One of the most difficult aspects of shelter-in-place orders is boredom. Anyone on social media can attest to that—people are posting funny memes that talk about how bored everyone is, people (especially celebrities) are posting pictures and videos of themselves and others doing strange things to entertain themselves (and stay relevant). It seems that this new, collective boredom motivates us to take up new hobbies or get back to the old ones. Some of us seem to thrive creatively, many people are learning to cook or knit.
But there’s a much darker side to boredom that we don’t talk about. Not having enough to do can be genuinely detrimental to those of us who like routine and to-do lists. Like nothing else, boredom demands that we engage in some extraordinary mental gymnastics that will allow us to come up with activities to occupy ourselves. Having to do it once in a while is not a problem, but having to do it day in and out can be really exhausting. That’s when lethargy sets in and resignation because what is really the point? What is the point of getting up and making the bed, or making healthy meals, or exercising?
This is a dangerous way of thinking. Especially for people who live with addiction and who are triggered by a disruption in routines. Experts have been warning that people with substance use disorder are particularly at risk for relapse as many are susceptible to boredom. Add self-isolation to the mix, and you increase that risk even more—not being able to physically attend meetings where so much depends on routines and gathering of like-minded individuals is a big challenge for those of us who rely on groups for recovery.
I’m lucky because most of the time, I’m able to occupy myself. I have a lot of interests, I like to read, I have access to nature. My mind is busy in a good way, and it rarely gets stuck in a hamster-wheel of what-should-I-do? But I am sympathetic to those who can’t stimulate themselves easily, and I know that, as a society, we are not well equipped to deal with boredom. Nobody takes pride in being able to do nothing all day. We are programmed to do stuff, to keep ourselves busy and entertained. Very few of us can actually treat boredom with distance, just as an experience we’re going through. No, boredom for many of us is not a state but rather a problem. And it’s yet another thing to be ashamed about. So memes and clever baking challenges aside, we stay quiet about how much we actually suffer from this secret condition.
For people with addiction, staying quiet about their struggles can be deadly. If you’re not dealing well with boredom, you have to talk to others about it. I know that it might seem trivial or even whiny to complain about having nothing to do, but if you look at it from the perspective of mental health, maybe it is something you could address and try to get support for. There is no such thing as “trivial” with addiction, and even innocent, little boredom can suddenly overwhelm your life to the point where you think you have no choice but to drink or use over it. Talk to others and ask them how they’re coping with boredom. Maybe somebody out there is doing something that could inspire you as well? If you don’t ask, you won’t find out. Consider venturing out into the world and sharing about boredom as one more self-care task you owe to yourself and to your recovery.
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