Feeling Helpless or Bored?

One of the longest days of my life, at least it felt painfully long, was the October 15, 2006 earthquake. Power was out on Oahu for most of the day. Lack of power meant lack of entertainment, luckily my cellphone still worked for calls. I remember thinking how slow the day was going; it reminded me of those long boring summer days in my childhood. We didn’t have internet or public buses. We only had one car which meant we couldn’t go anywhere until my dad finished work. To make it worse I lived up on a mountain and not by the beach so fishing, surfing, and snorkeling were not an option.

Sure there was television, I’m not that old, but during the day there wasn’t shows for kids, only soap operas, and the news was an evening event instead of a constant stream of “breaking news” like it is today. On the day of the earthquake I had a realization that the reason it felt like life was moving fast was due to the amount of stimulation my brain was getting from the constant stream of information technology brought to me. I noticed that when we are highly stimulated time seems to fly, lacking stimulation, time seems to crawl. Boredom, therefore, is partly due to a lack of stimulation, and not from a lack of things or things to do.

I have witnessed, as you probably have too, that kids with an over abundance of things and things to do still get bored, but yet, the same is true for kids with very little things and very little to do. So I also realized that things and things to do are also not a reason for boredom. Actually having too much things and too much to do can lead to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Clutter of mind and physical space creates anxiety.

The ability to notice and appreciate the good in every moment is one way to avoid boredom. Of course, there are situations like being chased by dogs, bears or sharks, or being shot at where you won’t feel bored, but terror is not a good remedy for boredom.

Here are some remedies for boredom. Go out into nature and notice the feel the wind, the sound of the trees or waves, the movement of clouds, flight of birds, fall of rain. You don’t need to go anywhere far, your balcony or back yard is enough; even looking out an open window will do. Get into your senses with the elements and you will find nature is endlessly amazing. Watching people is another form of nature watching. Seeing people go about their day lazily, stressed out, lost, confused, frustrated, angrily, pridefully, peacefully, happily, joyfully without getting caught up in opinions and judgements, being like a mirror reflecting images, but not retaining them. A mind like a mirror is present and doesn’t hold on to the past or project into the future. Watching people and nature can be a form of meditation.

Nothing needs to be done physically to alleviate boredom. Boredom is a mind game and derives from the inability to engage the moment as it is. Notice I didn’t say like, you don’t have to like that the weather ruined your plans for a picnic or barbecue, but you could enjoy being with the people you planned to picnic or barbecue with in a different way. Often when you don’t resist what is, you will find a way to enjoy it anyway.

Boredom is felt when we aren’t doing what we think is fun or when “nothing” is going on. However, potentially stressful activities like our jobs, taking care of a new baby, aging parent or sick family member aren’t boring and not what we normally think of as fun. Stress, like terror, is not a good remedy for boredom. I think it’s funny that when we are totally stressed out and overwhelmed we would love to have nothing to do, but the instant we have nothing to do we feel bored and start looking for something to do.

Boredom is also a form of helplessness since it often comes from not knowing what to do. Humans don’t like not knowing what to do, or feeling helpless, which can trigger our primitive fight, flight or freeze response. Having those feelings are in themselves not the problem, the problem is how we respond to those feelings. Some of us will seek solutions, pleasure or avoidance. Primitive brain function isn’t good or bad but it doesn’t usually lead to a clear assessment of your situation. The primitive brain is programmed to deal with immediate physical threats and not the constant stress of modern life, therefore it’s best to view it as a messenger, like a traffic light: go, caution, stop. What you do with the message is where your power resides.

Next time you are bored, or feeling helpless, get into your body. You may feel restless which is a sign that you have energy to move. Often people will only think about movement in terms of what they would like to do such as go shopping or play a sport, but it is also possible to just get up and stretch, walk in place or clean your house. Taking ten deep breaths to calm your mind is a good way to begin to deal with low level consistent stress. Then combining a physical activity, like cleaning ,with breathing as Mr. Miyagi had Daniel do in The Karate Kid movies by washing cars, sanding floors and painting fences helps to clear your mind and reduce stress. I remember one scene where Mr. Miyagi is singing a happy song during one of the more stressful events in the movie. Daniel couldn’t believe Mr. Miyagi was singing, to make it worse Mr. Miyagi encouraged Daniel to sing too. What Daniel couldn’t understand since he was too busy freaking out is Mr. Miyagi was using singing to breathe deeply, and he sang a happy song to clear his mind and lighten his spirit, which allowed him to come up with a good solution to the problem.

The next time you are bored, restless, or feeling helpless and anxious try one of the above suggestions and see if it doesn’t change your outlook for the better.

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