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Boredom seems like a simple enough emotion, but it’s more complex than you’d think. When clients tell me they eat out of boredom, I don’t assume I know what they feel, but dig deeper to help us understand what they’re looking for in those “bored” moments.
First off, I help them distinguish boredom (wanting something to do) from loneliness (wanting to be with people). These emotions may or may not co-exist, so when you think you’re bored, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself if you’re lonely instead. Once you’ve established that it’s boredom, notice how you know it: where in your mind and body do you feel it, is it difficult for you to sit still, are you having trouble concentrating?
Second, decide whether you’re seeking excitement or inhibition. Often when we say we’re bored, we’re looking for stimulation. In the middle of adding up deductions while doing your taxes or folding your third load of laundry, you may start feeling dead and fatigued with the monotony of your experience. This is when I’d say you’re looking for an excitatory activity. You want to wake and shake yourself up, get the blood flowing, and nudge yourself out of autopilot.
On the other hand, you may feel overloaded and stressed and mistake these feelings for boredom. In this case, you want to inhibit activity. We can feel bored when our brains or bodies are experiencing too much as well as when they’re experiencing too little. You want a change, but not necessarily an activity that’s going to wind you up more. You more likely to benefit from rest, relaxation or chilling out.
Here are examples of how you might address each type of boredom. If you’ve been gardening, raking leaves, or cleaning the house all morning, you might feel bored with what you’re doing and think you want food. What you really want is a break from activity—so take it. Have a cup of coffee or tea, relax in comfy chair, or put in your earbuds and listen to your favorite playlist. You’ve done enough and what you want is an activity which will turn off your brain and body, that is, inhibit stimulation.
On the other hand, say it’s been raining all weekend and you feel antsy. You might think about seeing what’s in the refrigerator or you might find an excitatory activity to fire you up. What you’re craving is mind/body stimulation which you experience as boredom. Read something challenging, create something, move your body. Here’s more reading on the subject: Eating from Boredom and Do You Eat When You’re Bored?
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