5 Ways to Cope with Boredom in Addiction Recovery
Boredom is often a reason people begin using drugs and alcohol in the first place. The problem is not the boredom itself but rather that many people are uncomfortable being left alone with their own thoughts. For people who have experienced trauma or abuse, and people who suffer from the symptoms of mental health issues, boredom isn’t merely boring; it’s actually painful. A strong recovery entails treating co-occurring mental health issues and addressing old wounds of trauma and abuse. For people just starting out in recovery, boredom can remain problematic. This may be compounded by other factors as well. For example, the rate of addiction is much higher among people with ADHD, who are both easily bored and prone to risky behavior. And since many people start recovery with very low levels of dopamine in their brains, pretty much anything can feel boring, compounding the common fear that being sober means not being able to have fun ever again. In reality, everyone is bored sometimes. The crushing boredom caused by low dopamine will gradually get better. Meanwhile, here are some tips for coping with boredom in addiction recovery.
Don’t rely on social media.
Every once in a while, you’ll see an article claiming that our hyperconnected culture has eliminated boredom because we all carry a device with endless potential to amuse us when we have nothing else to do. However, it’s probably more accurate to say that we have papered over boredom. Social media isn’t so much a cure for boredom as it is a boredom trap. That is, it gives you something to do for as long as you’re willing to engage with it, but it doesn’t actually make you less bored. In fact, it keeps you from finding something more satisfying to do. While it might be tempting to just have a quick look at Twitter or Instagram when you feel bored, consider the possibility that you might still be looking at it two hours from now and feeling even more bored.
Ask yourself what you’re putting off.
Boredom isn’t so much about having nothing to do as it is about not having anything we want to do. If you really thought about, there are probably a dozen useful things you could be doing at any given moment but for whatever reason, you choose not to. If you’re feeling bored and restless, there’s a good chance there’s something you feel like you should be doing, but for whatever reason, you don’t want to do it. Ask yourself why you don’t want to do it. It could be that you’re afraid, as when you have to have a difficult conversation. Often, procrastination is a result of perfectionist thinking. You are afraid you can’t do something sufficiently well, so you put off starting. It can be hard to face the fear of starting the thing you’ve been putting off but it’s the best way to overcome the aimless anxiety that comes with procrastination. Just getting started is usually enough. Even if it’s not a particularly impressive start, it gives you something to build on. In fact, one powerful technique for overcoming procrastination is to intentionally do something badly to overcome your initial resistance, then fix it later.
Use boredom to help you find direction.
As noted above, boredom doesn’t come from having nothing to do; it comes from having nothing you want to do. Sometimes this is a result of procrastination and sometimes it’s a signal from somewhere deep in your brain that you need to reassess your priorities. When you’re bored, the areas of your brain that compose the default mode network, or DMN, become active. The DMN is primarily involved with creating a coherent sense of self. Part of your sense of self is having well-established values, goals, and priorities. When you’re bored, your DMN kicks on and engages in some big-picture thinking. How have you been spending your time lately? Are your friends helping you be the kind of person you want to be? Does your career align with your deepest values? When you’re bored, you have time to consider these important questions. It’s worth noting, however, that an active DMN is also associated with depression and anxiety. Letting the DMN have too much free rein can lead to rumination and undermine your mental health.
Start learning something new.
Part of the frustration of boredom is that all the things that normally engage or entertain you seem somehow flat or hollow. It’s perplexing how something that was great yesterday seems totally pointless today. It could be that the things you normally preoccupy yourself with have become a bit too familiar. Our brains need something new from time to time to keep us engaged and challenge our perspective. If you feel bored and restless, it might be the perfect time to start that new thing you’ve been meaning to do for a while. Start learning Italian with Duolingo or use some free tutorials to start learning Photoshop. Boredom might be your brain’s way of telling you it’s finally time to start blazing a new trail. Some of these activities might also help strengthen your recovery by giving you a sense of direction and encouraging you to engage with a new community.
Reach out to others.
It’s easy to confuse boredom and loneliness. We’re often bored when we’re alone. It’s possible to be bored around other people, but we’re typically not bored around people we like. If you’re bored, try reaching out to some friends. Get together or make plans. Use your down time to strengthen some of the social connections that are so important for recovery. You might even be able to find a 12-step meeting starting soon. At the very least, being around other sober people will limit your temptation to drink or use drugs.
At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.