For some people, boredom and depression go hand in hand. Here’s how to tell if you’re experiencing both.
Feeling bored is actually quite common. Every 10 days, 63% of people in the United States experience boredom at least once.
But if your feelings of boredom have become more frequent and frustrating, you may be wondering, “Am I bored or depressed?”
Here’s how to know, along with helpful things you can do.
There’s a difference between bouts of boredom and proneness to boredom. The more frequently bored you are, the sadder you might feel, according to
Over time, unresolved boredom can lead to depression or worsen it. Boredom becomes a slippery slope, says Tiffany Lovell, a therapist in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Together, these activities can lead to “inactivity, lethargy, and disconnection from the real world and cause individuals to withdraw even more, creating isolation, rejection, and feelings of abandonment,” says Lovell.
No longer seeing purpose in your life may make you feel worthless, helpless, and hopeless, she adds.
Boredom can also lead to other unhealthy habits, as you try to fill the emptiness or lack of stimulation, says Dr. Deborah Serani, a New York-based psychologist and author of the forthcoming book “Sometimes When I’m Bored.”
Serani says high-consequence behavior and addictions can surge with boredom, such as:
Boredom and depression share some symptoms. There are several types of depression, with varying severity levels, so it might differ more — or less — from boredom, depending on each person’s lived experiences.
In general, here’s a quick look at characteristics of frequent boredom vs. depression.
|Little to no motivation||✓||✓|
|Withdrawing from others||✓|
|Feeling sad or frustrated||✓|
|Snacking here and there||✓|
|Regularly eating too much or too little||✓|
|Feeling bone-deep fatigue||✓|
|Experiencing profound despair, agitation, or rage||✓|
|Believing you’re worthless at your core or inherently wrong||✓|
|Experiencing physical pain, such as body aches and migraines||✓|
|Loss of sex drive||✓|
It’s also noteworthy that episodic or intermittent boredom can spur positive behaviors, as
- social behaviors
Time frame and severity
The main difference between boredom and depression?
Length of time and level of your moods, says Serani.
To receive a diagnosis of clinical depression, you must experience symptoms most of the day, on most days in a 2-week period, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
Lovell describes depression as a constant heaviness, while boredom is more intermittent.
Depression, says Lovell, is “like a weight on your chest, or a dark cloud that you just can’t seem to get away from. It changes your body chemistry. Depressed people breathe differently, they walk differently, and they act differently. Their physical body literally responds to the heaviness and carries it like heavy luggage in an airport without wheels.”
For some people with high functioning or smiling depression, officially diagnosed as “major depressive disorder (MDD) with atypical features, the heaviness may be internal and harder to spot. People with atypical depression also might experience temporary bursts of joy in response to a positive situation.
If you’re experiencing both boredom and depression, consider seeing a mental health professional.
In the meantime, you might want to try these tips today:
Inventory your days
What’s the current state of your self-care?
For example, says Lovell, maybe you’ve been:
- focusing more on others at the expense of yourself
- stuffing down your emotions
- constantly going without taking breaks to recover and rest
You might use your answers to identify your next step — like saying no to a commitment that depletes you, while saying yes to walking with a friend.
Let yourself dream
Lovell suggests jotting down a list of 100 things you’d love to do, be, have, and see. If 100 feels overwhelming, you could set a timer for 10 minutes, put on your favorite music, and write whatever arises.
The key, Lovell notes, is to “get your brain to wake up to what’s possible.”
Find healthy support
The people in your inner circle can lift — or drain — your mental health. Try to identify several supportive people to turn to.
Create a list of soothers and boredom busters
A ready-made list makes it more likely you’ll find a meaningful activity, says Serani. When creating your list, consider:
- including satisfying and stimulating solo and group activities
- getting specific — like “reading my favorite poetry book,” or “calling hubby”
- adding activities that soothe your mind, body, and soul — like resting with a weighted blanket or reading Scripture
Create some structure
If your day currently lacks structure, consider using “meals and the time after” to create a simple routine that nourishes you, physically and mentally, suggests Serani. For example, after breakfast, engage in an activity, and so on.
Take a step
When you’re bored and depressed, it’s tough to summon the energy or motivation to do anything. Instead of waiting for the urge to get moving — which may never come — you might try taking your first step.
For example, you could text a friend to grab coffee — and ask them to pick you up to ensure you’ll get out of the house. Or you might meet your next-door neighbor for a walk around the block.
Unlike boredom, depression is a condition that profoundly affects you mentally, physically, and emotionally. Symptoms are frequent and last more days than not during a 2-week period.
However, chronic boredom can lead to depression, as you might withdraw from meaningful connections or experience helplessness related to feeling “you have nothing to do.”
People who are bored might also turn to unhealthy habits, hoping to fill the void — which can spur depression as well.
While depression is difficult, it’s also treatable. You can learn to manage depression and lead a meaningful, fulfilling life.