Understanding boredom in lockdown

Understanding boredom in lockdown

On March 11th 2020, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, stressing that the novel coronavirus has engulfed many countries of the world posing a serious threat to mankind. Complete lockdown of all services, baring essential movement was announced in many countries as a way to reduce contraction of infection and community transmission. While isolation and physical distancing was the need of the hour, this unexpected measure has come with its own set of pitfalls. When the lockdown was announced, almost everybody has a list of the entire impending tasks to do: binge watching all movies or TV series, listening to podcasts, re-arranging of rooms, baking, cleaning book shelfs etc that ensured meaningful engagement of the great amount of time that now everybody had. A week later, all the excitement of the initial few days faded away and eventually in exasperation they admitted "I'm bored!!!” With so many options and resources at hand, it may be hard to comprehend how we may feel bored.
In today's times, our world is built around work and socialization. 'Being busy' is held highly. Going out, performing various roles and responsibilities at work and relaxing with friends and family over a meal or snack outside has grown to be a part of the very fabric of the society. Post lockdown, our daily routines are stalled. Life is in a standstill and has left a huge void in everyone's life. It's even more difficult for people who are staying alone, away from family.

"In a small survey conducted in one of the worst affected countries, Italy by Soubhik Barari et al (2020), boredom was ranked as second most disturbing and negative consequence of lockdown. This shows that people are struggling to cope with boredom."

Boredom as a concept hasn't been taken seriously by our society. When we say we're bored, people usually come up with a list of activities to distract us from temporary discomfort experienced. However, it is much beyond than that. “From in his book The Sane Society described the difficulty of the experience of boredom as "nothing but the experience of paralysis of our productive powers and a sense of unaliveness. Among the evils of life, there are a few as painful as boredom and consequently every attempt is made to avoid it”.Boredom is conceptualised as either a lived experience or a social phenomenon. A person can be bored with somebody, by something, or simply bored of it all. It's a discrete human emotion and a universal experience. From an existential perspective, it indicates a dissonance between what we hold true (values/beliefs) and the activity; simply stated: lack of meaning. When bored, our situation is disclosed to as unfulfilling, uninteresting or unchallenging. Thus, informing about the situation being non-stimulating. It indicates involvement in a relatively less demanding work that fails to meet set expectations or desires. It is characterized by feelings of dissatisfaction, restlessness, and weariness. Another perspective for boredom in current scenario stems from the concept of flow. It states that people may experience boredom, when a person has high skill set but the environment is less challenging. Current scenario is such that, people are having ability and expertise, but situations don’t make full use of their competence.

“Most concise definition was given by Fahlman et al (2013) in her study where she talked about 4 dimensions that are characterize this unique state. These are: disengagement (not able find any satisfying activity, high or low arousal (agitation/frustration or lethargy/fatigue), inattention (difficult to sustain attention in any activity), and time perception (feeling that time is passing by slowly).”

It should be differentiated from the apathy that can be defined as a behaviour that shows no interest or energy and shows that someone is unwilling to action especially over something important (Cambridge English Dictionary). Lack of motivation to change or being indifferent towards every aspect is one of the prime causes for apathy. On the other hand, when a person experiences boredom, they realise that the external situation is no longer stimulating and take steps to change it. There is a negative connotation attached with boredom. People will try and make every attempt at escaping this uncomfortable feeling. Interestingly, this also has an impact on the effectiveness of the implementation of the lockdown in the country. Physical distancing and avoidance of public gathering is the key to reduce community transmission. Yet there are people who violate it, in order to 'kill some time'. This can result in far reaching consequences, acting as a huge barrier in handling the crisis. In an instance reported in a newspaper, a group of truck drivers out of boredom gathered for a game of cards. This resulted in many people in their neighbourhood being tested positive for Covid-19.

Another disturbing issue that has come to light during these times is surge in online gaming and gambling. The lockdown has brought a significant change in everybody’s life. Most of the people are now The feeling of being disengaged coupled with low arousal results in people spending most of their time online to ward off the feelings of ‘being bored’. An article by The Economic Times talks about the steady increase in downloads of multiplayer games like ludo, rummy, royal battle and carom across all cities in India to kill boredom. What may start as an attempt to momentarily distract one and enjoy the free time, may slowly move towards more serious problems like addiction to online gaming or gambling. This period of lockdown could especially pose a serious threat to people with past history of pathological gambling.In a research study conducted by Mercer & Eastwood (2010) on 202 undergraduate students further clarified this association. The results from their study concluded that gambling problems have a clear relationship with boredom. People engaged in gambling to enhance their levels of arousal. We derive our life's meaning and purpose from what we do. It empowers an individual and gives a feeling of contentment. There is no clear idea on when the lockdown will be lifted. With increased time in hand and reduced sense of purpose in life, people are at increased risk of experiencing boredom for a prolonged period of time. This could result in engagement in high risk behaviour: extreme recreational activities, and dependency on smoking or drinking in order to kill time. Empirical evidence from studies by Kılıç.A et al (2019) asserts that boredom indeed is associated with making riskier decisions.

In a study conducted by Wilson T et al (2014), it was concluded that if people are left alone in a room, they were willing to administer small electric shocks to than be deprived of sensory stimulation.

The startling results definitely leave us with something to think over.
During these times of unprecedented crisis, Boredom has turned into a pressing mental health concern. It is a negative emotion, with distinguishing features like disengagement, slow time perception, dwindling attention, agitation and fatigue. It's a different experience from depression. Studies have supported that people are struggling with it and could lead to involvement in dangerous behaviour. There needs to be development of policies and frameworks addressing this issue, helping people cope up with it.

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priyanka
Junior Research Fellow.

I'm author of this article Understanding boredom in lockdown.

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