Getting bored can be good for your health? Here’s why it’s not a myth

  • Susan Jose, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 16, 2016 18:52 IST
Experts around the world are stressing on the advantages of “doing absolutely nothing” now more than ever. (iSTOCK)

At a time when entertainment options are available in abundance, either on the phone, your laptop, desktop, or on the television screen, if not the big screen, rarely is anyone ever really bored. Perhaps, that’s why experts around the world are stressing on the advantages of “doing absolutely nothing” now more than ever.

The biggest nudge so far has come from author and academician Eva Hoffman’s new book, How To Be Bored. The bestseller reminds us that with our increasing dependency on technology, many of us have forgotten the art of getting bored, and have therefore stopped benefiting from it.

“Being bored means doing absolutely nothing, not even thinking. It is not the same as meditating, wherein you’re trying to focus on your breathing. You just have to be,” says city-based psychotherapist Neeta V Shetty.

She adds, “What is the first thing that you see parents do when their young kids get too difficult to control? They give them mobile phones or a tablet to keep them distracted. So, even before they learn to talk properly, kids, these days, are picking up the art of getting distracted (laughs).”

Read: Basically people eat too much junk food when they are bored: Study

Experts point out that these days, the first thing that many parents do when their young kids get too difficult to control is to give them mobile phones or a tablet to keep them distracted. (Shutterstock )

A refreshing change

Alisha Mann, a city-based writer-musician, recalls experiencing the benefits of doing nothing firsthand on a recent trip out of Mumbai. “My friend and I spent a weekend in Alibaug recently when we found ourselves just sitting idle. We could have read a book or watched TV, but we didn’t. There came a time when I was just sitting in the garden with three dogs, staring blankly at the branches of a tree. Having nothing to do or think about, for a change, was refreshing,” she says.

To the layperson, the ability to accept boredom and really start appreciating it may seem “refreshing”, but experts insist that it plays a far more vital role in our overall well-being.

How it helps

The first thing it does is reduce one’s tendency to fidget and overthink. Thereby, in the long run, it helps reduce stress levels and “increase grey matter” — an outcome similar to that of long-term meditation. Except in this case, you need not meditate, but just spend time doing nothing in particular. It can also stabilise the heart rate and blood pressure levels. The reduced exposure to artificial light and screen-time, in turn, helps regulate one’s sleep cycle too.

Psychologically, spending time doing nothing can also lead to increased levels of self-awareness. It can help one identify one’s true interests and formulate goals accordingly. It is also known to lead to contentment, a deeper insight into one’s behaviour, relaxation, and a significant drop in anxiety levels.As per a report, a condition that was once most widely associated with children, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is now being diagnosed among more and more adults these days. The lack of a diagnosis in time can have far-reaching consequences on adults, and lead to drastic outbursts.

A previous study published in the scientific journal, SAGE, suggested that, “People who feel bored feel that their current situation is meaningless and are therefore motivated to re-establish a sense of meaningfulness.”

Read: Walk the talk: Excessive use of smartphones can make you hyperactive

Types of boredom

However, not all kinds of boredom are healthy and lead to positive outcomes. Dr Ajay Phadke, pathologist, explains that there are different kinds of boredom:

1) Indifferent boredom: Those experiencing this type of boredom feel withdrawn, indifferent and relaxed.

2) Calibrating boredom: This type of boredom makes one feel uncertain and receptive to distractions.

3) Searching boredom: People experiencing this variety are restless and actively seek a change.

4) Reactant boredom: This type can motivate one to leave their current situation for a specific alternative.

5) Apathetic boredom: People experiencing this type of boredom experience helplessness towards situations.

Phadke goes on to explain the categories these varieties fall under:

1) Searching boredom and reactant boredom are on the positive side, as we may do something positive as a result of all the thoughts that arise due to these varieties.

2) Apathetic boredom is definitely negative, and a lot of research on this variety suggests why a lot of students and teenagers feel depressed. They feel schoolwork is just not engaging enough, and they fail to address what is truly on their minds.

3) Indifferent and calibrating boredom may have positive or negative effects on your well-being, depending on how the boredom has been dealt with.

— With inputs from Namrata Dagia, clinical psychologist

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