Boredom And Depression: Is There A Correlation?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Our approach to free time has changed over the years. With modern technology, we’ve become accustomed to having something to entertain us at all hours of the day and night. Still, there may be times when there isn’t anything to distract you or when you don’t have a source of stimulation. Some people may worry that this lack of interest or the tendency to seek out isolation may be a sign of a mental health condition like depression. Below, we’ll explore the five different types of boredom, the relationship between boredom and depression, and ways to address these challenges in a meaningful way.

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Is it boredom or something more?

Can boredom cause depression?

While some children and adults living with depression may experience boredom, it doesn’t necessarily lead to depression. In certain cases, there is a bright side to boredom, with some individuals using it as motivation to rediscover a hobby, explore a new interest, reconnect with friends or family, put more effort in at school, or even pursue a new career path. However, for those who experience clinical depression, feeling constantly bored can be a slippery slope that eventually leads the brain to drift toward negative thoughts, potentially making the depression worse.

Chronic boredom can become destructive over time if it’s not proactively addressed. It may even lead a person to rely on high-risk behaviors to occupy themselves. One common example of this behavior would be alcohol or drug misuse (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “alcohol or drug abuse”). Unresolved boredom can also lead to risky sexual activity or addictive behaviors like gambling, shopping, or eating. In some cases, it can even lead to self-harm.* 

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 via phone call or text and is available 24/7.

Experiencing boredom

Boredom proneness varies from person to person, and you can experience boredom in a variety of situations. Some examples of these situations include waiting for someone to pick you up from work, when you’re trying to fall asleep, and while you’re watching television. Most days, none of these instances are usually enough to ignite feelings of sadness, but they can be troubling to those who are already diagnosed with depression.

There is a type of boredom that can lead to what researchers describe as a type of learned helplessness or depression: apathetic boredom. People experiencing apathetic boredom may experience difficulty finding anything interesting in life. They may feel flat and emotionless and experience symptoms of depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental health challenges, and it’s treatable. When you understand the cause of any depression or boredom you’re experiencing and when you know your treatment options, you may find that you can learn to overcome it.

What is boredom?

Boredom is a psychological state experienced when an individual:

  • Lacks interest in anything on a regular basis or during brief intermittent periods
  • Feels unable to rest or relax, even if they are tired
  • Feels little to no excitement
  • Displays apathy, emptiness, 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 may be more prone to developing depression when they experience long shifts of boredom. These individuals may be suppressing negative or frustrating thoughts already, so when free time arises, their minds can wander, and negative thoughts may become more frequent.

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Types of boredom

Many individuals have experienced feeling bored with life at some point, but what type of boredom? Knowing the type of boredom you’re experiencing may help you to effectively counter it. One study identified five different types of boredom and how they can manifest:

  1. In some cases, an individual may feel like they are creating isolation in their life in order to feel calm and cut off from the world. This might be described as “relaxation” or being “in their bubble.”
  2. Another type is often described as a slightly unpleasant state of feeling bored with “wandering thoughts or not knowing what to do.”
  3. Described as a more agitated negative feeling, a third type of boredom prompts a person to actively search for relief by thinking about activities or tasks to engage in or by reaching out to another person.
  4. Some individuals experience reactant boredom, which tends to be characterized by elevated negative feelings of uneasiness and/or aggression. They may have a strong desire to escape feeling bored and be more likely to engage in alternative activities. 
  5. Finally, others may be experiencing apathetic boredom, which may lead them to feel detached, experiencing low arousal or unpleasant feelings of learned helplessness and depression.

Some types of boredom may be temporary, and they may even feel restful. However, the last type can be particularly concerning, especially for individuals who are already prone to anxiety or depression.

Am I experiencing symptoms of depression?

Depression can cause a wide range of cognitive, behavioral, and physical symptoms, including physical pain. Individuals may experience different symptoms from those of others who are diagnosed with depression, and boredom can contribute.

Also, all symptoms need not be present to warrant a diagnosis of clinical depression. Below 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 difficulty concentrating, especially for longer periods
  • Increased feelings of fatigue, more days than not
  • Decreased energy levels or lethargy
  • Sleeping difficulties (not enough, too much, or interrupted sleep pattern)
  • The thought that you “feel worthless” and other negative emotions
  • Recurring thoughts of death
  • Frequently feeling like life is hopeless
  • Depressive symptoms that appear to be causing significant stress
  • Depressive symptoms that last longer than two weeks

While it can help to know the signs and symptoms of disorders like depression, only licensed medical providers and mental health providers, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, or clinical social workers, can provide a diagnosis. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consider reaching out to a professional. 

The importance of social support

In addition to therapy, you may find that you can reduce feelings of boredom and depression by interacting with others. It may be helpful to have a positive social support system in your life because seclusion may make depression worse. You can seek social support from family, friends, colleagues, or a community group.

The benefits of social support can be numerous. Not only can it help to eliminate feelings of boredom, but it may also improve overall physical health and create feelings of stability and safety. People with strong social support may 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 joy in everyday life. 

Therapy for boredom/depression

If you’re experiencing boredom and/or symptoms of depression, you can speak with a licensed therapist about what you’re feeling. A licensed therapist may help you reframe your perspective and successfully navigate feelings of boredom.

However, if you’re feeling bored or having depressing thoughts, reaching out for help may seem like more trouble than it is worth. You may feel fatigued or lack the motivation to go out to in-person therapy appointments. If this is the case, online therapy may offer a feasible alternative. With internet-based counseling, you can participate in therapy via audio or video chat. You may also find that appointments can be more flexible with an online therapy platform. For example, BetterHelp has a network of more than 25,000 licensed therapists, so you might be able to find someone who has time slots available at night for individuals experiencing sleep disturbances.

The effectiveness of online therapy has been confirmed by numerous scholarly studies. One meta-analysis from 2022  found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce depression. Similar results have been observed for individuals with symptoms of anxiety.

BetterHelp makes therapy easier

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Is it boredom or something more?

BetterHelp offers online therapy that makes it easy to get help. If you’re feeling bored and worried about becoming depressed, you can reach out for help no matter where you are. Below are some reviews of online therapists from people experiencing similar concerns.

Counselor reviews

“I am going through a difficult time in my life right now, feeling confused, anxious, sometimes depressed – and 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 proved to be extremely helpful despite the short time we have been working together. I have full trust in her competence, and I 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 when 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 of 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.”

Takeaway

Boredom and depression can present significant challenges, but there is help available for both. With a combination of a support system and the guidance of a licensed therapist, you may find that you experience relief from boredom, depression, or any other mental health challenges you’re experiencing. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience helping people navigate boredom, lack of motivation, and symptoms of depression. Take the first step and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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