When was the last time you were bored? Boredom has a pretty bad reputation. When you think of being bored, what comes to mind? Feeling frustrated, uninspired, irritable, tired, hopeless and more are all associated with boredom, and those are all things that don’t feel great. Boredom is usually a feeling we try to avoid, but there are actually benefits to feeling bored.
Sometimes, boredom isn’t the problem, it’s the way we cope with the boredom. For some, boredom leads to bursts of creativity or an increased ability to practice mindfulness. For others, it can lead to feeling depressed or relying on coping mechanisms that don’t serve them anymore. Boredom has been blamed for a number of things from gambling to infidelity, but boredom isn’t actually the source of the behavior. Feeling bored can be uncomfortable, which is why it’s so tempting to do something to relieve that discomfort, even if it ends up causing harm in the long run.
If this has happened to you, even on a small level, don’t feel bad! We all react to difficult emotions in ways that aren’t helpful to us in the long term. We’ve all done something dumb when we were bored. If there’s one thing that scientists know about humans, it’s that we don’t like to be uncomfortable for long. It makes a lot of sense that you did what you could to alleviate that discomfort, even if it’s something you wouldn’t do again.
When you get the urge to beat yourself up for ways you’ve coped in the past, try to be kind to yourself instead. Interrupt that critical voice in your head and give yourself the compassion you’d give to your best friend.
While too much of anything can be problematic, feeling bored here and there can actually be a good thing. Once you’ve noticed how you react to feeling bored, you can be more aware of when you start to cope in a way that doesn’t work for you, and cut it off before it goes too far. You might notice that it gets a little less uncomfortable to be bored once you’ve allowed yourself to feel boredom a few times.
So, how can boredom be beneficial for your mental health? Here are 4 ways that feeling bored is good for you:
Boredom inspires creativity
The nice thing about boredom is that it allows your mind to wander. Our brains like to be stimulated, and if it can’t find something it will make it up. Daydreaming is a great example of this. You’ve probably felt your mind start to wander before. The next time you’re feeling bored, see how far your mind can take you.
Feeling bored can increase mindfulness
For some, learning to be bored can be reminiscent of a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a practice where you try to only focus on the present moment. Instead of worrying about the future or feeling regret or shame about the past, focusing on the present can be a powerful way to ground yourself in moments of distress.
One way mindfulness is beneficial is that it teaches you to sit with your feelings. As mentioned above, it’s natural to want to avoid feeling things that may be uncomfortable or painful. Regularly making time to focus on the present moment and notice your thoughts as they come and go can remind you that all feelings eventually pass. Even if you’re overwhelmed with boredom now, that feeling won’t last forever. Eventually, it will move on and you’ll feel something different. Feeling bored can even be a reminder to you to take a moment to practice mindfulness during the day.
Boredom helps you get to know yourself
When you’re bored, you have some time available to think about things, and that includes yourself. When you have nothing else to do, you can think about things like what your values are, goals you’re working toward, what is working for you or what isn’t, the status of your current relationships with others, any changes you want to make, and more. If you’re really bored, you can keep yourself occupied by journaling or dictating a voice memo to keep track of your thoughts. Writing down or speaking what you’re thinking can help you process tough feelings. It can also give you a chance to spot patterns and gain insight to use moving forward.
Feeling bored can be an escape
Look, sometimes it’s just nice to take a break from the ins and outs of your day to day life. Daydreaming is one way that boredom provides an escape. While we all can’t escape to a secluded beach (or wherever your daydreams take you) on the regular in real life, nothing is stopping you from imagining you’re swinging in a hammock feeling the sun on your skin for a few minutes every day.