Restlessness, Boredom, and Groundlessness

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.

Related articles:
How to Use Curiosity as a Cure for Relationship Boredom
Boredom and the Longing for Connection
Learn to Sit with Discomfort in Your Life

© Copyright 2011 by By Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 11 comments
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  • Brenda c

    October 6th, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    I hate to say it but I am of the generation that can’t stand to hear all of these young kids talk about how restless and bored they are! They do not know how good they have it when it comes to things to do and the wealth of information that they have so readily available to them. If they are bored then it is only their fault because they are certainly not making the most of the world that they have at their disposal.

  • Star

    October 6th, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    This is good timing because I’ve been feeling very restless this last week and I can’t put my finger on it what’s at the root of it. Hopefully these techniques will help me in that respect. Thanks Nicole!

  • Benita Vasqeuz

    October 6th, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Nicole, I enjoyed your article. Can you clarify something about the 5-4-3-2-1 meditation please? When you said “Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle”, I’m not clear on what a cycle is.

    Does that mean spend 15 minutes for the 5 items you can see, hear and feel (i.e. this is one cycle), then another 15 minutes for the 4 items you can see, hear and feel (i.e.this is one cycle) and so on?

    Or did it mean 15 minutes altogether for everything from 5 items down to 1 item (i.e. this is one cycle)?

    And should you close your eyes at any point?

    Thanks.

  • ERIC

    October 6th, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    “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.”

    I suffer from boredom a lot but had never thought of taking this approach..hmm,I had not heard of it before..anyhow it seems like an interesting thing to do,I shall try it out the next time I’m bored and I hope I can work things around.

  • Corey Bond

    October 6th, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    I feel like a ship without a captain, adrift on an ocean of stagnation right now. I don’t know if it’s my current lack of direction in my career that causes the restlessness or what but it sucks.

    I did like this closing thought. “Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever you are feeling is part of life. You are here to feel it all.” I guess I should count my blessings.

  • F.Speed

    October 7th, 2011 at 3:20 AM

    Ive always thought f boredom n restlessness as negative things,as Im sure many ppl do.So when any of these strikes,I make it a point to get myself involved into something n if Im not able to do it I force myself into doing somethin to try n distract myself.Sometimes it works n sometimes it doesnt.I shall now give d 54321 technique a shot.

  • Nicole

    October 7th, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Benita, I meant one cycle is the whole 5-4-3-2-1 round, all of it. So, it takes about 15 minutes to do it at a gentle pace.

    Corey, both can be true: you can count your blessings through cultivating a gratitude practice; and, you can be in limbo. Sometimes, transitional periods feel like stagnation, but they aren’t. Think of the seed underground. Ostensibly, it looks as if it’s not doing anything, but in the Spring it bursts forth.

    Unfortunately, in our culture of “now is not soon enough,” we learn to be impatient. I don’t like waiting for what I want any more than the next soul, but I know sometimes it’s just part of the process. At those times, I remind myself what I resist persists, and try to be with what is, even if I don’t like it. I also work to accept all my feelings, even when they are unpleasant, scary, or disturbing.

  • Nicole

    October 7th, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    Benita, I keep my eyes open the whole time because I usually do this while walking; however, you could close your eyes for the second and third parts (the sounds and physical feelings) as long as you’re sitting.

  • Alex

    October 15th, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    You are so helpful on so many subjects. You should write a book, or turn these essays into a book. Make sure it has a very comprehensive index!

  • lazysuzan

    June 19th, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    @Corey I feel the same way a lot. I like how you described that about being a boat.. Thanks nicole for this article and great tips. I am going to try some of these for sure

  • Nicole

    June 20th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    Hi Cory,
    Thanks for reading the article and taking the time to comment.
    When trying the suggestions, you may find it best to just pick one and use it for a while, rather than rotating through all of them quickly. This gives you a chance to incorporate a technique and experience what it truly has to offer.

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