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What is boredom?

Boredom is a common feeling. Feeling unsatisfied by an activity, or uninterested in it, can lead to boredom. Boredom may occur when you feel energetic but have nowhere to direct your energy. It may also occur when you have difficulty focusing on a task.

Boredom is a common complaint among children and adolescents. In some cases, they may complain of boredom when they’re uncomfortable dealing with their thoughts or feelings.

What are the symptoms of boredom?

Boredom is marked by an empty feeling, as well as a sense of frustration with that emptiness. When you’re bored, you may have a limited attention span and lack of interest in what’s happening around you. You may feel apathetic, fatigued, nervous, or jittery.

What causes boredom?

People identify and experience boredom differently. In some cases, boredom may occur due to:

  • inadequate rest or nutrition
  • low levels of mental stimulation
  • lack of choice or control over your daily activities
  • lack of diversified recreational interests
  • poor perception of time

You or child may become bored while engaged in an activity, due to:

  • loss of interest
  • confusing instructions
  • fear of making a mistake
  • repetition of the activity for too much time
  • feeling unable to try new approaches to the activity

Who is at risk of boredom?

Almost everyone experiences boredom from time to time. Some age groups might experience more boredom than others.

Adolescents frequently experience boredom. While they’re given more freedom to choose what to do with their time, they’re still learning about themselves and their interests. Not knowing where to focus can lead to boredom.

How is boredom diagnosed?

Boredom is a normal response to some situations. And while there are no tests to diagnose boredom, boredom that lasts for long periods of time, or occurs frequently, may be a sign of depression.

Boredom in children

Symptoms of boredom and depression are sometimes similar. A bored child may want to be engaged, and may be easily engaged when you offer something "fun" for them to do, whereas a depressed child may avoid it.

Some children can’t adequately describe their feelings. Working with a mental health professional and also asking questions may give you clues about what your child may be experiencing.

Boredom in adults

If boredom is interfering with your ability to complete necessary tasks, or hampering your quality of life, talk to your doctor.  Your boredom may be related to depression if you experience the following symptoms:

  • feeling hopeless
  • feeling sadness
  • evading opportunities for stimulation
  • blaming yourself for your boredom

Your doctor will be able to help you distinguish between boredom and depression and get you the necessary treatment.

How is boredom treated?

There’s no specific, medical treatment for boredom. However, there are tons of solutions if you’re experiencing boredom. For example, you may want to consider trying some new hobbies or other new diversional activities. Joining a club can be a good way to thwart your boredom. Reading clubs, hobby groups, or exercise groups are all great places to start. Joining a community group that organizes activities and outings is another good idea.

You can help your child cope with feelings of boredom when they arise. When they complain of boredom, encourage them to communicate. Address their feelings without questioning the validity of their feelings. Take time to help them identify the causes of their boredom and find creative solutions.

For the best results:

  • Don’t question whether or not your child "should" be bored.
  • Avoid responding to your child’s complaints of boredom with impatience or anxiety.
  • Ask open-ended questions to stimulate their creativity in finding interesting solutions for alleviating boredom.
  • Recognize that your child’s complaint of boredom may be their way of trying to engage your attention or asking to participate in an activity.
  • Help your child identify any other emotional issues or feelings that they may be identifying as boredom.
  • Help your child find an engaging activity or one you can participate in together.

If boredom is part of larger issue, like depression, you’ll need to get treatment from a mental health provider. Talking to your doctor about your feelings will help them understand your needs and ensure you get the right treatment.

Preventing boredom

To help prevent boredom:

  • Keep a record of the circumstances in which you or your child becomes bored. Note the time of day, place, and activities preceding the boredom, so you can avoid those circumstances or prepare for possible boredom in the future.
  • Make routine tasks more interesting by adding a unique element. For example, start timing tasks to see how fast you can do them.
  • Combine multiple repetitive tasks so they can be done together.
  • Break larger tasks into smaller ones, and plan breaks or rewards at key milestones.
  • Create a list of activities to try when boredom strikes. If your child is the one feeling bored, create this list together.
  • Establish a special area where you or your child can store activities reserved for battling boredom.
  • Be prepared to take time out to work with your child to set up an activity when they’re bored.

What is the outlook for boredom?

Boredom is common in all ages, and some boredom is unavoidable. However, learning how to deal with boredom at a young age will develop problem-solving skills that will help in the future. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Anna Zernone Giorgi
Medically reviewed on: Jun 06, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PMHNP-BC

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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