Written by Ellen Scott
Constant boredom isn’t great, but a lull over Christmas could do you wonders. Experts explain why.
Not to sound Grinch-y, but once you’ve opened the presents and eaten all the good Celebrations, the Christmas period is a bit… boring. The hours stretch out before you, with nothing to do but laze about or regress to your teenage self and start an argument with your family.
Faced with the inevitable dullness that comes after the Christmas rush, it’s tempting to pack your Twixmas days with activities or get started on all your 2023 goals. But in fact, settling in and embracing a bit of boredom could be exactly what your brain needs.
Here’s why – and a guide to doing this bland blur of time right.
Why boredom is good for our brains
The first benefit of boredom is rest. Days that aren’t jam-packed allow us to recharge.
“We have become so used to constant activity and stimulation that many of us fear boredom and see it entirely as a negative thing,” Becky Hall, a life coach, leadership consultant and the author of The Art Of Enough, tells Stylist. “Yet our physiology needs it – our nervous systems need time to ‘rest and digest’ and our brains integrate the activity of the day when we sleep. Learning to invite the quiet moments and make peace with having no stimulation is a really healthy thing.”
Another reason a little bit of boredom is good for us is that it’s an opportunity for us to slow down and just do nothing. This allows us to think without a constant stream of distraction, whether that’s in the form of entertainment or busyness. Our brains can wander. We can daydream. That’s a wonderful thing – it can allow us to think more creatively and solve problems that have bugged us for weeks.
Chris Griffiths, co-author of The Creative Thinking Handbook, says: “Boredom can be good for us. Or rather, the state that induces boredom can be. We’re living in an age where entertainment is always at our fingertips. From the constant proximity of our devices to streaming services available 24/7, we rarely sit in silence any more.
“But boredom is what manifests when we’re not pouring our attention into something else, and it’s only in this state of softened focus that our brains can make deeper, subconscious connections. Boredom is also heavily associated with daydreaming. When our mind wanders, our concentration relaxes and we begin to uncover important creative ideas and novel solutions to problems.”
These slow days also help us unpick the guilt around doing nothing. Everyone needs and deserves rest, but all too often we feel shame around not being constantly productive. Fencing off some time for boredom can help to unlearn some of that discomfort.
“Embrace doing less,” Hall urges. “This is the classic opportunity for us to reframe and reset our approach to boredom and rest. I call it ‘enough’ and it’s when we stop worrying about what we should be doing, we move away from focusing on the fear of not doing enough, or the overwhelm of having too much, and really embrace the present moment. I recommend becoming really conscious and intentional about what we are doing to rest – especially for those of us who are in the habit of leading busy lives.”
There can be too much of a good thing, however. While small doses of boredom can be beneficial, Counselling Directory member Ruhena Akhtar warns that long stretches could trigger unhelpful emotions.
“Boredom can be a painful factor in one’s life and can exacerbate feeling lonely or not having much to do,” Akhtar shares. “It can be a sore place to be; a reminder of what someone lost, or perhaps didn’t have or manage to achieve and much more.”
What’s key, then, is approaching and using boredom – and the do-nothing days of the festive period – in a healthy way. How do we do that?
How to make Christmas boredom a positive thing
Don’t beat yourself up for doing nothing
Doing nothing won’t feel restful if the entire time you’re berating yourself as lazy or unproductive. Make an effort to remind yourself of the benefits of rest when that negative inner voice comes a-knocking.
“Remember that doing nothing is good for us,” says Hall. “Reframe it as something intentional – we’re choosing it because it’s rejuvenating.”
Pull yourself out of negative rumination
Do you fear that the moment your brain isn’t occupied, all those negative thoughts will come rushing in? Hey, we’ve been there. And we’re sure you know that hours pondering all the stuff you’re not happy about isn’t the path to feeling good.
“If you’re looking to reap the brain benefits of time off, you must resist spending your down time mulling over worries,” says Griffiths.
How do you do that? It can help to schedule in ‘worry time’ – that’s a classic CBT technique that sees you scheduling in times for worries so you know they’re not allowed to creep in at all hours of the day. You might also want to do a fact-checking exercise of negative thoughts: do you actually have any evidence for a mean thought you’re having? What if the opposite were true?
Do something soothing (but not exciting)
Griffiths says: “Engaging in something mindless that still keeps you occupied is the perfect state for boredom-induced daydreaming, whether that’s working through the washing up, getting out for a walk, or even making some paper snowflakes. These kinds of tasks are ideal for inducing the daydreaming state, which is associated with elevated cognition, while also relaxing your brain and helping to alleviate burnout.”
Could now be the time you finally give knitting a go? Or try a spot of collage? Or fold all your socks the KonMari way?
Something screen-free and repetitive is ideal here.
Consciously slow down
Take a moment to consciously say that you’re choosing to do nothing, that you’re embracing boredom, rather than slipping into it mindlessly. This is not a time for aimless scrolling or channel surfing, but an opportunity to deliberately rest and relax.
Hall says: “I recommend becoming really conscious and intentional about what we are doing to rest – especially for those of us who are in the habit of leading busy lives. Being busy can be addictive, so learning how to slow down needs conscious effort.”
Savour small, mundane joys
Akhtar is a fan of building small breaks into our days to help us get used to the idea that doing nothing is OK.
We’d add to that: keep those little things up over the festive period, and remind yourself to really savour them.
“These acts of self-care can be something as small as enjoying a cup of tea in peace for five minutes, practicing five minutes of mindfulness or taking a 10-minute walk, it does not have to be anything big,” Akhtar encourages. “You can build up to it. Consistency is important.”
Make space for daydreaming
When was the last time you really let your brain wander?
Griffiths says: “Daydreaming is the secret ingredient that makes boredom brain-friendly, and in order for it to work you need to be truly free thinking. Research from the University of British Columbia showed that when we concentrate our brain’s function is like a spotlight of focused attention, and so it’s only when we daydream that our whole brain lights up.
“Plus, by making this time to daydream properly you may even uncover some clever solutions to the worries that have been eating you up.”
Reframe this boring, quiet period as a gift to yourself
“Let’s try to give ourselves a holiday from worrying, planning and getting caught up in habitual busyness,” says Hall. “I love the idea of ‘wintering’ and hibernating. We don’t get much time in our lives for this, and I always find Twixmas is the perfect time for this.
“I really see this as giving yourself the gift of calm over Christmas. Whether it’s half an hour to reflect, or just to sit with a cup of tea with no intention at all – it’s such a healthy reset. It’s absolutely about being not doing – and it really is enough!”
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