The Benefits of Boredom

Written by Megan Farcas, LMHC (Clinical Supervisor, Senior Clinician)

In 2018, a technology company completed a study which found that Americans check their phone on average 80 times a day, roughly once every 12 minutes, including when on vacation (Asurion, 2018). While this number may seem startling, the addition of "screen time" limits within smart phone settings in recent years show just how much our lives have been taken over by the use of screens, social media, and apps. It doesn’t end there—use of screen time is not only limited to smart phones but also other devices like computers and televisions. Distracting yourself can look like turning on the television every evening and zoning out until bed time or scrolling through emails on the computer even though they have all been replied to.

Most people are aware of the dangers of screen time use in regards to things like distracted driving. The National Security Counsel documents that cell phones are involved in 27% of all car crashes and are the cause of roughly 3,000 distracted driving deaths every year (NSC). Yet there are other more subtle ways that constant distraction can cause us harm. For example, screen use even distracts us from using the bathroom properly—90% of people admit that they take their phones with them to the bathroom and studies have found that people spend up to 40 minutes using the bathroom when they are on their phone even though from a physiological perspective it shouldn’t take more than 7-10 minutes (Fulton, 2017). Such a shift in a basic function can lead to physical problems and ailments, simply because we are too glued to our technology. 

So why is this? Why are we constantly distracting ourselves? In sessions with clients I often find that distraction is a way to avoid a deeper issue. It pushes off feelings of anxiety, depression, fear, sadness, or frustration to name a few. We engage in distraction because it works—but only temporarily. Eventually those feelings come back again and thus we engage in another distraction to avoid thinking about or feeling them (usually via screen time) that just perpetuates the cycle. Certainly there are times in sessions where part of the treatment plan is to utilize distraction techniques, but this is generally the case when the feeling or experience is insurmountable during an important moment (for example someone who is struggling with panic attacks while giving a presentation at work). Overall, the goal is not to always distract yourself, but to work towards managing the feelings and symptoms in other ways.

In my work with clients I have found that one way this can be done is by putting down the distractions and allowing yourself to be bored. 

Being bored is often correlated with laziness or a lack of motivation. In fact, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines boredom as "the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest". Despite this definition, studies have found that boredom is often beneficial—maybe even necessary—for problem solving and creativity. A 2019 study found that boredom actually helped increase productivity on activities that followed periods of boredom (Park, Lim, & Oh). Boredom also often leads many to daydream, which can boost problem solving ideas and creativity (Ducharme, 2019; Mann, 2014). Boredom has also been found to help boost and motivate us towards creating new goals (Elpidorou, 2014);when we are bored we often start to think about the future and ideas we have or changes we would like to make. Additionally it has been shown to increase social identification, positive memories, and nostalgic feelings (van Tilburg, 2011). 

Boredom can be hard to start if we are used to constantly distracting ourselves in order to push aside thoughts or feelings we are not ready to deal with. Sometimes the best way to work towards this is to allow ourselves momentary breaks from our constant distraction. Try taking a walk without listening to music or talking on the phone. Sit outside and let your mind wander without any agenda. Avoid looking at your phone when you are waiting in line or on public transit or sitting in a waiting room. Stop taking your phone to the bathroom. Instead, in these moments, allow yourself to be bored and see where your mind takes you. Do you start to come up with a creative solution or idea? Maybe you begin to daydream and reorient some of your goals. Do you find yourself becoming anxious? (Studies have shown that separation anxiety can be a response to not using technology, as 31% of people feel anxiety when separated from their phone (SWNS, 2017)). How long are you able to tolerate this feeling of discomfort? Can you work towards slowly decreasing the amount of time you spend desiring distraction vs. allowing yourself to reap some of the benefits of boredom? 

References

Ausurion (2018, May 17). Americans Don’t Want to Unplug from Phones While on Vacation. Retrieved from https://www.asurion.com/about/press-releases/americans-dont-want-to-unplug-from-phones-while-on-vacation-despite-latest-digital-detox-trend/

Ducharme J. (2019, January 4). Being Bored Can Be Good for You—If You Do It Right. Retrieved from http://time.com/5480002/benefits-of-boredom/

Elpidorou A. (2014, November 3). The Bright Side of Boredom. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01245/full

Fulton, W. (2017, June 25). iPhones Have Changed the Way We Poop... for the Worse. Retrieved from https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/smartphone-toilet-health-risks

Mann, S. (2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative? Creativity Research Journal, 26 (2), 165-173. 

NSC. Retrieved from https://www.nsc.org/home

Park, G., Lim, B.C., & Oh, H.S. (2019). Why Being Bored Might Not Be a Bad Thing after All. Journal of Academy Management, 5 (1). 

vanTill, W.A.P. (2011). Boredom and Its Psychological Consequences. University of Limerick. 

SWNS (2017, November 8). Americans Check Their Phones 80 Times A Day. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2017/11/08/americans-check-their-phones-80-times-a-day-study/

The Importance of Friends

Written by Dan Brown, MA (Director of Operations, Senior Clinician)

As a follower of Christ, I don’t know what I would do without my Christian and non-Christian friends alike.  These are people with whom I can share small moments like a kid’s birthday or big moments like the passing of a family member.  I need them in my life to share these moments, but I also need them in my life to point out my weak spots and to pray for me and my family.  

God did not design us to be alone.  The first thing in the Garden that was “not good” was that Adam was by himself.  He was alone.  God remedied that by giving him a companion.  

We need companions.  We need friends.  We need family members.  We need people even if we don’t always think we do.  Now, not all friends and family are helpful, but that will be a topic we cover in a future post.

From our chair in the counseling offices at Harbor, we are always curious to find out what natural supports a client has around them as well as any supports are not helpful.  Who in their life is positive to their mental health?  And who might not be a healthy influence in their life?  We look for people who love them and are willing to support them while at the same time not enabling them in any sinful or maladaptive behavior.  We look for people that are praying for them.

Mark’s account of the life of Jesus gives us an interesting look at what it means to be this kind of friend. Mark 2:3-5 reads:

“And they came, bringing to (Jesus) a paralytic carried by four men.  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

In this story, the author doesn’t elaborate on the nature of these four friends’ faith.  Maybe they were all good Jews, perhaps they were new converts to this radical Rabbi Jesus, or maybe they were a mix of normal guys from a fishing village.  The text doesn’t explicitly tell us about their faith, but what is made explicit is that these four men cared deeply for the paralytic man.  They knew was that Jesus was performing miracles and their friend needed one.  But they couldn’t get in the door.  So what did these friends do?  The ESV states that they literally ripped the roof off the place.  

What I want to point out in this text is that it does not say that the paralytic man’s faith made him well but rather that Jesus saw the faith of his friends and forgave the man his sins and healed him.

Now sure you exegetes out there are thinking there are other things going on in this text that are important, but for the purposes of this post let’s think of the friends we surround ourselves with and how we serve as a friend to others.  Do we have friends around us that are willing to rip roofs off to get us closer to Jesus?  And are we willing to rip off roofs for our friends to get them closer to Jesus?  Sometimes we can’t just say we will pray for our friends; rather, we need to put some feet to our prayers.  

The ultimate miracle that Jesus performs for the world is that He forgives sin, and this was the ultimate miracle for this man not just that he regained the strength of his legs.  You wonder if Jesus was thinking of Psalm 103:3 when He forgave the man wondering if the religious leaders would remember the rest of the verse or just get hung up on their religiosity?  

You might conclude that you don’t have four good friends like that in your life and the thought of that void reveals a deep sense of loneliness within you.   If so, maybe you can take a step into someone else’s life to be a better friend.  Maybe not a “rip off the roof” friend just yet (we have to work up to that) but someone that is present in someone else’s life, with whom you learn to listen and not just talk about your problems as they talk about their own concerns.  Or maybe you simply say to the friends around you that you’ll be praying for them.  And then, when they need something later, you’ll be able to put more feet to your prayers and become one of their four friends.  And by becoming a friend like this to someone else, maybe you’ll find one of your four friends in your own life.

Thinking About Problems (Part 1)

What are your goals in seeking counseling?  This is a question that we ask early and often in the counseling process, from the initial intake interview on through the various stages of growth and progress.  To go anywhere meaningful, we need to understand more than just what is unwanted, unhealthy, painful, or dysfunctional about the way things currently are.  Identifying these presenting problems or concerns is important, to be sure, but we also need to develop at least some sense of how those things ought to be instead.  What would be desirable, healthy, healing, functional…sound familiar?  By sketching out these goals and aims for counseling, we will know more clearly where to focus attention, what issues to prioritize, and how to measure progress along the way.

Of course, constructive goal setting is easier said than done.  Our presenting problems can feel so complex, so intractable, so deeply rooted, and so overwhelming that the idea of setting a goal can seem like an empty and arbitrary form of fairy tale thinking.

“I just want to feel better…happier…or at least just not like this.”

“I want to fix our marriage, but it’s been so bad for so long.”

“I know I need to be a better person, but I doubt anything will ever really change.”

Perhaps you have felt this way before.  We all have at some point in time.  From a biblical perspective, we recognize that the pernicious nature of sin, which exists within us and all around us, would very much like for us to remain stuck in this sort of mindset.  If we remain stuck in a sense of futility or confusion or bitterness or hopelessness or even some elusive and abstract idea of “happiness” (as in, the kind that is not in any way grounded in “real life”), then we will be successfully impeded from experiencing the fullness of life that God desires for us.  Thinking this way about our problems is just as destructive to our souls as thinking that we have no problems whatsoever.  Thinking this way about our problems keeps us from grappling with the realities of the gospel – that Jesus has fully atoned for our sins and shortcomings, that his power is made perfect in our weakness, that his mercy is real and substantial in the midst of our greatest pain and hardships, that his saving work is meant to produce real and transformative (though often unexpected) change in our lives. 

How we think about our problems and, even more so, how we think about change and growth in the midst of those problems is of critical importance.  So what are your goals for counseling?  In the next post, we will explore a few practical steps that can be taken to navigate this process of goal setting in a biblically informed, gospel driven, and empirically effective manner.  Stay tuned!

Anxiety and Faith

Written by Day Marshall, LMHC (Senior Clinician)

Anxiety is one of the most common reasons people enter a therapeutic setting. The symptoms of anxiety can be as varied as the individuals it affects, but generally, it shows up as jumbled, racing thoughts of worry and negativity about self or others, resulting in an impaired ability to focus, process options, problem solve, or make decisions. Anxiety often manifests physically as sweaty palms, increased heart rate, lightheadedness, and either lack of purposeful motion or excessive activity.

At times, Christians who come to counseling with a hope to resolve anxiety can express a sense of failure or disappointment in their walk with God. There is a belief that their anxious thoughts and feelings are somehow related to a lack of faith or ability to rest in God’s goodness. And though resting in God plays a part in the management of anxiety, it is often relieving for clients to recognize that anxiety is very often closely related to values, beliefs and coping strategies established in early childhood, usually long before a comprehensive understanding of God is formed. This means that learning how to apply faith and God’s truths to anxiety responses can take some coaching and skills building: learning proper application of God’s healing balm, if you will.

Since many neurological pathways are solidly established for anxious responses early in life, it is helpful to have the capacity to apply critical thinking and reason to practical skills building in order to carve new pathways for responding to stressors. Faith and God’s truth can be powerful components in establishing these new responses. For example, applying Scripture and God’s promises during grounding and self-soothing techniques can often be very effective at mitigating the impacts of anxiety. One possible application of this is the practice of breathing in deeply while thinking, “He is my refuge” or “Rest for the weary”, and then visualizing breathing out worry and fear.

Rather than experiencing guilt or a sense of failure, those with anxiety can be encouraged that peace and rest for the anxious mind is closely related to learning how to apply the healing balm of God to those affected areas.

Becoming Whole and Holy through Christian Counseling

Where holiness represents our becoming more like Christ in every way, wholeness is about our becoming more human, in the fullest, healthiest sense of the word. How might this shape our practice as Christian counselors, practicing therapy in the presence of God?