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Fighting Boredom

How does physical activity help treat boredom?


Jayden Kim

The problem of boredom is something that affects millions of people each day. The lack of engagement with the world is what leads people to this chronic and problem-inducing state. In a 2000 study done by Mary B. Harris, former Stanford Psychology Professor, 90 % of the students experienced boredom regularly (Harris, 2000). For most people, the idea of boredom is the trivial feeling that comes when one has nothing to do and goes once he/she becomes occupied. People often say that they "feel" bored; however, the scientific study of boredom is still a topic that has not been explored too deeply. This feeling of unpleasantness resulted from a lack of stimulation. Daniel Smilek, the Psychology Professor at Waterloo, who has published seven different works on psychology, defines boredom in the theory that non-optimal arousal ensues from the contradiction between an individual's needed arousal and the availability (Smilek, 2012). The environment that an individual surrounded him/herself in does not offer satisfying activity through the engagement with the environment. However, some theories suggest that bored individuals suffer from poor concentration and often force their concentration with effort. As such, boredom is often associated with the lack of satisfying activity in the environment and a struggle to concentrate.

A study conducted by Alycia Chin from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and her team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University has shown that boredom tends to affect people who are younger and, more commonly, men (Chin, 2017). The most susceptible are people in low employment grades as well as lower physical activity levels. A characteristic of boredom is that it is more present/frequent during the week rather than the weekend. Places of work are where people feel the most bored. The highest probability of being bored was faced in situations such as studying, working, and doing nothing in particular. However, on the contrary, boredom seemed to be the least present in exercise and parenting.

People with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are more susceptible to being bored (Smilek, 2012). Boredom plays a significant role in ADHD. With inattention, as one starts to get bored, he/she loses focus, forgets details, makes careless mistakes, and daydream. As ADHD deals with the inadequate activation of dopamine across the brain's synapses, people with ADHD do not get the same level of satisfaction from doing regular tasks. This lack of satisfaction is often perceived as boredom, taking away one's motivation to follow through with a task. People with ADHD are continuously seeking physical or mental stimulation to combat the boredness, once they find something they are interested in, they can eliminate boredom.

Problem of Boredom

Boredom deals with attention and awareness. Where one’s attention has no focus or is directed in an aimless state is when boredom sprouts. In the view of Anastasiya Lipnevich, the Professor of Educational Psychology at Queens College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, boredom could be organized into five types (Lipnevich, 2013). In the example of indifferent boredom, this is where one is not bothered by his/her boredom. Indifferent boredom is the boredom that the majority of people face. Calibrating boredom is where a person is open to being distracted from his/her boredom, however, not in pursuit of immediately getting rid of his/her lack of stimulation. On the other hand, searching boredom is the feeling of restlessness, actively searching for ways to suppress one’s boredom. When a person is placed in a situation highly inducing boredom and seeks strongly to leave from the premise or pursue something else to do is known as reactant boredom. An instance of this would be where a student avoids work by excusing himself to the bathroom. Apathetic boredom is when boredom disgusts the person, but it does not motivate one to change it. This state of boredom most closely relates to the state of being depressed or feeling helpless.

The adverse effects of boredom are huge. This unpleasant state can be described as feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and anger. These emotions are often closely linked to the lack of attention. Diverting attention away from tasks at hand is often because of boredom. This misallocation/ lack of focus can also be related to the negative emotional state within a person. People with the inability to focus have become irritated, depressed, and experience a lack of creativity. Additionally, the negative experience that are felt during stages of boredom could cause future damage to cognitive function.

Boredom has been a contributing factor in acts of aggression, such as crime and violence. In the view of Lori Jervis, the head Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, it was discovered that people who felt bored had higher levels of self-reported anger and aggression (Jervis, 2003). With this information, one can assume that boredom manifests inner anger and less impulse control. As boredom is from the lack of stimulation, people would feel trapped, contained, and helpless with nothing to satisfy them in their current state. To escape these painful, aggravating emotions, people attempt to replace these feelings with anger, frustration, and even make decisions with poor judgment to feel something emotionally/cognitively.

In the instance of boredom, many underlying mental processes can follow. This condition that affects many is related to a wide span of social, psychological, and physical health problems. In the study conducted by a Washington State University professor in the Department of Human Development, Sammy Perone, it was found that psychologically, people who are prone to boredom respond differently compared to those who are not (Perone, 2019). The report states that people that experience boredom often encounter more instances of anxiety and are more susceptible to depression.

Recently, the rate of major depression rose highly in the past decade. According to Daniel P Chapman, who received his doctorate in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Amherst, it was projected that by the end of the decade, 2020, depression would become the second leading cause of disease worldwide (Chapman, 2005). With boredom and depression being so closely related, it is crucial to find the most viable solution in countering boredom.

Solution + Benefits: Physical Activity

Boredom commonly leads to depression. Upon research, the most practical and effective method to tackle boredom is the involvement in physical activity and/or sports. In the words of Alicia Garcia-Falgueras of the Department of Psychology at the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience, sports reduce stress as well as facilitating the release of endorphins (Garcia-Falgueras, 2015). Endorphins are the hormones that are secreted in the brain, which enhance pleasure. Through the hypothalamus, the brain releases endorphins through the form of peptides and pituitaries. As the endorphins get released into blood circulation, the wave of euphoria is then brought onto oneself. Christopher H. Hawkes, an honorary Professor of Neurology at the University of London, explains how when endorphins are released, this minimizes discomfort and maximizes the pleasure one feels (Hawkes 1992). This is further enforced by the release of dopamine. As reported by Gene-Jack Wang, the professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, exercising increases the concentration of dopamine released in the brain (Wang, 2000). The higher concentrated level of dopamine has a great effect on improving one’s mood. Additionally, serotonin levels increase after regular involvement in physical activity (Garcia-Falgueras, 2015). The hormone serotonin is what regulates one’s mood, happiness, and anxiety. Viewed on many occasions, diminished activity of the serotonin pathways directly affects the presence of depression. However, as serotonin levels are boosted through exercise, this leads to the indicated preventive effects from depression, a commonly related problem to boredom.

Overall, the advantageous effects that exercise has on brain function are due to the metabolic reserves as well as the antioxidation (Hawkes, 1992). Levels of dopamine are increases in the striatum of the brain. Exercise can treat mild to moderate depression just as effectively as antidepressant medication (Perone, 2019). Aerobic exercises such as swimming and jogging have been shown to greatly reduce the negative effects of boredom (Petty, 2006). Through exercise, blood circulation to the brain is increased, reducing anxiety and depression. Accomplished by the engaging the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, also known as the body’s stress response, the physiological stress from physical activity helps a person feel more relaxed and tranquil. In a recent study done by Dr. Karmel Choi of Clinical Psychology at the Harvard School of Public Health, it was found that a simple fifteen-minute run a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26% (Choi, 2019). Additionally, maintaining a regular exercise schedule prevents one from relapsing.

Structural changes in the brain commonly relate to the modulations of neurotrophin levels (Hawkes 1992). This is due to the activation of this pathway which assists in the growth and separation of the new neurons. Through regular exercise, the brain-derived-neurotrophin factors are amplified (Hawkes 1992). The amplification of the neurotrophin factors aids the brain in developing new connections and protecting healthy brain cells. This allows the brain to continue to feel the endorphin and serotonin release even apart from exercise. With boredom’s most common symptoms being displeasure and discomfort, chemically, physical activity provides access to the most potent antidote.

Compared to current treatments of boredom and depression, physical activity outperforms its competition. With boredom being the least apparent in exercise and parenting, one can clearly see the superior option of the two (Chin, 2017). Parenting comes with countless responsibilities and with tons of financial setbacks. According to the USDA, the United State’s urban planning department, annually it costs about $12,980 dollars per child in the middle-income, a married couple with two children family. Not only this but it is expected for a middle-income household to spend around $233,000 to raise one child up to the age of 17 without the inclusion of the price of a college education. Aside from the actual effectiveness of physical activity, the accessibility of this solution is unmatched. Through the exhibition of the images of basketball hoops at the National Building Museum Photos, HOOPS establishes the fact that the basics of physical activity are not chained by socioeconomic class. From community playgrounds to private residencies, basketball hoops are present in any environment, anywhere. Physical activity can be practiced anywhere with practically no cost. At the comfort of one’s home, at the community park, or even at a local gym, one can get a great workout in.

Boredom affects countless people on a daily basis. With the absence of stimulation and cognitive activity, boredom can be perceived as the gateway to many health problems. This includes a wide variety of social, psychological, and physical health conditions. In order to counteract this gateway ‘condition’, involvement in physical activity is absolutely necessary. With physical activity improving one’s mental state as well as his/her cognitive function while still being cost-friendly, it is simply a fact that exercise is the best treatment for boredom.


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