Experiencing a boredom situation is nothing new for any of us. Especially now, in this period of social isolation, when we cannot leave the house to be with our friends and family. Or simply being able to do some different outdoor activity. However, although boredom is a common "state", we are often unable to define or understand it.
According to John Eastwood, a researcher at York University in Canada, boredom is an "aversive experience of wanting, but not being able, to engage in a satisfying activity". There is an enormous desire to find something to do when that feeling invades us. However, several studies have revealed that being bored may not be totally unfavorable, but a benefit for mental health.
In an article on the topic, the publication Psychology Today explains that when we try to find options to camouflage boredom, we actually rob our brain of downtime, which is linked to creativity. In reality, our brain is more active than ever, because we allow it to act on its own, without being stimulated by external factors. According to the website, some of the benefits are:
- Recharge. The brain is constantly being bombarded with external stimuli. This downtime can be good for recovering and recharging cognitive functioning skills. However, browsing the social network feed may not be a good option.
- Imagination and creativity. A recent study shows that our brain is more active when we are not focused on something, proving that it often helps us to have new ideas. For example, small activities like bathing or walking the pet can stimulate the imagination.
- Altruism. According to some researchers in Ireland, the time when we are bored helps us to find the meaning for whatever we are looking for, be it behavior or even life in general.
- Achieve goals. In boredom situations our mind seems to be "wandering". However, it is an important time for the brain, proving that when we are "more inactive" we think more about the future, thus helping to establish goals and objectives.
Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, explained to Glamor Magazine UK, that getting bored activates an essential part (called a network) of our brain. "It is called the network in a standard way and it is vitally important for the brain", says this neuroscientist. Adding that, "when you're alone with your thoughts, your brain restarts, reactivates that network and puts brain health back in the brain. That network never shuts down, but it requires you to spend that time disconnected from technology – to think deeply – to prosper. "
According to Caroline Leaf, technology has not been a positive tool in relation to this theme, reinforcing that in the past people used to fill the time associated with the feeling of boredom reading books, listening to music or playing an instrument. The fact that there are no social networks strengthened the imagination. Susan Greenfield, a neurological scientist, agrees and reflects that "social networks are harming us psychologically". Susan says that "when we were children, we played using our imagination and that was cognitively important, because we were controlling our 'history'. But now the external stimulation of technology is driving the functioning of our brains, not being motivated internally".
Caroline Leaf and Susan Greenfield emphasize the importance of taking control of our brain. And use boredom, which will persist during these times of isolation, through its best functionality. We can use our cell phones, but also take the time to do other activities, or just sit on the couch and reflect. Sandi Mann, author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom is Good shares the same opinion. The author defines boredom as: "a search for neural stimulation that is not satisfied". Sandi Mann reflects that "if we cannot find this, our mind will create". In her book, we can see that the author describes that daydreaming can be advantageous for the brain. In addition, it also mentions that boredom can be beneficial for mental health, this if we move away from social networks.
In short: the important thing is to try to avoid spending too much time in the hammocks when the feeling of boredom invades us, because this can trigger anxiety and dissipate creativity. Instead, we can use this time to breathe, reflect and set goals. Consequently, after that, new ideas will emerge, such as reading the book that was on the shelf two years ago, or taking an online course that has been on the waiting list for months.