Remember back in spring of last year when you were fired up to conquer this pandemic? You might have been stressed or terrified, or both, but at least you were probably feeling determined. You made plans for your business or your work, you took up new hobbies, you arranged your furniture to suit your new reality, you arranged virtual happy hours.
I am willing to bet that, for most of you reading this, you're well past that now. Mercifully, vaccinations may be up and cases may be down, but so are energy levels. With just a little left to go in this dreadful Covid winter, a great many of us are simply out of inspiration (and stuff to watch on Netflix). We are, in a word, very, very bored.
What's to be done? Science isn't just helping design vaccines and public health measures; it can also help you cope with your boredom. A fantastically timed recent post from the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog rounded up the relevant research. Here are the takeaways in brief.
1. Put down your phone.
Yes, scrolling through cat pictures or social media nonsense seems like the perfect, no-effort way to kill your boredom in the moment, but research shows that we actually feel more bored after we look at our phones, not less. Pointless scrolling is not the answer.
2. Focus on the upsides of boredom.
Wait, boredom has upsides? Yup, according to a stack of studies, as unpleasant as the feeling is, suffering through a bit of boredom cues our brains to get more creative. Also, allowing yourself to sink into boredom once and awhile can act as a form of meditation.
"In 2016, Tim Lomas, from the University of East London, purposefully made himself bored while on a long haul flight, making minute-by-minute notes about what he was thinking and feeling over the course of an hour. Rather poetically, he described his thoughts 'emerging unbidden like fish appearing in an ocean,'" reports BPS. "He concluded that if people 'were to regard boredom as a meditative experience, it may no longer be appraised as negative; indeed it may no longer even be boring.''"
3. Make bad art.
We often hold back from trying our hand at artistic pursuits because we think we're bad at them, but research shows you don't have to have the slightest bit of talent to see benefits from making art. Even wonky stick figures and off-key warbling reduce stress and -- most relevant to our discussion here -- boredom. Also, if you stop worrying about how bad you are and just practice, you're extremely likely to get better faster than you expect.
4. Get nostalgic.
If you find yourself persistently daydreaming about the halcyon days before the pandemic, don't stop yourself. Nostalgia works as a healthy and effective counterweight to boredom by reconnecting us with the overall story of our lives and relationships, research shows.
"Boredom often comes with a sense of existential emptiness, so reestablishing yourself as a person with meaning and purpose could help -- and the way to do that could be through meditating on meaningful past times," explains BPS. So go ahead and break out those old photos or that box of mementos.
5. Go ahead and daydream.
Too much daydreaming can be frustrating when you're trying to concentrate on a particular task, but science shows a wandering mind is actually a sign of intelligence, as well as a great way to fight back against boredom.
"According to one literature review, mind wandering can make boring tasks feel shorter, help us disengage from boring surroundings, and improve our moods while we're doing something tedious. And as mind wandering has also been linked with increased creativity and problem-solving skills, there are other potential benefits, too," BPS sums up.
Hopefully, armed with a little bit of science we'll all be able to push through to a brighter, healthier, more exciting spring. Good luck.