While there are a multitude of distractions and amusements available to anyone with a library card, it is not unusual to go through periods of boredom when not even the most scintillating book, movie, or conversation will sate the crankiness demon. At those times, it is best to stop whatever you are doing and simply sit with what is. Are you feeling annoyed, frustrated, agitated, sad, or self-critical? Welcome whatever comes up. Investigate it. Do something paradoxical and try to increase the feeling. This may sound counter-productive, but it will actually help you figure out what is going on. If you let yourself go deeply into your boredom the underlying issue will surface. Once it does, ask yourself how you want to handle it. Consciously choose to explore your thoughts and feelings though journaling, talking with someone (friend, relative, clergy, or therapist), or simply breathing, meditating, and allowing them.
Boredom is uncomfortable, and it is natural to want to banish it immediately. By exploring what is going on right this minute, you allow yourself to relax with what’s coming up. It is only a feeling. You have probably felt every emotion before, whether fear, joy, anger, love, anxiety, sadness, or grief, and you’re still alive.
Boredom is often a code word for something else. It seems to appear when your internal state is so strong that anything external loses its power to divert you. The irritability comes from wanting relief from those simmering uncomfortable feelings and knowing the only way out is through. When nothing feels right or good, just breathing can be a refuge.
No one likes feeling irritable, bored, or restless. Nor should you. Perhaps, the purpose of these annoying feelings is to wake you out of a funk. Sometimes, an unpleasant state of mind is necessary when routine ways of being and doing have sucked the novelty out of life. Variety does spice things up, and without it living can lose its luster. Whether it’s trying different foods, listening to new music, taking a drive to an unknown locale, or going to an art opening, mixing things up helps you thrive. In addition to creating new neural pathways, unpredictability and spontaneity create a sense of surprise and delight. Of course, it has to be the right amount. Too much novelty and you feel groundless; too little and you’re bored.
Maintaining emotional balance is not easy. Life, with all its demands, intrudes on the best laid plans. So, boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness appear. Re-grounding yourself can be as easy as feeling your body sitting, standing, or moving, eating something mindfully, looking out a window and really seeing what meets your gaze, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, writing in your journal, or anything else that uses some of that irritable energy. Even meditation, not an easy feat when you are feeling crabby, is helpful, since it reminds you this is merely a passing state you can label and release. Actually, you are not really releasing the state as much as your attachment to it.
Boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness are simply different terms for feeling temporarily stuck and uncomfortable. You will not stay in this state of mind. Everything changes, and that is what makes life so interesting. You never know what’s next. By sitting with what is, or actively shaking things up a bit, you practice mindfulness or self-determination. Sometimes, one will work better than the other. It’s always good to have a few arrows in your quiver since one day sitting with your feelings will be the right choice, and another day doing something proactively will work.
The following grounding techniques utilize your ability to actively focus attention on something external to distract you from whatever thoughts and feelings seem unpleasant, overwhelming, or boring:
- 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.
- Another 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 objects, 5 colors, 5 shapes, and 5 textures, then 4 in each category, then 3, then 2, and 1.
- Think of all the vocabulary words you can remember from another language you studied.
- Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.
- Recite a poem you memorized as a child.
- Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.
- Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.
- Sing a song.
- Build a sanctuary in your head. Add as much detail as possible.
- Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed. Breathe into that place.
- Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.
- Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.
- Count backwards by threes from one hundred.
- List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.
- Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.
- Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.
Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever you are feeling is part of life. You are here to feel it all.
© Copyright 2011 by By Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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