03/25/2010 - Articles

Boredom may lead to heart disease, stroke death

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Psychological factors can play a big part in heart disease. A new study, from researchers the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, London, now finds a link between being bored at work and death from heart disease and other causes. They surveyed over 7,500 civil servants, aged between 35 and 55, between 1985 and 1988 about their boredom levels. In April 2009, they noted how many of their participants had died, including heart disease deaths.

In the original survey, 10% of the group reported being bored during the previous month, with women twice as likely to suffer boredom than men. Younger people and those with low-grade jobs were more likely to experience boredom. Those who had high levels of boredom were 37% more likely to be dead from any cause, including heart disease, at the end of the study than those who were not bored.

The causes of death by boredom are not yet clear but it may be that those who are bored at work are more likely to indulge in unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking or comfort eating which, in turn, increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. Further analysis suggested a genuine link between boredom and heart disease. So if you’re bored with life, try to develop some interests if you can’t change your job or situation, and make sure your boredom isn’t leading to an unhealthy lifestyle that could increase your risk of heart disease.



Britton A and Shipley MJ International Journal of Epidemiology February 2010;doi:10.1093/ije/dyp404


Created on: 03/25/2010
Reviewed on: 03/25/2010

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Anonymous wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

Bored to Death?
“Boredom May Lead to Heart Disease, Stroke Death,” you say, based on a British epidemiological study. No surprise to us. As a psychiatrist and a coach, we recognize the power of boredom.

Boredom is a forerunner of stress. Stress causes a cascade of chemical events including the inflammatory response, the primitive immune system defense with its “shotgun” approach to protect us from infection. One way the inflammatory response fights is to release cytokines, which, when chronic, raises the risk of arterial disease. Thus, like other chronic stress initiators, boredom kills.

Judging from news reports, research authors Annie Britton and Martin Shipley of University College London, seem reluctant to blame boredom itself. “The state of boredom is almost certainly a proxy for other risk factors,” they wrote, even though they made statistical adjustments for many risk factors including physical activity level and employment grade.

As a psychiatrist and a coach who address boredom often in our practices, we want to add to this notion: Other risk factors are often a result of the more primary problem of boredom itself. Overeating, drug and alcohol abuse, risky behavior, underachievement, and dissatisfaction with life in general are often the result of boredom that is poorly understood and managed.

We see boredom as an unheralded and understudied basic human emotion unpleasant enough to cause distress. Although to our knowledge it has never been proved, boredom, like other emotions such as anxiety and anger, may set off this cascade of potentially harmful chemical events. Boredom is often endured or avoided, as opposed to managed, spilling over into anxiety over impending boredom, anger and defiance toward people and institutions that enforce boredom. Boredom in school and on the job is a main reason for seeking help from coaches and mental health professionals. The perennial “I’m bored” is a major complaint of parents as is the resistance parents encounter when trying to get children to do boring things like clean their room or do homework.

Also in the news recently is a story about President Clinton’s stent treatment for his clogged coronary arteries. In recent years, he reportedly has eaten well, exercised regularly, and had excellent medical care. Medical commentators have cited genetics as contributory and often add that he is always busy and on the go, advising that he should “slow down” to lessen his stress. We know that boredom, like stress, is in the mind of the beholder and, although we resist saying how others feel—we prefer to ask—we guess that President Clinton would be more “stressed” by not doing the active and meaningful things he normally does.

In particular, people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suffer from intense distress from boredom. They don’t come seeking relief from boredom; they come for help with their underachievement or failure to complete anything. They don’t say the “B” word first thing. They are too used to hearing the phrase “only boring are bored” or “so you’re bored are you, well, here’s some soap and water, go wash the car/patio/kitchen floor” that they think twice before uttering or admitting their complaint. We see signs of huge relief when a patient or client realizes we understand and accept their expressions of boredom and we define their boredom, in its own right, worthy of strategies to help.

Boredom has too long been considered a moral lapse, failing of character, or the “nothing to do” syndrome of the unimaginative. We see it as a powerful force—for creativity and for mischief. People who say, “I wish I had time to be bored” are actually speaking of leisure. People who say they enjoy boredom because they get to just sit and think about things or daydream are not bored. Their minds are pleasantly occupied and they look forward to that state. Our definition of boredom insists that it is an uncomfortable negative feeling. It is too often one that an individual cannot easily fight off or avoid, especially if he is constrained from self-treating by daydreaming, moving freely, or creating other releases from boredom. Our mission is to help people, especially those with ADHD, to learn to find interest or change boring situations into more interesting ones.

The development of Interest building skills is a big part of our practices. Our approach to helping appears to be validated by another recent study, this one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that showed a significant deficit in the function of the dopamine reward pathways in individuals who have ADHD. James Swanson, Ph.D., one of the lead authors, says the research points to “an interest deficit” in addition to an attention deficit. Isn’t boredom interesting?

Lyndon D. Waugh,MD, is an Atlanta child, adolescent, and family psychiatrist and Letitia Sweitzer, MEd, coaches students with ADHD and others. Waugh and Sweitzer co-authored Tired of Yelling: Teaching Our Children to Resolve Conflict.