No one likes feeling bored. However, boredom can be a particular problem — and a uniquely dangerous one — for people struggling with substance use disorders. Here’s a closer look at the issue, along with tips for overcoming the battle against boredom on your journey to recovery and addiction-free life.
Normal and Natural Feeling
Whether you’re sitting in a class when the teacher is droning on or you’re staring at the clock at work waiting for the minutes to tick by, boredom is a common feeling in life. However, while it may seem like boredom happens when there’s nothing exciting to do, research published in the academic journal, Perspectives on Psychological Science, reveals that four conditions cultivate boredom, including the following:
“When people have low arousal and there is not much happening in the world, then they often feel relaxed. When they have high arousal, though, they have the energy they would like to devote to something, but they cannot find anything engaging,” asserts writer Art Markman, Ph.D.
2. Difficulty focusing in stressful environments
If you’ve ever been waiting for a plane in a busy airport, you’re familiar with how challenging it can be to focus in certain environments. This can lead to stress, an agitated mind, and feelings of boredom.
3. Awareness of difficulty concentrating
Having trouble concentrating is one thing. Becoming aware of this trouble is another. Why? Because people associate wandering minds with boring situations.
4. Lack of control
Think of situations when you’ve been most bored. They’re likely to have something in common: places where you haven’t had control over your situation. “Normally, we react to unpleasant situations by changing the situation. If you don’t like a book you are reading, for example, you close it and do something else. Boredom happens when you are unable to change the situation,” continues Markman.
Beating Boredom…and Substance Use
Unfortunately, these same four conditions — and the boredom they cause — are often what lead to substance use in the first place. Furthermore, they can also be an obstacle to sobriety. Why? Because many recovering addicts find themselves not only with lots of extra time on their hands but also without a positive network of peers to pass that time with thereby leaving them especially vulnerable.
An important part of conquering boredom is allowing yourself to grieve your prior life. While sobriety may promise a healthier, more whole life, the transition is neither easy nor fast. Recovering addicts who previously used drugs or alcohol to keep boredom at bay should allow themselves time to grieve the loss of the things they used to use to occupy their time. This can include everything from the substances themselves to the people with whom they used to share the addict’s lifestyle.
It’s also important to identify activities that nourish your soul, not your addiction. From meditation to exercise to listening to music, these pursuits can be a powerful antidote to boredom while also helping to elevate your mood.
If you do take up a new hobby or pursuit, be wary of extreme behaviors, which may find addicts switching one addiction out for another, seemingly more healthy one. Even in the case of healthy outlets like exercise, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing — especially for addicts who lean on these things to “feel alive.”
One last thing to keep in mind? While boredom can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, it — unlike substance use and addiction — ultimately does no harm. Feelings of anxiety, sadness, and boredom are perfectly normal. Reframing your mindset can also help you come to a new way of thinking: That while sobriety may initially seem to cause boredom, it can actually be liberating. Addicts are inherently limited by their addictions; sobriety removes these limitations.
If you’re ready to embrace the freedom of an substance use-free life, treatment may be exactly what you need to move forward with your life. Harris House Has been a leading St. Louis area addiction recovery resource for more than 50 years. Call us to learn about admissions today.