8 tips for coping with boredom during self-isolation: York U Expert


It’s not easy being a student, parent, or caregiver under normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. Torontonians have been here before. During the SARS outbreak of 2003, upwards of 23,000 people in the GTA were quarantined. Housebound, they were not allowed visitors or excursions into the community – even asked to restrict dog walks to their backyard.

For many, the combo of isolation and monotony is a hotbed for numerous psychological challenges, including the menace of boredom.

boredom expert

Assistant Professor, John Eastwood
Photo by Paola Scattolon Photography

But John Eastwood, an assistant professor in the department of psychology in York University’s Faculty of Health, says there are ways to avoid the scourge of boredom or how to respond well when it strikes.

Here are eight tips to get you started:

1. Don’t panic
Boredom is such an unpleasant feeling, that in laboratory settings, some resort to shocking themselves with electrical current! In real life, overeating is a frequent response as we reach for yet another potato chip. We don’t like feeling bored! But, disagreeable feelings, like boredom, are normal and serve a purpose. Feelings help us meet our needs and keep us oriented towards what matters. For example, anger may signal that we are being taken advantage of, and fear tells us when we are in danger. Boredom tells us when we are at risk of stagnation. So despite being an uncomfortable feeling, we are the better for it. The challenge is to respond wisely.

2. Accept what you cannot change
You, your children, and other family members in self-isolation or quarantine are likely to experience boredom. Accept it. Don’t get worked up. Boredom doesn’t indicate a character flaw or poor planning – it’s just a part of life, especially life under quarantine. Let yourself feel bored long enough to listen and learn from it.

3. Find another gear
Typically, we’re propped up by routines. We rush to the 6:44 train, marching orders wait in our stuffed inbox, the kids have hockey tonight. All of a sudden, when in quarantine, all that changes. Quite simply, we are used to outsourcing the control of our attention and time. In quarantine, we may come to realize that we’re actually not that good at directing the focus of our attention – perhaps to the point of paralysis. ‘TV now and then laundry, or, tackle the laundry first?’ becomes a momentous decision. Quarantine pushes you out of a reactive gear and invites you to discover a self-determination gear.

4. Understand why you’re feeling bored
Boredom is not an absence of things to do. The bored person knows there’s stuff to do – that’s not the problem. Our smartphone is a virtual portal to the infinite; oh and there’s a lot to do in real life too. The problem is that the bored person desperately wants to be doing something but doesn’t want to do anything that is doable. When bored you can’t muster up an actionable desire or find any value in the available options. So boredom is born of disordered wanting and valuing, not an absence of possibility.

5. Take time to find clarity
Finding clarity about your desires and discovering value in possible activities might require a moment of self-reflection. Take that time. Many people report that some of the most transformative and fulfilling changes in their lives were sparked by a period of change that allowed them to reflect on their goals and values. Try journaling. Reflecting on the value of quarantine itself might help. Research shows that having a good reason for doing something makes it less boring no matter how monotonous. What’s your reason for going into isolation? Find the answer to why – why quarantine or why any activity – and you’ll be less bored.

6. Avoid passive entertainment
Early in quarantine, binge-watching Netflix can seem like a great plan. But eventually, you will become restless for something more. In fact, passively consuming entertainment – treating yourself like an empty vessel in need of filling – likely makes you ripe for future boredom. What you most need when bored is the ability to reclaim authorship of your life. Tragically, we often do the precise opposite; again outsourcing a solution. Resist the urge to find the quickest anaesthetic offering remedy without cure – or worst, blunting of the motivation to address the root issue. When bored, the key is to find activities that flow from and give expression to, your passions, creativity and curiosity. And while wrestling with these big questions, you could pause to have a cup of coffee and go for a vigorous walk in nature – simple generic strategies that reduce boredom.

7. Get by with a little help from your friends
An absence of human contact makes isolation and monotony even more unbearable. Research has shown that people are more likely to be bored when alone, compared to when with others. In quarantine direct human contact might be curtailed, and in such circumstances, online connection can help beat back boredom. It’s not all bad on the Internet. But maybe you should give up the Kardashians (they are not actually your friends anyway) and Skype with a real friend you haven’t seen for years. Play an online game with others. If stuck at home with your family, gather around the dining room table for a rousing board game. Social distancing does not have to mean an absence of social connection.

8. Look for the silver lining
Potentially boring situations – that we learn to navigate without becoming bored – are rewarding. Constantly scaffolded by external forces, kept busy by the demands of life, filled up by compelling experiences, it’s possible to become disoriented and lost. Moments of pause create a space to explore who we are and what we value. What’s more, figuring out the answers to such questions can point you towards important – boredom busting – life projects.

What Professor Eastwood's tips below

For interviews with Professor Eastwood contact: Anjum Nayyar, York University Media Relations, cell 437-242-1547, anayyar@yorku.ca

For more information on Professor Eastwood’s research in boredom visit his Boredom Lab at: boredomlab.org