Mental Health

Lockdown boredom can feel like burnout — and it's just as bad for you

Worried you might be suffering from 'boreout'? Here's what to do about it

22 July 2020 - 08:00 By Sanet Oberholzer
You may feel extremely bored but the symptoms can be very similar to experiencing burnout.
You may feel extremely bored but the symptoms can be very similar to experiencing burnout.
Image: 123RF/Antonio Guillem

Lockdown has been a strange period in which people have complained either about being severely overworked or succumbing to extreme boredom.

While overexerting yourself may lead to burnout — a phrase we have become all too familiar with in recent times — the opposite may also be harmful to your physical and mental health. In fact, suffering from both burnout and boredom can result in similar symptoms including depression and anxiety.

It comes as no surprise that an analysis by Google Trends shows a spike in people googling the phrase “I am bored” between March 29 and April 4 of this year. While this coincides with the beginning of SA’s lockdown, the search spiked worldwide as the globe participated in a collective lockdown.

What has been termed as “boreout” is a phenomenon that is believed to have increased in recent months. While many people have been allowed to resume employment, many have lost their jobs or are yet to return to their normal routines while sectors of the economy remain closed.

“Anxiety, especially performance-based anxiety from not feeling like you are performing enough, feelings of worthlessness and uselessness — especially if you have attached a lot of meaning to your career and your performance — may lead to depression and isolation and impact your relationships,” says Dr Pauline Mawson, a clinical psychologist from Benoni, Ekurhuleni.

Mawson says the effects of being bored can be broad and impact all areas of your life. While it may be caused by not being able to participate in your usual employment, people may also become bored when they don’t have enough work, or when they have a mundane job that doesn’t challenge them.

People may also become bored when they don’t have enough work, or when they have a mundane job that doesn’t challenge them.

The most important part is realising and recognising that you may be suffering from boreout.

“It is important to identify the underlying cause and address it appropriately,” says Mawson. For example, you may need to take up DIY jobs at home or ask your superior to trust you with more challenging tasks.

“Identify your feelings and the thoughts associated with them, such as ‘I’m not achieving anything at work’ or ‘I’m not good enough’, as well as any fatigue and/or physical symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, like headaches, stomach pain and dizziness,” says Mawson.

If you are feeling bored despite being employed, you may need to be honest with your employer. Mawson suggests using “I” language rather than “you” language — for example, using phrases such as “I would like to be challenged more” instead of “You don't challenge me enough”.

If you are experiencing boredom because you are currently unable to work, you need to take proactive steps.

“Be creative, think out the box, study something new, upskill yourself, challenge yourself to something new,” advises Mawson.

“Don't attribute all of your worth or meaning as a person to your work.”