With winter in full swing, children and adults alike are experiencing boredom as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and weather are obstacles to traditional pastimes.
Elizabeth Weybright, interim director of WSU Extension’s Youth and Families Program Unit, says boredom in teens and young adults had been on the rise before 2020, but the pandemic has worsened things significantly.
“We know that there’s this broader dissatisfaction that adolescents are experiencing,” Weybright says. “We’re seeing it increasing in girls more than boys.”
Weybright began collecting data on boredom in March by following tweets that contained #COVID19 and “bored,” as well as following Google trends for the word, “boredom.” As schools closed, teleworking took off, and social distancing measures were implemented, Weybright and her team saw a steady increase in unique tweets that discussed boredom and how to prevent it. However, by May, mentions of boredom had decreased significantly.
Weybright also surveyed college students for a separate study, starting fall 2019 and continuing until May, and used that opportunity to ask the students how they were coping with boredom.
“People are saying things like, ‘This is the most bored I’ve ever been in my life,’” Weybright says.
While some of the respondents are using their extra time to get ahead in classes, others are having a harder time coping.
“Boredom derives from wanting to engage in a satisfying activity but not being able to do so,” Weybright says. “It can be internal reasons or external reasons.”
Some internal reasons can be depression or anxiety, but restrictions due to the pandemic are some of the major external reasons preventing people from engaging, Weybright says. Since adolescents are more aware of how they fit in socially, not being able to interact with their peers can affect them more deeply than other age groups.
“You have to acknowledge your adolescent’s developmental needs,” Weybright says. “Some parents are finding a group of people they are okay with their teens hanging out with.”
But Weybright also says that coping with boredom is an important skill for people of all ages to learn.
“Boredom is normal and not inherently good or bad. Like any other emotion, it’s just giving us information,” Weybright says. “Sitting with the uncomfortableness of being bored is a useful learning experience.”
Weybright says to tackle boredom, people should ask themselves why they’re bored and explore new pastimes.
“If I’m bored because I don’t have any place to go, can I develop a new interest? My energy levels have changed during COVID … maybe I can find more things to do around the house that match my current level because everything is so hard to do right now,” Weybright says. “It takes some self-reflection.”
Elizabeth Weybright (Courtesy WSU CAHNRS)