motivated.
When suffering from existential boredom, we can be more prone to developing depression, because our mind lacks something positive to focus on, and therefore quickly drifts into the negative thinking that spirals into depression. The belief that life has nothing exciting to offer often leads to feeling tired of life and a sense of being "done" with life. In that state, boredom stops us from pursuing hobbies, reaching out to friends, or actively taking on the creation of excitement in our life. Since the symptoms of boredom overlap with the symptoms of depression, it can be hard to differentiate.
A lot of my clients lately are noticing that many of their depression symptoms are actually boredom. Once they learn to differentiate, they start feeling more empowered. Boredom, once acknowledged, can be dealt with rather effectively. In our fast-paced, technology-based society, boredom has become a more significant issue than in the past. The reason for this is that we have more free time on our hands than previous generations while at the same time also spending more time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, rather than pursuing a hobby or looking for human connection. What are some ways that you can start turning boredom around?
1. Feel it
You may be thinking right now. I'm already feeling it. But watching TV or scrolling through social media is not feeling boredom. By sitting with our boredom, away from distractions, we can get a more intimate look at what may be causing it and what is driving it. Often loneliness, disconnection, and lack of purpose cause depression. Other times that restless feeling comes from excess energy unused in our day to day life. A few generations ago, people didn't come home from a hard day of labor and felt bored. They felt tired and went to sleep. It is important to recognize where our boredom comes from and address it at the core, rather than just the symptom.
2. Look for service opportunities
We live increasingly isolated lives with little or no deep human connection. It helps tremendously when we have a larger cause to focus on. Something we feel strongly about. What might that larger cause be for you? Animal rescue, child welfare, empowerment projects? Whatever it is for you, find some opportunities to volunteer in that area. Volunteering for a greater good, helps us step beyond our own stories of living meaningless lives and gives us the drive to do something bigger and have impact. Volunteering is also a great way to find people with similar interests and to develop new friendships.
3. Find an adventure
Nothing stops boredom quicker than having a fun plan. Something to look forward to. If you enjoy travel, there are many companies offering adventure travels for adults with so many types of activities that you will be sure to find something that gets you excited. You can also decide to take a road trip. Find some location near enough that you have always wanted to explore and then just do it. Don't think about it, don't rationalize it, just do it. You will be amazed by how quickly it will bring excitement back into your life. Then schedule little adventures regularly for yourself. Adventures don't have to be expensive, as long as it feels like an adventure to you.
The reason why travel and volunteering are so effective is that it gets us out of our comfort zone, focuses us forward, and connects us to the rest of the world. Boredom and depression thrive in isolation. Connection and adventure short circuit the repetitive thoughts that are keeping us in a negative spiral.
So, if you are feeling bored, don't jump to being depressed. Yes, boredom can lead to depression, but it doesn't have to! Try to find a larger purpose, keep your mind active, look for human connection, and dare to adventure.