The Link Between Boredom & Depression

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn the definitions of boredom and depression, and how each of them can cause the other to occur. You will learn about apathetic boredom as well. There will be examples to further your engagement and understanding. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz.

What is Boredom?

We all know the feeling. You're sitting in a waiting room at the doctor's office with nothing to do. The TV is programmed to a soap opera of which you are completely disinterested, and there are no entertaining magazines in sight.

Boredom is a feeling of being unsatisfied, weary, or restless, commonly due to lack of interesting activity, continuous repetition of an activity, or difficulty comprehending something. For instance, a child can be bored in school for being too smart and not finding anything the teacher says new and interesting. But a child can also be bored if he finds the lesson too difficult, and has completely tuned out of the lesson entirely.

If a child is overwhelmed by school, she may tune out the teacher and become bored.
If a child is overwhelmed by school, she may tune out the teacher and show symptoms of boredom.

What is Depression?

Depression is a serious condition in which someone feels intense sadness that affects their everyday life. A major depressive episode, involves a depressed mood most of the time on most days, for at least a two week period. Symptoms can include feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, fatigue, guilt, difficulty concentrating, diminished pleasure in activities or life in general, significant changes in sleep, appetite and weight, and suicidal ideations.

It's normal for someone to have a low mood every now and then, but to be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be significantly and negatively impacting life in at least two areas. Depression can be caused by a chemical/ hormone imbalance in the brain or environmental factors. If you were to look at someone who was bored or depressed, they may display a similar demeanor: slumped posture, a straight face or frown, glazed eyes, or a hand holding weight of the head.

It is hard to tell if this is boredom or depression because they can appear the same.
Depressed Woman

Boredom Can Trigger Depression

Boredom is frequently an indicator of depression, but it can also be a precipitator or trigger. A common cause of boredom in adults is a dull job or work environment. Tom sits in his cubicle all day, with whitewashed walls and bright overhead lights, which can be quite draining. Tom does the same mind-numbing tasks each day, which get tedious and monotonous. Tom is chronically bored.

People like Tom who are in these kinds of jobs can start to feel depressive symptoms, like a feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness, fatigue, guilt over not doing something more with their lives, difficulty concentrating, and diminishment of pleasure in activities. They may also have trouble sleeping or sleep too much. And it all began with boredom!

Apathetic Boredom Can Lead to Depression

It's important to note that not all types of boredom trigger symptoms of depression. An study that was published in Motivation and Emotion journal in 2013 denoted five types of boredom, four of which don't necessarily trigger depression:

  1. Indifferent boredom is when a person feels tranquil and laid-back but is detached from their environment. Think of an adult who is at a friend's three-hour Indian wedding ceremony and has no idea what is going on, but doesn't mind the feeling of boredom.
  2. Calibrating boredom is when a person is not sure about their feeling about being bored, and this person is open to a distraction or change of environment. Think of a teen who can't find anything interesting on TV and would welcome a call from a friend to go to the movies.
  3. Searching boredom is exactly what it sounds like: a person is searching for a distraction. Think of a couple who is bored at home and thinking of things that they can do to rid themselves of the boredom.
  4. Reactant boredom is a step further, in that the couple is taking specific steps in order to rid themselves of their boredom. They are buying movie tickets online and will leave the house in 30 minutes to grab dinner and then go to the movies.

The fifth type, apathetic boredom can trigger depression. It's when a person feels helpless in changing their mundane environment, because it seems difficult or impossible. Tom has worked in a horrible job in a cubicle for years, and knows finding another job would be difficult. He decides to stay in his boring situation because it requires less effort that finding another job. It's plain to see why apathetic boredom might lead to depression!

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