The impact of monotony on mental health
It seems to me that many people live quite boring monotonous lives. This may not always be by choice. We all have to work to earn a living and survive and this often involves the daily drudgery of getting up, getting to work, getting back from work, bed, sleep and repeat.
The novelty can wear off fats and the impact of monotony on mental health is worth considering. Monotony can be habit forming and in many ways this is a good thing. After a while, we settle in with the way things are and just get on with it. Research suggests that monotony can lead to depression. It all depends on how the person affected by monontony perceives the repetitive nature of their existence. (Vodanovich,2003).
Your attitude to monotony
For me personally, monotony definitely gets me down. I like variety and always knew that I wouldn’t suit a 9-5 day job, five days per week. Initially I tried to fit this format, assuming there was something wrong with me when I couldn’t get used to it. In the end, I realised I am someone who gets bored by too many fine details and too much of the same thing. I tend to have a short attention span and need to be regularly stimulated. As a result, if life becomes too monotonous I feel as if I am doing something wrong and look for ways to include change.
It’s all about balance though, too much constant change can also have negative effects such as anxiety. Reserach suggests that too much change increases stress and anxiety whereas too miuch monotony increases the likelihood of depression.
Research has shown that the more important an individual’s work is to them, the more monotony will affect their mood. Monotony has the tendency to leave a person feeling unchallenged and as if their contribution is meaningless. It has recently been shown that the “undercontrolled” personality type (i.e. characterized by low levels of conscientiousness and high levels of extraversion and openness to experience) generally reports higher levels of boredom (Mäkikangas et al., 2015).
The state of work-related boredom is indicative of employees not being able to progress to their central goals in life. According to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000), people ultimately wish to develop themselves, to grow and to master challenges. A lack of being able to achieve work related goals due to monotony can deeply affect an individual’s mental health as well as their motivation to do the task at hand.
Studies show that even relatively short-lived experiences of work-related boredom may have negative consequences in terms of employee well-being.
Monotony restricts cognitive functioning
The brain is like a muscle – use it or lose it. In order for a brain cell to survive, it needs to be used regularly. Our brain ifunctions better when there are different, unusual and varied stimuli. Many psychologists claim that monotony and doing the same activities every day can have an impact on the recession of cognitive functioning and reduced performance.
According to Dr John Eastwood, monotony and boredom has been associated with increased drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, depression and anxiety, and an increased risk of making mistakes.
I think this is a very apt description of boredom: “Boredom is most often conceptualised as “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.” You can see how boredom and/or monotony can lead to frustration, overthinking and consequent dissatisfaction in many people’s lives.
The positive aspects of monotony
Some suggest that boredom and long periods of not doing much can enhance creativity. If boredom can enhance our creativity and be a signal for change, why is it such a corrosive problem for some individuals?
People who have suffered extreme trauma are more likely to report boredom or experience the feeling of monotony than those who have had a less eventful time. The theory is that they shut down emotionally and find it harder to work out what they need. They may be left with free-floating desire, without knowing what to pin it on. This lack of emotional awareness is known as alexithymia and can affect anyone.
Frustrated dreamers who haven’t realised their goals can expend all their emotional energy on hating themselves or the world, and find they have no attention left for anything else. Bungee jumpers and thrill-seekers may also be particularly susceptible to boredom, as they feel the world isn’t moving fast enough for them. They constantly need to top up their high levels of arousal and are always searching for stimulation from their environment.
“Boredom isn’t a nice feeling, so we have an urge to eradicate it and cope with it in a counterproductive way,” says Eastwood. This may be what drives people to destructive behaviours such as gambling, overeating, alcohol and drug abuse, he says, though research is needed to tease out whether there’s a direct causal link.
“The problem is we’ve become passive recipients of stimulation,” says Eastwood. “We say, ‘I’m bored, so I’ll put on the TV or go to a loud movie.’ But boredom is like quicksand: the more we thrash around, the quicker we’ll sink.”
How to counteract monotony
Find ways to meet your psychological needs at home if your work is boring and monotonous. You could go to the gym, study part time, see friends, watch a movie…any activity that meets your psychological needs for connection and/or stimulation. This will lessen the impact that monotony has in other roles in your life
Make a habit of trying new things. It’s important to keep pushing yourself our of your comfort zone if you want to feel stimulated and avoid monotony. Just trying a new restaurant can do the trick.
Don’t be afraid of change. If your job doesn’t feel right or your relationship is unhappy, start looking at ways to change it. You don’t have to do it immediately but inform yourself. What other options do you have. Get into a solution focused mindset and do some brainstorming…then take action.
Research references: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02678373.2016.1206151