Boredom And Depression: Can One Lead To The Other?
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated September 22, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: 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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is boredom a symptom of?
It's normal if you feel bored for short periods of time. However, if you find yourself feeling boredom most of the time -- this can be a symptom of depression. This is especially the case in people who are prone to depression, anxiety, and similar mental health disorders.
Is boredom a mental illness?
Boredom in itself is not mental illness. Concerns with boredom only arise when people start to become disinterested in life and detached from the rest of the world around them. If you feel bored on a regular basis, this can be a sign of a larger issue like clinical depression or anxiety. Talk to a licensed mental health professional to get help and support if you start to feel bored all the time.
Why boredom is bad for you?
Excessive boredom is part of the beginning symptoms of underlying mental health disorders. People who feel bored most of the time may be on the way to developing more serious issues with mental health if they aren't able to find an outlet or a cure for their boredom.
Can being bored cause anxiety?
Yes. If you're excessively bored (and you're prone to issues with anxiety and depression) you may find that boredom can worsen or trigger anxiety. This can be a result of feeling detached or not being able to find a stimulating activity to relieve your symptoms of boredom.
What makes a person boring?
In most cases, the term boring is relative. People find excitement in different ways. If you find that you're no longer interested in the things you used to enjoy -- this can be an indicator that your boredom is bordering on depression. Get help from a licensed mental health professional to treat symptoms of ongoing boredom or depression.
Is boredom a sign of intelligence?
Boredom can be a result for people who are intelligent and not easily stimulated by everyday things. For example a nuclear scientist may feel bored in the presence of others outside of their field with whom they can't relate.
Can you get bored to death?
While this is more of a cliche statement, if left untreated, boredom can develop into more serious mental health disorders like clinical depression or anxiety that can become life-threatening without proper treatment.
What does boredom do to the brain?
Boredom can affect the production of chemicals in the brain that cause us to feel happiness and excitement. People who are prone to boredom may have lower levels of these "happy chemicals." As a result, these people may be more prone to high-risk activities in an effort to find satisfaction or relief from symptoms of boredom.
Can boredom make you crazy?
While boredom is not in itself a mental illness, it can lead to a variety of mental health issues. When you aren't engaged in life, you are more susceptible to mental illness in the form of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and more. And, if you suspect your boredom is causing mental illness, it's critical that you find a therapist and get help. Then, you can improve your mental health until boredom is no longer a concern.
How do I get out of boredom?
Getting out of boredom can be a real challenge, especially if it's related to mental illness. If it's just pure boredom with no mental illness issues, you might get out of it by finding something positive to do with your time. You might engage in a physical activity, start a new hobby, spend time with friends, volunteer in your community, or put more energy into a work project. However, if your boredom is coming from struggles with mental illness, you might need to find a therapist so you can deal with the mental illness before you can deal with the boredom.
Does boredom affect everyone the same way?
No. Different people have different reactions to boredom. Some feel lonelier when they're bored. Some struggle with alcohol or drug abuse when they can't think of anything better to do with their time. Sometimes they act out just to get a little excitement and attention. But others use boredom as a springboard to new activities and interests. From boredom, they find ways to develop mental, physical, and spiritual strengths. Instead of getting sucked under by boredom, they improve their mental health.
What's the opposite of boredom?
Many people assume that the opposite of boredom is excitement. But the truth is that what is exciting for one person may be boring to someone else. And some people can be happy with things that others find boring. Why? It's because the real opposite of boredom is engagement. When you're genuinely engaged with positive activities and interests, your vulnerability to mental illness is significantly reduced.
Can loneliness make you crazy?
Loneliness increases your vulnerability to mental problems. You may spend too much time thinking negative thoughts when you're alone. In your desperation for companionship, you face the possibility of falling into mental illness. That often happens because you give in to boredom. Rather than occupying your mind with positive activities and thoughts, you spend your time waiting for someone to relieve your boredom and make you feel wanted. But when you develop a stronger social support system, you have more to do with your time. You know there is someone available to have conversations with and share in pleasant activities. So, when you are alone, you feel less desperate for excitement and attention and enjoy even the time you spend by yourself.
Is chronic boredom a thing?
Nearly everyone experiences a fleeting feeling of boredom now and then. However, for some people, boredom becomes a chronic thing. If you haven't developed practical ways to increase your involvement with the positive things in life, boredom may become the defining characteristic of your life. Often, people who have chronic boredom have problems with substance abuse and other mental health issues. Many types of therapy are available to help you make better decisions and develop your interests so that you can break free from chronic boredom and embrace life more fully. When you're dealing with chronic boredom, mental illness may be right around the corner. Support groups can help, or you can find a therapist to help you avoid or deal with mental health issues.
Is bored a mood?
A mood is a temporary emotional state. In this sense, a bored feeling can certainly be a mood. But it's important to remember that boredom is also a lack of action. When you actively engage in life, you are much less troubled by bored moods.
What is the true sign of intelligence?
Albert Einstein once said, "the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." People with intelligence think beyond the easy answers and explanations to see the deeper meanings and values in life. When you can harness your intelligence to discover new ideas, places, relationships, and interests, you can not only think more imaginatively, but you can improve your mental health at the same time.
What are the signs of high intelligence?
One of the most frequently asked questions is about the signs of intelligence, and the answers can be quite surprising. Here are some of the evidence-based signs that you might be more intelligent than you realize:
- You like to see things in their simplest forms and don't like unnecessary complexity.
- You're intensely curious.
- You don't want to waste time on tasks you find meaningless.
- You never stop wanting to learn.
- You enjoy solitude at times to meditate and use your imagination.
- You have a great sense of humor and enjoy laughing.
At what age does IQ peak?
The surprising answer is that there is no one specific age or even age range when IQ peaks. One study showed evidence, based on IQ tests given to people of various ages, that different types of cognitive functioning are higher at different ages. Processing and remembering information peaks at around the time you finish high school. Young adults are at their peak for visual, spatial, and abstract reasoning. Even middle-aged adults get to enjoy a peak of intelligence, as their vocabulary, comprehension, and general information knowledge don't peak until their forties or beyond.
Why do humans get bored so easily?
As humans, we get bored quickly because of a specific combination of factors. First, we have a great desire for activity. Second, we don't know exactly what we want to do. Third, we are aware that we aren't engaging in activity. And finally, we look outside ourselves to solve the problem. When this perfect storm happens, we can get mired in boredom and even develop a mental illness or turn to substance abuse to feel better.
What is a boring person?
A boring person is someone who doesn't take an interest in the world around them.This often happens because they don't try or don't know how to develop interests or pursue goals. A person can also seem boring if they don't seem interested in other people. After all, if someone is interested enough to ask you about yourself, you won't be thinking of whether they're boring or not.
Does boredom lead to substance abuse?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions about boredom. Because boredom comes partly from intense desires for activity without the ability to engage, people who are bored often deal with these overwhelming thoughts or feelings of lack through substance abuse. Using drugs may seem to be a cure for their boredom. However, drug addiction can damage their ability to engage in meaningful activities even more. If you are dealing with drug abuse, substance abuse treatment can give you back your life and your ability to participate in the mental and physical activities that make life more enjoyable. For people who have overcome their patterns of abuse, treatment is often the first step in building a fulfilling life.
How can I overcome substance abuse if I'm always bored?
When you're trying to get over substance abuse, boredom can increase your susceptibility to the temptation to use drugs. So, it can be harder to avoid using if you're always bored. The natural assumption is that if you find enough things to do with your time, you won't be interested in using drugs. However, that's only a part of the solution. You also need to deal with any emotional pain, depression, traumatic stress, anxiety, or other mental problems before you can make progress in curing your boredom. So, find a therapist online, look for mental health services in your community, or check out local support groups. When you are mentally healthier, boredom won't be nearly as likely to lead to continued substance abuse.
What treatments are available for substance abuse?
There are many types of substance abuse treatment available, and your health insurance may cover it. You can get into an in-patient substance abuse treatment program. Staying at a substance abuse treatment center can help you avoid situations where you might be tempted into substance abuse. It can also be beneficial if you're suffering withdrawal symptoms from drug addiction. You will also receive therapy to deal with both substance abuse issues and any underlying mental illness.
Along with talk therapy treatment, medication may be a part of the program. But you don't have to go into a residential substance abuse treatment center to get help. You can find a therapist who specializes in substance abuse issues to help you from wherever you are. This type of abuse treatment is not only convenient, but it helps you get stronger because you learn to deal with the temptation while you're out in the world. You can choose individual drug abuse counseling or group counseling for people with substance abuse issues. When your life is dominated by any form of abuse, treatment can be the best way to move beyond it to a better life.
Can boredom cause alcohol abuse?
Yes, sometimes, boredom can lead to alcohol abuse. This can happen in several different ways. You might drink too much because you don't know how else to spend your time. If you don't have a strong support system, you might drink excessively to banish the loneliness that comes with boredom. If you haven't explored your community much, you might not know anywhere else to meet people besides in a bar. Or, you might use alcohol to numb your feelings, such as the intense desire for activity. To overcome the abuse, treatment is your best option. Because it helps you deal with your habits of abuse, treatment needs to address your boredom as well. After all, you won't have old habits to fall back on when you get bored. So, your therapist will likely spend time helping you discover new interests anddevelop new behaviors so you can say goodbye to the abuse. When your alcohol use rises to the level of abuse, treatment is usually the best way to accomplish this.
Do people who are bored commit suicide?
Yes, sometimes, people who suffer from existential boredom do commit suicide. Because they can find no meaning in life, they become apathetic and detached. Their intense desire to have meaning and pursue activities is overwhelmed by their sense that nothing they do can make any difference. This is one reason suicide prevention is such an important issue and why there is a designated prevention week for it. Suicide prevention is an essential goal of therapists, who aim to offer support, assistance, and psychological tools for people who suffer from depression symptoms. And, by focusing on suicide prevention, therapists can help their clients overcome their depression and build a better life.
Are eating disorders caused by boredom?
Boredom can sometimes play a small part in the development of unhealthy eating patterns. Yet, these disorders usually have a much more complex set of causes. Still, it's true that for people with depression, eating can be a way of numbing sadness or distress. Or, when you're dealing with depression, eating may seem pointless. In both cases, getting treatment may not only relieve the boredom but help you develop healthier eating habits.
Do people with bipolar disorder get bored?
People with bipolar disorder often have boredom, both when they're in a depressed phase and when they're manic. During depression, boredom can give way to negative thoughts and feelings, so suicide prevention is essential. During mania, boredom often results in alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, or risky sex. If you have bipolar and feel bored, it's critical that you find a therapist to help youdeal with the boredom before it leads to other life problems.
Does traumatic stress ever cause boredom?
The stress that happens in traumatic situations can be so overwhelming that you feel emotionally paralyzed. This inability to act might lead to feelings of boredom until you deal with the traumatic situation.
Do people with personality disorders have a problem with boredom?
Like other mental disorders, personality disorders can increase feelings of boredom. Because of these disorders, personality affects the way you approach your activities and your relationships with other people. However, there are many treatments for these disorders, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Can chronic pain increase your boredom?
Because chronic pain might prevent you from engaging in your favorite activities, you might feel bored much of the time. In addition to physical pain, depression might happen, increasing your feelings of boredom and meaninglessness.
Which age group suffers from boredom the most?
It's natural to assume that young adults are the ones to suffer from boredom more than anyone. After all, they tend to have few responsibilities to keep them occupied. However, boredom doesn't only happen to young adults. Young children can be bored when they don't have the experience to know how to spend their time. Middle-aged adults can get bored with the sameness of work. Even older adults sometimes get bored, especially after retirement has taken away many of the activities they once enjoyed. So, not only young adults but people of every age can get bored.
How does improving mental health help with boredom?
Whether you have a severe mental illness or simply need some help coping with life, improving your mental wellbeing can decrease your boredom. Through therapy, you can learn how to:
- Find more meaning in your life.
- Discover new interests.
- Develop a stronger support system.
- Build healthy relationships.
- Become more independent.
- Be comfortable with occasional solitude.
- Set and pursue goals.
- Get substance abuse treatment.
All these benefits of counseling can change the way you think about boredom and help you get back into the swing of things.
As a parent, should I be concerned if my child is always bored?
One of the most frequently asked questions for parents is whether childhood boredom is a bad sign. And the answer is that boredom is a normal part of child development. When children are engaged continuously, especially with technology, they don't have time to think about the world and their place in it. And, it's hard for them ever to relax when they're always intensely focused on something specific. You don't need to worry that addiction, ADHD, or other mental problems are going to happen just because your child is bored. Instead, let them be bored from time to time without stressing about it. By allowing your child to be bored sometimes, you give them the opportunity to explore their own thoughts and get more comfortable with the world around them. So, child development can be enhanced with a little occasional boredom. When it comes to your child's mental and emotional health, awareness of their reaction to boredom can help you decide whether to pursue therapy for them.
When does therapy help with boredom?
Your therapist can help you relieve your boredom in many ways. They can discover mental illness issues by performing psychological tests. Therapy can then help you deal with symptoms of the mental illness, which might be causing your boredom. Evidence-based therapy techniques can help you assess your thoughts and behaviors and make better choices that decrease your feelings of boredom.
How can I find a therapist?
You can look for a therapist locally or online. If you want to use your health insurance for therapy, you'll need to make sure your plan covers it. Get recommendations from people you know or read reviews to find out more about individual therapists. There are many types of therapy, and some therapists focus on one or a few types. If you have a specific problem related to boredom, such as drug addiction, make sure you look for a counselor who specializes in that type of treatment. Medication, if you need it, is prescribed by a psychiatrist, who can work with your therapist to help you achieve your mental wellness goals.
Can having a support system help with boredom?
Yes, having a robust support system can help you cope with, avoid, and move beyond struggles with boredom. Your friends and family can not only help you find things to occupy your mind, but they can also provide comfort and understanding when you're feeling mentally unwell.
What can the community do to help people who are bored?
Communities have many opportunities to help people who are bored. They can:
- Promote healthy activities.
- Increase health awareness.
- Host a prevention week for issues like suicide.
- Publish a Frequently Asked Questions list of things to do in the area.
- Facilitate support groups for people with emotional and mental problems.
- Support community mental health services.