July 3, 2019

You know the feeling: You’re sitting in a waiting room when your phone cuts to black.

The boredom that kicks in might be fine for a moment or two, but soon, you want to crawl out of your own skin.

You try to distract yourself, but nothing works. Sitting alone with your thoughts suddenly feels excruciating.

It’s not just you: Research has linked boredom to gambling, mindless eating, and other not-so-great habits. We hate the sensation so much that many of us would take feeling pain rather than feeling bored: In a study, a majority of men and a number of women chose to electrically shock themselves rather than sit quietly for up to 15 minutes.

And yet the tide is starting to turn on boredom. Now that those dull moments are so rare (only when your phone dies or you’re, say, stuck on the subway), humans are starting to miss it.

One study published earlier this year found that experiencing boredom can actually improve productivity, allowing for more creative problem-solving. A New York Times article this winter called for adding boredom back into kids’ lives, to help them better prepare for adulthood.

“Things happen when you’re bored,” editor Pamela Paul writes in the article. “Once you’ve truly settled into the anesthetizing effects of boredom, you find yourself en route to discovery. With monotony, small differences begin to emerge…This is why so many useful ideas occur in the shower, when you’re held captive to a mundane activity. You let your mind wander and follow it where it goes.”

The trick is to embrace boredom, looking at those quiet moments as a chance to daydream or a quick moment to check in with yourself.

The trick is to embrace boredom, looking at those quiet moments as a chance to daydream or a quick moment to check in with yourself.

Here’s how to embrace those flashes of dullness.

Count your breaths.

If you feel your boredom start to tip into anxiety, or just can’t take it anymore, focus on your breath.

With the attention you’d normally dedicate to your group texts, notice as the breath enters your lungs, hold it for a second or two, then breathe back out again. Repeat for a minute or two, or until the mundane moment passes. It’ll pause that tickertape of thoughts in your mind—and get a little more oxygen pumping through your veins.


Turn it into a gratitude break.

On Psychology Today, psychiatrist Neel Burton writes that boredom is so frustrating because it’s out of our control.

We’re ready, waiting, eager to do something—anything!–but instead we’re forced to stay put. It’s why standing in line, or sitting at your desk under your boss’s watchful eye, can feel so excruciating—we want to do something different, but we can’t.

In your next moment of boredom, make it useful on your terms by making a mental gratitude list. Think through what’s gone on recently in your life, and why you’re glad for it.

It could be a friend’s sweet note, or the freedom to duck out of the office for a 2 p.m. dentist appointment. Maybe you’re even grateful, now that you think of it, for these few moments to pause and reflect.

Turning wasted time into an opportunity can put the power back in your hands, while experiencing gratitude packs benefits of its own.

Really take in your surroundings.

Chances are, they’re not as boring as they first appear.

Take that waiting room for example: How does it differ from the ones you sat in as a child, at the pediatrician’s office or dentist? What kinds of people are sitting there with you? What do you imagine they’d normally be doing on a Tuesday afternoon?

Noticing your surroundings can help ground you in the moment, calming any nascent stress, while observing what others are doing can spark creativity.

Build up your boredom tolerance.

Build up your tolerance for stillness by adding “dull” moments into your life.

Keep Spotify off as you walk to the subway, or turn down the radio for a few minutes at a time while you drive.

You could journal rather than watching Netflix, or just sit quietly on your lunch break.

These moments should only last for a few moments at a time. But getting comfortable with the quiet that you control can keep your mind from whirring during unexpected breaks, too.

Got a few moments?: International Self-Care Day is coming up and we want to hear from you. Take 2 minutes to answer questions about self-care and what it means to you. Get started here!

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