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Scrolling and Boredom: A Complicated Combination

Using technology when bored can stunt emotional growth and happiness.

More and more, people come to my therapy practice and say things like:

‘I’m bored all the time! All I do all day is constantly check my phone for texts and emails and scroll social media. I fear my life is passing me by.”

“When I look at social media all I think is that my life is so boring! What’s wrong with me?”

Boredom is ubiquitous. It’s part of living and being human. When we’re bored we feel sluggish, uninspired, weary, or apathetic. Boredom can be emotionally painful. I get it. And like most people, I don’t like feeling bored either so I can appreciate the desire to want to escape it. But more often than not chronic boredom that doesn’t go away isn’t just a benign or normal state of being but rather a symptom of a much deeper issue like unresolved anger, powerlessness, depression, grief, anxiety, or feelings around lacking purpose and meaning in one’s life.

It’s important to pay attention to the ways in which you use social media and technology when you feel bored and to pay attention to how it makes you feel. For example, take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I using social media or technology to medicate my depression, anxiety, anger or grief?” “Am I using it to avoid confronting an upsetting situation in my current life [like feeling stuck in an unhappy relationship or an unfulfilling career]?”

Self-medicating painful emotions such as boredom is not a new phenomenon. The term self-medicating was originally associated with alcohol and substance abuse. Although there is no official diagnosis of internet addiction, lots of compelling research nonetheless tells us that many users feel their computer addiction is real and that their attachment to their screens significantly inhibits their interpersonal growth and their ability to live a rich and purposeful life. In actuality, our painful emotions—powerlessness, anger, grief, anxiety, and fear—are signals telling us that something is wrong. When we avoid our emotions by using defense mechanisms such as repression, minimization, fantasy, rationalization, projection, somatization, wishful thinking, and idealization, we miss the opportunity to make effective, helpful changes. In a nutshell, in all the years I’ve been in practice, I’ve never witnessed problems disappearing on their own and without the hard work of self-examination. In short, we can’t heal what we don’t feel.

But there's good news: Cultivating self-awareness—the ability to name, regulate, and express emotions—can dramatically help us address the ups and downs of life skillfully as opposed to destructively, like self-medicating with technology or social media when feeling bored.

The following are some recommendations for what you can do now to help you move forward when you feel bored.

  1. Every day, do at least one thing that you enjoy. Doing the things we love brings new and positive energy into our lives and keeps boredom at bay.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel boredom at times. Remind yourself that being bored from time to time is normal. However, being self-critical or chastising yourself when bored will only make it harder for you to get “unstuck." Often the more we resist an emotion or thought, the stronger it becomes. Instead, work on being kinder and gentler with yourself at these moments.
  3. Start a feelings journal. Journaling is a good way to discover patterns and helps reinforce our understanding that feelings such as boredom are a part of life. Learning how to express your feelings dramatically reduces the use of self-medicating behaviors.
  4. Do something outside your comfort zone. Living life only inside our comfort zone limits us from growing in countless ways. Figure out what you’d like to try but have been hesitant to act on because of fear or self-doubt. Make a conscious effort to do what gives you a deep sense of joy and excitement.
More from Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.
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