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September 8, 2017
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Boredom is something all of us has felt but almost no one until recently
thought deeply about. What exactly is boredom? Are we humans the
only animals who feel bored? For men, boredom holds special dangers.
Because men are still socialized to define themselves as what they do,
being in a state where you feel under-stimulated doing what you are
doing, threatens your sense of identity in some men.
What Exactly Is Boredom?
Most of the scientists who have studied boredom define it as a state of
being under-stimulated. Boredom is different from depression in that,
when we are depressed, we feel under-stimulated for internal reasons,
whereas boredom males us feel under-stimulated by the external world.
Both these states of being , boredom and depression, seem to suggest
that we humans have a natural need to maintain a certain level of
stimulation. Otherwise, we feel unbalanced.
Boredom, in fact, is used as a tool of punishment in prisons. Prisoners
who commit infractions often are denied certain privileges, such as
access to books, televisions, phones and so on. Without these vehicles,
prisoners quickly become bored. Deprived of stimulation for enough
time, prisoners turn inward and can become severely depressed.
"Studies of media use in prisons found that limiting social contact
amplifies a series of deprivations, which makes the prospect of doing
time without these outlets difficult to endure", according to the
Routledge Handbook of Technology, Crime and Justice.
So boredom is so unbearable if it goes on for too long that our minds
experience it as a punishment.
We Are a Ferrari and We Need Driving
But what these studies are really saying is that a human being naturally
is happier when stimulated. We are like Ferrarri automobiles, designed
to be driven. If we are simply left idle and unstimulated, our entire
being experiences the under-stimulation as "unnatural" and at the
extreme, unbearable. That may be the origin of the phrase "i am bored
out of my mind".
Avoiding boredom is in a sense a strategy to avoid finding yourself
stuck, without ideas for how to get "unstuck". Here are the best 7 tips
to avoid feeling "stuck":
1. Move Your Body
Exercise is a remedy for boredom. We are wired for movement. Being
idle for too long may not feel awful but, once you start moving
regularly, you are amazed at how much better movement feels in
Loneliness and boredom-proneness have been linked strongly with
reduced cognitive function as you age, according to a 2010 study from
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
Exercise helps to relieve feelings of boredom because it increases levels
of seratonin, the feel-good" hormone and lowers levels of cortisol, the
hormone released when you are stressed.
Most experts recommend that you get at least 30 minutes of intentional
exercise a day to relieve stress and boredom. Biking, fast walking,
running, basketball, dancing and any other activity you find enjoyable
will work, so long as it gets your heart rate elevated.
2. Increase by Two the Number of Social Contacts Each Day
Men tend to have fewer group social contacts than women, for reasons
that are not clearly understood. Women tend to stay connected with
social groups formed in college, work, at church at teh gym etc. If you
find yourself feeling bored, you have to methodically plan to increase
the number of social contacts.
Join an informal sports team, a bowling league, basketball team, golf
association or club (most public clubs have lower fees), tennis team,
writing group at the local college, choir, singing group, alumni
association, social media group with a shared interest, comment , up
vote or down vote on line on issues that interest you, share stories on
Facebook, call your brothers, sisters, friends, parents, cousins, children,
ex pals and so on more often than you do now.
Studies ave found that we need 5 human contacts per day to avoid
feelings of isolation. Though no particular studies have been conducted
on the number of human contacts we need on average to avoid
boredom, I suspect 5 is the right number there as well.
And yes, go out at least once a week and place yourself in a setting
where strangers are likely to talk to you. That could be a bar, cafe,
restaurant, conversation group, language class and so on.
3. Make a List of What You Find Interesting...and Use It to Create
One of the unusual aspects of feeling boredom is that it actually can
stimulate your creativity, studies have found.
Being bored could just be your mind's way of preparing you to write
that song you've had in your head or to create that side gig you've
wanted to find to bring in a few extra bucks.
4. Is What You Are Doing Valuable? - Value Banishes Boredom
Things we do that we find valuable don't bore us, according to a study
by Professor Andreas Elpidorou of the University of Louisville.
Even if you are doing the seemingly most mindless job in the world,
what you produce is meaningful to someone, somewhere. Do the
exercise of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" and ask yourself,
how would the world be different if no one did the type of work I now
Connect the work you are doing to a purpose larger than yourself. If
you can find no larger purpsoe served by your work, then find a hobby
that serves a larger purpose. There are charities and non-profit
organizations that need people like you. Without your input, they could
5. Stop and Start
The great tennis player Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis
player of all time, still finds the need to stop, renew his energy,
recharge his batteries. Once refreshed, he starts again. Sometimes the
stops are not entirely voluntary, as was th case when he stopped to
recover from a back injury. But stopping whatever you are doing,
taking a sabbatical, will give you time to re-find meaning in what you
do, to re-discover your love for your pursuits.
Books were created, I believe, not only to enlighten but also to
entertain. Find an author you can get into for at least one or two
books. Tom Clancy fan? Stephen King?
7. Don't Blame Your Relationship
One of the worst risks of allowing yourself to stay bored too long is
that, you may start to look around for someone to blame. And the
person handy --- wife, girlfriend, partner --- often is an easy place for
some of that blame to land.
That's a mistake. Being bored is a personal problem. It starts inside you
and can only be corrected when you reach out to fill out your dance
card, so to speak, with new activities.
8. Vacations Help
We humans not only like change --- we need it. We need to explore
places we haven't seen before or haven't seen in awhile. Europeans
seem to better understand the absolute necessity of taking vacations.
We Americans tend to think of them as luxuries. That's wrong thinking.
Vacations do need to be expensive; they simply need to be away from
home. Take a bus or a cheap flight to the nearest beach, lake, or river.
Get your swim trunks, fishing pole or wet gear ready and get out of
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