Nobody likes being bored, but I really take it to the extreme. I’ll excuse myself from parties if the conversation turns to small talk. During one retreat where internet use was prohibited, I snuck under my blanket to use mine. In other words, I have a low tolerance for boredom. And how someone handles boredom can actually tell you a lot about them.
On the one hand, my tendency to avoid boring situations can be healthy. I know myself well enough and prioritize my time enough to understand when I’d be better served by doing something else and to make an exit unapologetically. On the other hand, being bored isn’t always avoidable. And when I realized that being stuck in unavoidably boring situations filled me with disproportionate rage, I figured that was probably something to look at.
By forcing myself to sit with boredom, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that because of my tendency toward worry and self-criticism, my mind was not a very pleasant place to be, which contributed to my need for distraction. I also learned that through mindfulness and positive thinking, I had the power to make my mind a more pleasant place. Now, I still seek out situations that provide more stimulation when I have the option. But when I don’t, I can direct my mind toward constructive and positive thoughts, rather than wanting to jump out of my skin.
If you share my low tolerance for boredom, here are some things that could say about you. Some are advantages and some are things to work on, so you’ll have to decide which it is for you. Maybe, as with me, it’s a combination.
1. A High IQ
If you need constant intellectual stimulation, at least there’s a silver lining: It could mean you’re smart, Casherie Bright, ACMHC, a mental health counselor at the Neurotherapy and Trauma Center of Utah, tells Bustle. Some people just aren’t intellectually challenged by things that challenge others, or they understand things more quickly and are ready to talk about something else before others are. If this is the case, your low tolerance for boredom comes from the fact that you’re probably getting more bored than the people around you.
The other positive side of a low tolerance for boredom is that you may just have a ton of things to accomplish and don’t want to waste a second. Small talk can get frustrating when you’re on a mission to understand the meaning of life! As long as you’re able to tolerate boring situations when necessary and you’re respectful about it, it’s OK to exit situations you’re not getting anything out of. “With all the world in front of you, with all there is to be learned, to be experienced, etc., how can you waste a minute of those precious few that you are given being bored?” Pablo Solomon, a designer, futurist, and former counselor, tells Bustle.
3. Avoidance Of Emotions
When you have nothing external occupying your mind, you may be forced to attend to thoughts and feelings you usually repress. So, avoiding boredom could be a way to avoid these thoughts and feelings. “Painful emotions — past, present or imagined can make you so nervous that you just cannot be quiet within your own mind,” says Solomon. “While dealing with emotional pain is not so easy, it can be done with proper guidance.”
Boredom and depression can look similar, says Bright. “One hallmark of depression is a loss of joy or excitement for life or activities,” she says. “This in essence is boredom. People with high-functioning depression often purposely make themselves busy and occupied, so as not to feel the boredom that can come with depression.” If your boredom feels like depression and comes during activities that used to entertain you, then you may be suffering from depression.
Low tolerance for boredom is one lesser-known but common symptom of ADD and ADHD, licensed counselor and life coach Monte Drenner tells Bustle. “The ADD/ADHD mind craves constant stimulation, so boredom is one of the least things that people with these disorders can tolerate,” he says. “Boredom for someone with ADD/ADHD is very uncomfortable and can actually make them anxious. Because they are uncomfortable and anxious, they will do what they can to relieve these unpleasant emotions. Often, people with ADD/ADHD choose poor ways to deal with boredom like drinking or drugging or some type of other risky behavior. There are many ways that someone will attempt to avoid boredom particularly boring tasks. Often, they choose to procrastinate or they rush through the task in order to just get it done.”
6. A Type A Personality
People who are perfectionists and determined to be productive have a harder time with boredom. “People with this personality type always feel they need to be accomplishing something or making progress,” says Drenner. Sometimes, this is linked to issues like anxiety or obsessive compulsive personality disorder, but it isn’t always.
Boredom may be a trigger for those struggling with an addiction, since there’s no distraction from the thing they’re addiction to, Drenner says. Keeping yourself occupied can be an effective coping mechanism, but it’s also important to have others when that isn’t an option.
Low tolerance for boredom, like many things, is only a problem if it causes you distress. But in my experience, if you can learn to stick with “boring” situations, you may find they’re not all that boring after all.