Having our days filled with virtual meetings can be draining, and the content we consume online can take a toll on our health. After several weeks in lockdown, many in our community continue to try to balance online time from offline time and find other ways to overcome boredom as we wait for stay-at-home orders to be lifted.

James Danckert is a Waterloo professor in the Department of Psychology and expert on quarantine boredom. On Wednesday, June 3, he joined us for this week’s Ask our Experts community talk to share his work about the boredom people experienced during SARS, as well as answer your questions about what to do with your time during quarantine.

What is boredom?

“Boredom is not apathy and it’s not laziness,” Danckert says. “When we’re bored, we have a desire. We want to be engaged and doing something that matters to us.”

Danckert explains boredom as an uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling that causes us to be in a state of agitation. During these uncertain times, boredom is telling us we’re not being particularly effective as human beings the way we would like to be. There is this level of pain we feel in boredom that pushes us to take action.

“We want to feel like our actions, our choices and our behaviours that flow from desires … provide us with the opportunities to showcase our skills and talent,” Danckert says. “This is what psychologists call a sense of agency.”

Danckert explains the problem of boredom is that many people have the desire to take action, but our agency is being restricted by social isolation protocols. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, studies show that the primary cause of why people break rules of social isolation is because people are feeling “loss of freedom and boredom”.

A similarity that Danckert sees within people during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Children and boredom

Children and teenagers who feel boredom will often approach their parents to fix the problem for them. Danckert explains that parents would often give their children options that had worked in the past to relieve boredom. But for some reason these days, children will say no to those options that were once fun and engaging.

“When a child says, ‘I’m bored’,” Danckert says. “Instead of telling them to do this and do that, let them figure out their boredom themselves.”

He provides additional advice that screen time can be a positive relief for boredom. Danckert adds, “By letting children play video games online, it allows them to stay socially connected with friends that they would have normally done in the school yard.”

Pressure to try new things

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people on social media would like to make a link that boredom will make someone creative. Danckert recommends that people shouldn’t really put pressure on other people to be creative and trying new things at this time.

“Creative outlets can work really well to eliminate boredom but that’s not always the case … creativity takes practice,” Danckert says.

Danckert recommends people change the way they see and feel about the circumstance of self-isolation. People should refrain from setting high expectations on themselves and reframe their goals into smaller and attainable chunks. Danckert adds, “We don’t have a lot of time in our hands the way we think we do.”

List of resources for quarantine boredom

Here are some resources Danckert recommends for learning more:

Watch the Danckert’s full talk on quarantine boredom

Join us online for the next Ask our Expert community talk

Next week, our final Waterloo expert will Roderick Slavcev, a professor at the School of Pharmacy. There’s a global race to produce a vaccine that will be effective in protecting people from COVID-19. Right here at the University of Waterloo, Professor Roderick Slavcev and his team are working on a DNA-based option.

On Wednesday, June 10 at noon, Slavcev will discuss his work, talk about why finding a vaccine is so important and answer your questions about how COVID-19 will be managed moving forward.