Boredom in the Time of COVID-19, Part I

Mostly practical.

By: Kyle Kermott, Psy.D.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of thousands, while disrupting the daily lives of billions. In the United States, many are participating in widespread quarantine measures to help stem the spread of the virus. In addition to affecting many parts of our country, these measures are having profound effects Americans’ mental health. One of the persistent complaints during these lock-down measures is the feeling of boredom.

In response to staying away from work or school, friends and loved ones, and entertainment and hobbies, many people are feeling the discomfort of boredom on a major scale.

We are all familiar with the feeling of boredom, but have you ever stopped to wonder why boredom is so uncomfortable? During this time, many people complain about intense boredom, which can lead to the development of other psychiatric disorders like Major Depression. But why is that the case? When many mental disorders develop in response to the addition of something like stress or trauma, why does the lack of something similarly lead to mental illness? And why do we hate feeling bored?

This article is broken up into two parts. Part one is mostly practical, and is an overview of 10 things you can do to manage your feelings of boredom during this pandemic. The second part is mostly theoretical, and discusses the possible, internal dynamics that lead to us feeling bored and that cause us to feel the associated discomfort along with boredom.
Note: You don’t have to read the two parts in order.

Part I – 10 Things You Can Do To Manage Boredom

1) Reframe your mindset. It’s common to feel a sense of powerlessness as we lose certainty and control over many aspects of our lives during the pandemic. Because of this, we can often slip into boredom, lethargy, depression, and feelings of purposelessness. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim of the COVID-19 lock down, reframe your mindset to see this as an opportunity to focus on things you have been putting off. In other words, stop focusing on what has been lost during this time, and start focusing on what you can gain right now. Think about capitalizing on these unique times to focus on goals for yourself.

2) Learn something new. It’s never been easier to take an online class or read a book you have been meaning to get to. Not only will this satisfy the itch to find something new, but it will create new pathways in the brain as you digest material you haven’t thought about before.

3) Have a lifeline (photos, videos, etc.) that will help you feel better. Sometimes, when going through difficult times, it can be helpful to have at the ready things that you know will bring you comfort. Even though these things aren’t new – and usually boredom yearns for novelty – re-engaging in the loved familiar can be a welcome experience. And considering the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, reminding yourself of things you love can bring some calming certainty into your life.

4) Exercise. This is good anytime, but getting your blood flowing can help reduce boredom by allowing you to relieve any built-up stress or feelings of being “stuck.” Of course, with quarantine measures in place, you will have to get creative in what activities you can do. It’s generally recommended that you aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise, 3-5 times a week.

5) Keep a schedule. How many times have you said, or heard others say, during the quarantine, “It’s so hard to keep track of the days!” With the loss of our normal routines, our days can begin to meld together, which can increase our sense of boredom and pointlessness. To prevent this, keep to a daily schedule as best as you can. Of importance is trying to keep a regular sleep schedule. Getting up at the same time each day not only helps you physically, but also mentally. Humans thrive with structure, but right now it’s up to you to create some for yourself.

6) Connect with others in creative ways. One of the most difficult things about the quarantine orders associated with COVID-19 is the feeling of isolation. Use some creativity to find ways to keep communication afloat with important people in your life. Make an effort to send online or text messages to friends and family or consider scheduling regular phone or video calls. You can also create a group with others and decide to engage in games, movies, television or books together. For example, coordinate with a handful of friends to start the same movie together at the same time and text each other your reactions throughout.

7) Meditate. There are handfuls of apps for your phone that can walk you through beginning – or continuing with – meditation, and sometimes this can be the best place to start. Without going into too much detail, meditation can help take your mind off the past (“Last month I was still able to see friends.”) or the future (“When is this going to be over already?”) and help you focus on how you are feeling in this moment. And it’s by focusing on this moment that you can find peace and contentment, even during the pandemic.

8) Set goals you can achieve. Experiencing the sense of accomplishment when you complete tasks is one of the ways in which our jobs can help boost our self-esteem. But with the absence of your normal structure, it can be difficult to feel like you have accomplished much during the lock-down. To change this, create a list of goals you want to accomplish. You can have short-term (daily) and long-term (weekly or monthly) goals. You can also arrange them by degrees of difficulty. For example, making sure to brush your teeth everyday (which I hope you are doing…) can be an easier goal than challenging yourself to learn German by the start of summer. But regardless of what goals you choose for yourself, being able to check them off your list will help you feel better about yourself.

9) Take time to disconnect. As much as social media can act as a means for keeping us connected, it can also cause you to feel worse about yourself by making you think you aren’t doing as much as others. Even during quarantine, you can find endless posts about (sometimes unbelievable) ways in which people are adapting to their time at home. Instead of comparing yourself to others, it’s important to focus on your life and what you are doing for yourself. Make an agreement with yourself to limit or avoid social media for hours or days.

10) Journal. Sometimes, boredom can be related to not being connected to how we are feeling or what we are needing during a given time. When you get further disconnected from yourself, it becomes harder to engage in appropriate self-care activities. Keeping a regular journal can help you keep tabs on how you are doing throughout this pandemic. Make sure to focus on things like how you are feeling (physically and emotionally), what you are thinking about, and what goals you are working towards. Note: journaling shouldn’t be about how you want to feel, but rather how you are feeling.

Continue to Part II to read two theories about how boredom can develop in the mind.