By Katherine Lee, LCSW
Learning how to beat the boredom in social interactions. Or not…
Bored during a movie, or a lecture? No problem. Daydreaming in these situations never hurt anyone else’s feelings. But what if you feel prone to boredom during social interactions? Experiencing boredom during conversation may feel fleeting and harmless to some. To others, moments like these can feel scary and paralyzing. Handling lack of interest during conversation may not only feel difficult to tolerate –it also requires us to make careful decisions with people whose opinions we care about.
Why the fear?
Why do many of us fear having nothing to say? Why do we tend to feel trapped during moments of indifference, or during those dreaded “awkward silences.” Perhaps you worry that you “should” be interested in the new TV series your friend is so riveted by. If you have nothing to say, you may feel concerned it will mean the conversation has fallen flat, or that you won’t be seen as interesting. Recognizing anxiety in moments of boredom not only provides us with more insight; it can also help inform what we choose to do next.
Or maybe you actually have something to say. Many of us give into the urge to edit ourselves if we think that what we have to say may sound “stupid,” may embarrass us, or sound trivial. Instead of taking a chance, we give into a different urge: The urge to mentally check out. We actually choose to experience boredom. It oftentimes feels safer than the risk of exposing ourselves in some way, or the risk of feeling rejected by someone we care about.
So what can we do about it?
There are those who argue that boredom is always a choice: That we DO boredom as a convenient escape. This may sound liberating to some: it offers the opportunity to seek for a way to find interest in the otherwise “uninteresting.” It has the opposite effect for those of us already prone to social anxiety and self-monitoring. Feeling like you have to stay on top of yourself double-time can make for a mentally draining task.
Attempting to get rid of a feeling repeatedly can feel harmful rather than helpful. You may already notice that during those dreaded “boring moments” with others, you try to banish certain thoughts, telling yourself to “stop feeling bored; that you ‘have’ to be engaged.” This likely not only works against your favor, you may also wind up feeling defeated. A different perspective is the option of learning to accept that these moments have the opportunity to pop up in any situation, including conversation. The practice of mindfulness can help to better accept feelings of restlessness as they come up, to decrease feelings of panic, and to have greater self-compassion: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-overcome-boredom-or-agitation-with-mindfuln.html. Seeking out the service of a psychotherapist or psychologist who works from a cognitive-behavioral (CBT) perspective may help to further understand mindfulness practice, and managing emotions.
Therapy sessions, in general, are a great way to address dealing with social anxiety and moments of boredom during interaction. As with other relationships, silences may fill the room at times, even when you come in geared up to discuss a particular topic. A skilled therapist is able to pick up on moments when a client experiences feeling stuck, and can help to look deeper during such moments. Quite simply, therapy can help you to make different choices in your social interactions. Or not. It’s always up to you.