“Bored to death.” It’s a common phrase that we have all heard, and even said. However, for many people, especially seniors, boredom is more than just bothersome – it is dangerous, pervasive and can have dire consequences.
Boredom often goes hand in hand with feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness. It can strip away at a person’s overall health, purpose and self worth. Why is it that being bored is so damaging?
Researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London reviewed data from over 7,500 civil servants aged 35-55 who were interviewed about their levels of boredom in the late 1980s.
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Twenty-five years later, the researchers followed up on the status of these individuals and concluded that those who reported being bored were more likely to die young – in fact, the report determined that “those who experienced ‘high levels’ of tedium are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to die from heart disease or stroke than those satisfied with their lot.”
These numbers are staggering and is further evidence that mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked.
A vast number of seniors report experiencing feelings of boredom during their retirement years. For many, this comes as a shock – after all, retirement has been marketed as your reward for years of hard work. This thought process only compounds the feelings of depression, shame and purposelessness that often accompany boredom. The reality is, many people are faced with a retirement that is entirely different than what they had imagined: one tainted with isolation and loneliness due to death of family and/or friends, the loss of a consistent routine, declining health or lack of mobility.
Senior men reportedly experience the most negative impacts of boredom, which can lead to a concerning new epidemic. Statistics show that men aged 85 years and older are the group with the highest suicide rates. Unfortunately, senior women also struggle and “although the rate of suicide deaths are lower among senior women, they have an overall higher rate of attempted suicide compared to senior men.”
Mitch Anthony, author of “The New Retirementality,” suggests that men tend to “underestimate the need for balance” and the value of what work brings them. Anthony suggests that “when you remove your work, your leisure becomes work… it’s then that many retirees become bored, and sometimes also depressed.”
There are a variety of ways seniors can fight boredom that can be modified to accommodate any level of mental and physical ability:
Hobbies are a great outlet to express yourself creatively. Trying your hand at building model airplanes, crafting or watercolor painting helps to produce feelings of accomplishment and stimulate brain function.
Continue being as physically active as your body will allow. Many senior living communities offer exercise classes and walking groups specifically for individuals with physically-limiting conditions. Chair-based exercises can be completed in the comfort of your own home and help to maintain strong bones and muscles.
It is important not to isolate yourself. Ongoing connection and social interaction with others is beneficial for both cognitive function and mental health. Connect with family members in person or over the phone, meet friends for coffee or join a men’s/women’s league to stay socially active and maintain a sense of community.
Step out of your comfort zone and try something new! Whether it is taking joining a book club, taking a class or volunteering for an important cause. Break out of your shell and stretch yourself by trying something new. You’ll not only combat boredom and increase your health, you may even extend your life.
Were you aware that boredom kills? Which ways do you combat boredom in your life? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.