Research suggests a link between boredom and heart problems
I’m bored to death. The expression is familiar, but could it be true? Researchers from University College London recently found a link between boredom and the increased likelihood of death from a heart attack.
Published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the study found that people who reported feeling bored “quite a lot” or “a great deal” were more than twice as likely to die from heart problems as those who reported little to no bored feelings.
Cleveland Clinic psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, wasn’t surprised.
“It has long been thought that boredom is a stressor,” he says. “Generally, stress shortens our lifespan more than other risk factors, like smoking or obesity.”
The body’s reaction to uncontrolled stress, such as excessive hormone secretion and elevated blood pressure, poses a risk to the heart. And while boredom may not appear to be overtly stressful – imagine a child stuck inside on a rainy day – it often serves as a proxy for other concerns.
“When children say they’re bored, they’re really asking for your attention,” says Dr. Bea, a Staff Member in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology within the Neurological Institute. “Perhaps it’s no different for adults.”
Consistently feeling bored at work can take its toll both emotionally and physically. Dr. Bea notes that oftentimes, people attempt to combat their boredom with health-affecting habits such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs or overeating. The study found that those who reported the highest levels of boredom also reported the lowest level of physical activity. Indeed, a sedentary lifestyle is a known contributor to heart disease.
More women than men reported feelings of boredom, which Dr. Bea suspects is caused by a lack of social connection. “Women are thought to value social connectedness to a greater degree than men,” he says.
The study, which was based on questions asked of more than 7,500 people between the ages of 35 and 55, also revealed that younger people reported more boredom than those who are older.
“As culture and technology advance, there are increasing levels of sensory stimulation, which has raised the expectations for younger generations,” says Dr. Bea. “Younger folks may require more and more of this stimulation in order to fight off the feelings of boredom. Older generations may not have such lofty requirements.”
To stave off chronic boredom, Dr. Bea recommends strengthening social connections both at and outside the workplace, along with developing observational skills or a mindfulness practice. “Something as simple as observing nature stimulates the senses and creates a connection outside of ourselves,” he says. “Likewise, paying attention to the thoughts that produce boredom or other upsets is a useful means for change.”
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