Boredom And Depression: Can One Lead To The Other?
Updated November 07, 2019
Reviewer April Brewer , DBH, LPC
Our approach to boredom has changed over the years. With modern technology, we're used to always having something to entertain us. But what happens when there isn't anything to distract you? What happens when you get bored? Many people are starting to think that they're getting depressed because they're bored. Understanding the connection can help you avoid both.
Can Boredom Cause Depression?
There isn't an easy, straightforward answer. Boredom motivates some individuals to rediscover a hobby, explore a new interest, reconnect with friends or family, meet new people, promote self-reflection, or even pursue a new career path. But for those who are clinically depressed, boredom can be a pit of despair because it gives the brain an excuse to drift toward negative thoughts, making the depression worse.
Boredom can become destructive over time if it's not proactively addressed. It may even lead to high-risk behaviors like increased alcohol or drug use, increased sexual activity and/or sexual partners, addictive behaviors such as gambling, shopping, or eating, and even self-harming thoughts and behaviors. Throughout this article, we'll discuss the connection between boredom and depression and what you can do to overcome it.
Existential Boredom and Depression
You can get bored while you're waiting for someone to pick you up from work, at night when you're supposed to be sleeping, and in between commercials while you're watching television. None of these instances are enough to ignite depression, but they can be troubling to those who are already diagnosed with it.
The type of boredom that can cause depression is called existential or apathetic boredom; in Alex Lickerman's article "Boredom," he defined it as the inability to find anything interesting in life. In this case, having depression can cause existential boredom just as existential boredom can cause depression. People who can't find anything interesting generally conclude that life is meaningless, and then they become depressed.
While depression is one of the most common mental health challenges, it's very treatable. In fact, studies have found that web-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can reduce depression in patients. When you understand the cause of your depression and your treatment options, you can learn to overcome it.
What is Boredom?
Boredom is a psychological state experienced when an individual:
- Lacks interest in anything during brief intermittent periods or more steady periods of time
- Finds him or herself unable to rest or relax
- Feels little to no excitement
- Displays apathy, lack of concern, or little interest in something that would normally be important
- Finds it difficult to get or stay motivated
Those who already have anxiety are more prone to developing depression when they experience long shifts of boredom. They're likely suppressing negative thoughts already, so when free time or boredom arises, they sometimes let their mind wander and the negative thoughts take over.
What Type of Bored Are You?
Many individuals have experienced boredom at some point in their lives, but what type of boredom? Knowing the type of boredom you're experiencing may help you to effectively counter it. A follow-up study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in 2006 identified five different types of boredom:
- In some cases, an individual will feel calm and cut off from the distant world; this can be described as "relaxation" or being "in their own bubble."
- Another type is often described as an unpleasant state of boredom with "wandering thoughts or not knowing what to do." The individual may display an openness to unrelated activities, but not presenting activities.
- Described as a more agitated negative feeling, another type of boredom prompts the person to actively search and look for relief by thinking about activities to engage in or reaching out to another person.
- Some individuals experience elevated negative feelings of uneasiness and/or aggression. They may have a strong desire to escape boredom and are more likely to engage in fulfilling alternative activities or reach out to another person to talk to or spend time with.
- Finally, others may be detached, experiencing low arousal or unpleasant feelings of helplessness and depression.
Some types of boredom may be temporary, and it's possible they may even feel restful, but the last type can be particularly concerning, especially for individuals who are already prone to anxiety and depression.
Am I Experiencing Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
Depression can cause a wide range of cognitive, behavioral, and physical symptoms. It is important to note that individuals may experience different or varying symptoms compared to others who are diagnosed with depression. Also, all of the symptoms need not be present to warrant a diagnosis of clinical depression. Here are some common signs and symptoms:
- Low or depressed mood and/or noticeable mood swings
- Loss of interest or pleasure in doing things that were once fulfilling
- Significant change or fluctuation in weight (excessive weight loss or gain)
- Decreased ability to focus or concentrate, especially for longer periods of time
- Increased feelings of fatigue, more days than not
- Decreased energy levels
- Sleeping difficulties (not enough, too much, or interrupted sleep pattern)
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Recurring thoughts of death or of others dying
- Depressive symptoms that appear to be causing significant stress
- Depressive symptoms that last longer than two weeks
While taking into consideration the signs and symptoms above, only licensed medical providers and mental health providers such as Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Professional Counselors, or Clinical Social Workers have the ability to diagnose clinical depression. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, take care of yourself by reaching out to a medical professional.
Refuting Existential Boredom
Saying that life is meaningless is a serious statement; if not addressed early on, this belief could lead to suicidal thoughts. It can also result in self-harming or suicidal behaviors, but it doesn't have to. With the help of a good therapist, it's possible to change your outlook.
If you decide to pursue therapy, you'll be paired with a qualified mental health provider like a Psychologist, a Professional Counselor, or a Clinical Social Worker, all of whom are generally called "therapists." A therapist may help you see that everything does, in fact, have a point, and therefore, life can be interesting. Even if you don't find something meaningful, someone somewhere does.
With your therapist, you'll begin to understand how each object, activity, or person holds meaning or value to others, and then you can slowly find value in these concepts. This shift in perspective helps to counter depressive symptoms and deter suicidal thoughts.
In addition to therapy, you can reduce feelings of boredom and depression by interacting with others. It's particularly important to have a positive social support system in your life because seclusion can make depression worse. You can receive social support from family, friends, colleagues, groups, or communities.
The benefits of good social support are that it helps to eliminate boredom, improve overall physical health, and create feelings of stability and security. People with strong social support can also recover from stressful situations more quickly, enjoy improved feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence, maintain a healthier level of mental health and wellness, and find more fulfillment in daily life overall. Connecting with others helps us develop different perspectives as well, which helps us all see the different ways that life can be meaningful and valuable.
BetterHelp Makes Counseling Easier
BetterHelp offers online therapy that makes it easy to get the help you need. It's convenient because you'll have access to a counselor whenever you need one. If you're feeling bored and worry about becoming more depressed, you can reach out for help no matter where you are. You can read reviews of our online therapists below, from people experiencing similar issues.
"I am going through a difficult time in my life right now, feeling confused, anxious, sometimes depressed - and absolutely not sure where this is coming from. Kristy is a very good listener, but she also quickly identified key points to work on, which already prove to be extremely helpful in spite of the short time we have been working together. I have full trust in her competence, and very much like how she is guiding me through the reflections both on- and offline. With her, I am in the best hands possible!"
"I signed up for BetterHelp at a time where I felt my lowest. I was matched with Lenora and she has been nothing but wonderful. She has helped me learn how to control my emotions and identify when I am at risk for losing control. She always seemed to genuinely care about my feelings and well being. Because of her, I feel more confident and in control of my life. I am truly so grateful that I was matched with her as my counselor."
Don't let your boredom turn into something more. Take the steps you need to learn how to overcome boredom and depression. With greater social support and the right therapist, you can enjoy a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Take the first step.