Boredom specialist has tips to fight the blahs as pandemic rages on

Pandemic boredom setting in?.
Pandemic boredom setting in?. Betsie Van der Meer | Getty Images

It’s been six months since Manitoba’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, and while people attempt to get back to some sort of normalcy, the potential for coronavirus-induced boredom remains.

Cognitive neuroscientist James Danckert, a boredom researcher at the University of Waterloo, told 680 CJOB that people need to be prepared for the potential for boredom to set in as winter approaches and already-limited outside activities become out of reach.

“We’ve all been under these constraints, haven’t we, where we aren’t able to do all of the things we would normally do and we certainly aren’t able to do the things as easily as we would want to be able to do them,” said Danckert.

“That is a pretty good recipe for boredom.”

Boredom specialist James Danckert.
Boredom specialist James Danckert. University of Waterloo

“I think the first thing to do when we feel boredom coming on is to try to take a breath and stay calm. Boredom, as we understand it, is a sort of agitated state … we want to be doing something, we want to be engaged but we can’t figure out what we want to do.”

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Danckert said when you give in to that agitation, it becomes very hard to find a path forward. Trying to reframe a situation, and think of another way to look at it that might not be so dull, is a valid way to beat the blahs, as is reflecting on your own goals.

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“We might not be able to chase those goals quite as easily as we would like, but it’s never a bad thing to think about what matters to you in your life,” he said.

“What are the things that you want to do most or achieve most, perhaps when some of these restrictions are lifted?”

Danckert said he doesn’t want to downplay the mental difficulty of boredom. There’s a strong link, he said, between boredom and depression, and people need to find ways — especially given the pandemic circumstances — to avoid having one turn into the other.

“A lot of people want to try and believe that there’s a nice, strong connection between boredom and creativity,” he said.

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“It’s actually much more complicated than that, but you can see, in the pandemic, people finding creative outlets.”

The important part of being creative to combat boredom, he said, is to make sure your creative endeavour — whether it’s baking or writing or even filming a TikTok video — is your decision.

“Those things, which in some sense seem trivial, can actually do a pretty good job at keeping boredom away, because you’re choosing to do them — and it has some end product that you’re making, that you’re engaging in.

“The key is, whatever it is you choose, that you are the active chooser — that you are the one deciding what it is you want to do … which in this pandemic time is harder than it sounds.”

Boredom, like many human emotions, seems to have a biological function, an Ontario clinical psychologist and professor told Global News earlier in the pandemic.

York University’s Dr. John Eastwood said it can be compared to physical pain.

“Physical pain tells us we’re in danger of hurting our body and tells us to stop doing what we’re doing or to make a change. And so it’s adaptive in that sense.

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“I see boredom to similarly be adaptive. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that tells us that we’re not fundamentally authoring our lives. We’re not mentally engaged and we’re at risk of stagnating. And so it pushes us to get out of that place.”

Click to play video: 'Toys to beat self-isolation boredom'
Toys to beat self-isolation boredom

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