6 Ways to Deal With Boredom in Addiction Recovery
Boredom during addiction recovery is both common and dangerous. There are several reasons boredom is more common when you’re starting recovery. First, you may discover that you suddenly have a lot of extra time on your hands and you’re not sure what to do with it. Most people don’t realize how much time drugs and alcohol can devour. You may also be trying to distance yourself from friends who use drugs and alcohol, so your social activity may be temporarily diminished.
Boredom is also amplified by what’s going on in your brain when you first get sober. When you use drugs and alcohol, you’re essentially overclocking your dopamine system and this may go on for years or decades. When you quit, your brain is underwhelmed by things that might normally be interesting and enjoyable. Your brain is only sensitive to things related to drugs and alcohol. As a result, a lot of things will seem boring during the time it takes your brain to recalibrate.
This can be dangerous because boredom is stressful and during active addiction, it’s a problem you likely solved with drugs or alcohol. Therefore, it’s important to learn to deal with boredom in addiction recovery. Here are some tips.
There Is No Quick Fix
These days, most of us immediately reach for our phones when we feel the slightest bit bored but this is really only a superficial solution. It turns down your boredom from a distressing eight to a tolerable six. As a result, you may end up wasting hours doing a moderately boring activity like scrolling through Facebook or Reddit rather than doing something that might actually be fulfilling or productive. These kinds of time-wasters are fairly mind-numbing and will probably only make you feel more agitated in the long run.
What Is Boredom?
Keep in mind that your boredom may be trying to tell you something. Your problem is usually not that you have nothing to do, but rather that no available option seems appealing, engaging, or satisfying. Your brain may be trying to tell you something. Perhaps your usual activities don’t promote ends you really care about or perhaps your values or priorities have changed in ways you haven’t acknowledged. Boredom is an opportunity to think these things over and possibly consider new directions. Just be careful that you don’t fall into negative rumination.
Examine Your Thinking About Boredom
Boredom is not fundamentally different from any other challenging emotion. It’s typically some mix of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and lethargy. You want to do something but you’re not sure what. You can cope with boredom and the distress caused by boredom using the same techniques you would use to cope with other challenging emotions like anger or anxiety. If you have been through an addiction treatment program, you probably learned quite a few of these techniques while participating in cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy.
One common approach is to examine your underlying assumptions. For example, you might have trouble engaging with an activity if you’re thinking something like, “I’ll never get better at this,” or “there’s no point in doing this anyway.” Or perhaps you’re feeling distressed because of how you think about boredom, maybe something like, “It’s unfair that I feel bored; I shouldn’t feel this way,” when in reality, everyone feels bored occasionally. Spotting these faulty beliefs and challenging them can help you feel less bored or at least less bothered by boredom.
Do Something Boring
This one seems paradoxical, but if you try it, you might find it helpful. Part of the reason boredom is irritating is that we do something with the expectation that it will be fun and interesting but then it doesn’t deliver. However, when you vacuum the living room or put away your laundry, you don’t expect it to be fun; you just want the result. If you’re bored and nothing seems to engage your attention, pick something on your to-do list and do it. You may still find it boring but you’re bored anyway and this way, you’ll at least get something done. What’s more, you may find that doing something--anything--gets you out of your rut.
Rearrange Your Schedule
Occasional boredom is unavoidable. Maybe you’re stuck in another pointless meeting at work or your dentist is running behind schedule. However, if you’re frequently bored, you may not have enough to do. See if there’s something you can add to your schedule to keep you a little more busy--a 12-Step meeting, a standing coffee date, a workout, an art class, whatever. The trick is to structure your days so that you have enough to do that you’re not bored but not so much to do that you feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Set a Timer
Finally, when nothing seems satisfying, try setting a timer for 10 minutes or so and sticking with an activity for the whole time, even if it feels tedious and pointless at first. Many activities, especially complex and productive activities, take a certain amount of effort and focus for them to be engaging. It may take a few minutes to get into a novel you’re reading or to remember where you left off on a project.
If you give up after a couple of minutes of feeling disinterested, you’ll never get into it. Sometimes you just have to persist until you overcome that initial resistance. Try picking something you want to do and sticking with it for a certain length of time no matter what. If you’re still not into it after 10 or 15 minutes, try something else.
Boredom is a real problem in recovery, but it’s no different from other challenging emotions. Remember that, like other emotions, boredom is just information. It’s an opportunity to think things over and it doesn’t have to be distressing. It can also be an opportunity to do something useful and to practice overcoming inertia.
At The Foundry, we understand that recovery from addiction isn’t just about abstinence from drugs and alcohol; it’s about living a happier, more fulfilling life. We use a variety of proven methods to help our clients tolerate and manage stressful emotions as part of a holistic treatment program. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.