Boredom is like an emotional oxymoron. Your mind itches for something to do, but your body doesn't respond.
This universal human experience ranks at the bottom of our list of desirable emotions, and while boredom springs from various sources, people report almost uniform sensations of lazy restlessness [source: Martin et al]. But what happens when that flat-lined feeling doesn't go away? Can you — as the saying beloved to angst-ridden teenagers goes — really die of boredom?
Run-of-the-mill boredom alone won't kill you. But, in a roundabout way, it can pose problems for adolescents. Today's teenagers in particular may be susceptible to boredom from a combination of overstimulation and lack of coping skills when action dies down.
Some adults, however, don't grow out of typical teenage boredom. Certain personalities that gravitate toward high-risk lifestyles also experience chronic boredom. While the relationship between the two isn't completely understood by science, it can spiral into danger. In fact, boredom-prone people are more likely to engage in activities including alcohol abuse, drug addiction, compulsive gambling and eating disorders [source: Gosline].
This type of endless ennui also happens more to men and people with brain injuries and certain psychotic disorders. For drug addicts, fighting boredom can predict their success in kicking their habit as well.
In cases like these, boredom simultaneously serves as a symptom and a stimulant for adverse behavior. People may not have the coping mechanisms and ability to put circumstances in perspective to overcome boredom, leading to continuous dissatisfaction.
Boredom seems to be more common in women, young people, those who are on a low employment level and those who don't do a lot of physical activity. A 2010 study concluded that "those with a great deal of boredom were more likely to die during follow-up than those not bored at all. In particular, they were more likely to die from a CVD [cardiovascular disease] fatal event... However, the state of boredom is almost certainly a proxy for other risk factors" [source: Britton and Shipley]. In other words, the people in the study weren't dying of literal boredom. But boredom led to them to unhealthy behaviors like excessive drinking, smoking and taking drugs.
What exactly is this elusive phenomenon of boredom, and why is it so unpleasant? We'll stoop down and take a closer look at this lowest of the lows on the next page.