Boredom and depression often accompany each other and share several similarities. When boredom hits, people seek out activities and experiences that will relieve the discomfort felt when it seems there’s nothing to do. The definition of boredom is as follows:
Boredom: the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.
Similarly, weariness, restlessness, and general lack of interest are all feelings associated with being depressed. People who are depressed consistently feel as if they cannot easily entertain themselves, nor do they find joy in the things many people find pleasurable. The American Psychatric Association, (APA) however, holds that loss of energy, increased fatigue, feeling worthless, or little interest in activities once enjoyed are just some of the symptoms that must be present for a diagnosis of depression. Furthermore persistence of these feelings within a two week period is key. Boredom alone tends to be fleeting or sporadic.
According to the theory of rational-emotive therapy, people who are depressed and chronically bored cannot tolerate being frustrated in the slightest, cannot stand working for long-range gains, and need immediate gratification. Perhaps these people become depressed over time, when they can’t readily find outlets exciting enough to relieve their boredom.
Clinical psychologist, Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps says, “People who feel bored feel restless to do something– but nothing feels compelling or motivating. They feel stuck. The first step in feeling motivated is to allow yourself to actually feel the boredom.”
She goes on to say that boredom is felt when people disconnect from the world to avoid difficult situations and emotions. Take for instance the pathological gambler, studies show there are three types of gamblers: those that gamble out of boredom, those that gamble out of depression, and those that do so out of both boredom and depression. It is widely acceptable that people who are compulsive towards activities such as gambling, drinking or sex are doing so as a form of disconnection. Ironically, these people still tend to feel bored afterwards, motivated only to disconnect again to relieve the discomfort of never-ending boredom.
Becker-Phelps also says, “For some people, boredom is part of depression. They might be sad, but they also might just lack interests and have lost the capacity to enjoy anything. If you struggle with this, it can sometimes help to get yourself moving.” Douglas Cootey lives with both depression and ADHD. He admits in his efforts to avoid boredom, he ended up getting into trouble (i.e. not finishing things, and engaging in unnecessary drama.) Instead of these maladaptive coping behaviors, it’s important to change the way you look at boredom, especially when the boredom is unavoidable like in a class or sitting in traffic.
He says, “Choose three things to engage in when you are bored.” For many, these things come up naturally without even realizing. For instance, browsing social media to pass the time, or calling your mother to share how your day is going while you sit in traffic. If you can consistently find positive or neutral ways to pass the time without feeling an impending sense of dread at the end of the day- you are likely just bored. If you can still enjoy people and activities you’ve always enjoyed or find new things that interest you- you may just be bored. If you get lost in feelings of irritation or purposelessness when trying to engage in formerly enjoyable things- you’re probably dealing with some form of depression.