Boredom And Depression: Can One Lead To The Other?
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 21, 2019
Reviewer April Brewer , DBH, LPC
Boredom is commonly experienced by many individuals in today's society, more often than we realized, especially with the easy access to advanced technology readily at our fingertips. Have you ever noticed how some individuals react and feel challenged to happily occupy their free time on their days off from work, when they are by themselves, when they don't have access to electronics, or when they lose WIFI internet connection? Some people could immediately appear depressed, anxious, and some would not even care. These are signs that the individual may be experiencing boredom.
For some individuals' boredom could motivate them to engage in an old or new hobby, explore a new interest, reconnect with old friends or family, meet new people, promote self-reflection, or even motivate them to pursue a new career path. For those who are clinically depressed, boredom can pose as a pit of despair as it often gives the saddened brain room to wander and drift into negative thoughts, causing the depression to worsen. Boredom can become destructive over time if not proactively addressed, leading to high-risk behaviors such as increased alcohol or drug use, increased sexual activity and/or sexual partners, increased engagement in various addictive behaviors such as gambling, shopping, or eating or even self-harming thoughts and behaviors.
Those who have anxiety and experience long shifts of boredom are more prone to developing depression than others. This is because they conceal negative thoughts prior to being bored, so when the opportunity of free time arises, they sometimes have no choice but to let their mind wander.
However, others can develop depression whilst being bored for the same reasons. Yet, not all boredoms are the root cause of depression.
What is Boredom?
Boredom is a psychological state experienced when an individual:
- Has a lack of interest in anything during very brief intermittent periods or more steady periods of time
- Find themselves unable to rest or relax
- Feels little to no excitement
- Displays apathy, lack of concern, feeling, emotion, interest in something that would normally be perceived of great importance
- Finds it difficult to get or stay motivated
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 may provide better insight into how to effectively counter it. A follow-up study type published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in 2006, classified 5 different types of boredom:
- An individual will feel calm and cut off from the distant world, described as "relaxation" or "In their own bubble."
- Often described as an unpleasant state of boredom with "wandering thoughts or not knowing what to do" or displaying an openness to unrelated activities, but not presenting activities.
- Described as a more agitated negative feeling, which prompts the person to actively search and explore boredom relief by thinking about activities to engage in or reach out to a person to talk to or spend time with.
- Individuals who experience elevated negative feelings of uneasiness and/or aggression and have a strong desire to escape the boredom and more likely to engage in more fulfilling alternative activities or reach out to a person to talk to or spend time with.
- The person may present as detached, experiences low arousal or unpleasant feelings of helplessness and depression.
Existential Boredom and Depression
You can get bored when waiting for someone to pick you up from work, at night when you are supposed to be sleeping, and in between commercials while watching television. However, none of these instances of boredom would be enough to ignite depression, though they can be agitating to those who are already diagnosed with it.
The type of boredom that can be responsible for one's depression is called existential or apathetic boredom and has been defined by Alex Lickerman in his article "Boredom" as an inability to find anything in life interesting. In this case, having depression can cause existential boredom just as existential boredom can cause depression.
The reason that existential boredom can lead to depression is because those who do not find much to be interested about in life have concluded that life is meaningless.
Am I Experiencing Depression Signs and Symptoms?
Depression can lead to a range of cognitive, behavioral, and physical symptoms. It is important to note that individuals may experience different or varying signs and symptoms from the next person who may also experience depressive symptoms. Also, all of the symptoms may not present to warrant a diagnosis of clinical depression. Here are some common signs & symptoms:
- Low or depressed mood or noticeable mood swings
- Loss of interest or pleasure in doing things that you once found to be fulfilling
- Significant change or fluctuation in weight (excessive weight loss or gain)
- Noticed decreased ability to focus or concentrate, especially for longer periods of time
- Increased feelings of fatigue, more days than not
- Decreased level of energy
- Slowness in activities
- Sleeping difficulties (not enough, too much, or interrupted sleep pattern)
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Recurring thoughts of death or others dying
- Depressive symptoms appear to be causing significant stress
- Depressive symptoms have last longer than 2 weeks
While taking into consideration the above common depression signs and symptoms, 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.
Refuting Existential Boredom
Saying that life is meaningless is a serious statement that if not addressed and intervened early on, could persuade the mind to entertain suicidal thoughts, and motivate the act of self-harming or suicidal behaviors, but this impression can be refuted by changing one's mindset, which can be done during therapy sessions such as those provided by BetterHelp.
In these sessions, you will be paired with a qualified mental health provider such as a Psychologist, Professional Counselor, or Clinical Social Worker which interchangeably are often called therapist. A therapist may point out that everything does, in fact, have a point, therefore, things can be interesting. This point is established between therapist and client, then it can be acknowledged that although the client may not feel that things in life are meaningful to them, it may be meaningful to someone else.
The client begins to understand how each object, activity, or person holds meaning or value to others, and then slowly finds value in these concepts in relation to his or her self, and could be used as a protective factor to help counter depressive symptoms and deter suicidal thoughts.
With this in mind, it may help those who are suffering from existential boredom to interact with others, rather than seclude themselves. Now, this brings us to the point to highlight the importance of having a positive social support system in your life. Social Support can be received from family, friends, colleagues, groups, or communities. The benefits of social support are that it helps eliminate boredom, improve overall physical health, create feelings of stability and security, the ability to reduce overall stressful situations more quickly, improves feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence, maintain a healthier level of mental health and wellness, and overall improved fulfillment in daily life. More perspectives on life can be developed through these interactions, which can help them see just how significant and exciting life can be and that their life is too of value.