Just like time flies when you’re having fun, the days can feel endlessly long when you’re stuck in bed, sick. Sure, catching up on your Netflix queue is fun at first. But when you find yourself refreshing your social media feeds every 5 minutes because the only other option is staring at the ceiling, it’s time for some entertainment.
Luckily for most people, that’s when you start to recover from the flu or whatever virus has been bugging you. But when you’re living with chronic illness, injury or disability, you might not feel well enough to pick up your usual routines and hobbies again. Instead, life may feel like you’re trapped in Groundhog Day – and not a happy one.
Finding enjoyable things to do when you’re sick at home alone may seem like a luxury problem, but it can actually have a bigger impact on your overall wellbeing than you might realize. Here’s why keeping (chronic) boredom at bay matters to your health.
Why Entertaining Yourself When You’re Sick Isn’t a Luxury
It Keeps Your Happiness Ratio Up
Passing the time in an enjoyable way helps to cultivate positivity, which in turn increases your happiness, boosts your health and even extends your lifespan.
A famous study by Barbara Fredrickson has shown that you need 3 positive emotions to make up for every negative one. That healthy 3:1 balance between positive and negative feelings is necessary to build enough resilience to bounce back from difficult times.
Unfortunately, we all know that there’s no lack of unpleasant experiences when you’re (chronically) ill. So to keep your happiness ratio up, you should keep yourself entertained with doable positivity-boosting activities.
Entertainment Distracts from Painful Symptoms
I’m all for mindfulness. Paying attention to your breathing and bodily sensations can certainly help you deal with physical pain and negative emotional states, including boredom. But when you’re in constant pain, activities that take your mind off your symptoms offer a welcome distraction.
And as it turns out, distraction can actually be an effective way to cope with painful sensations. Your working memory can only process a limited amount of information at once. So when you engage in pleasant thoughts or activities that shift your focus away from the pain, your brain has less capacity left to give attention to the pain signals. Being absorbed by simple distractions, like watching TV, playing a videogame or talking to a friend, doesn’t take away the pain, but it puts it in the background. Listening to music, for example, literally helps you to ‘tune out’ painful sensations. Who wouldn’t want a little temporarily relief from their symptoms?
Having Fun Reduces Stress
Research shows that engaging in fun activities and seeking distraction are both successful strategies to lower your stress levels. Distracting yourself also helps to reduce negative feelings, by stopping you from ruminating – one of the most important risk factors for depression.
What’s more, the Mood Management theory from Zillman proposes that people who are stressed unconsciously select specific types of media that will get them in a better mood. For example, a woman who’s overwhelmed with worry might turn on a romantic comedy to forget about her problems for a while and feel a little more relaxed and cheerful.
Following that logic, keeping yourself entertained not only improves your mood, but also helps to prevent and decrease stress, overthinking and depressive feelings. Pretty impressive for a hobby, right?
Self-Expression Can Be Therapeutic
Creative pursuits like writing, painting and dancing can help you express feelings and experiences that are difficult to put into words. And by managing your emotions instead of pushing them away, artistic self-expression can support or restore your self-image.
Creative activities like making music and drawing may also get you into a state of flow. Your brainwaves slow down, which produces similar health benefits as mediation does. That’s probably one of the reasons why self-expression contributes to an improved self-reported health.
And the good news is, you don’t have to be the next Picasso to reap these benefits – just writing about events and how they affected you or visually expressing yourself will also do the job.
Keeping Busy Gives a Sense of Meaning
When you’re too sick to get back to your ‘normal’ life, it doesn’t just make you feel bored, it can also have a negative effect on the way you see yourself. After all, we all want to belong and feel that our life matters.
Doing something that’s meaningful to you, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day, can give you a sense of fulfilment and help rebuild your identity in this new reality. Sharing your story with others who are struggling, taking an online course or even baking a cake for your birthday can all contribute to a happier, healthier you.
That’s why I’ve created The Bored & Sick Guide with 130 fun things to do when you’re (chronically) ill at home. No matter if you’re bed bound, hanging around the house or longing to have fun with your friends, there’s an entertaining tip for you. So download your digital copy today to keep boredom at bay!
How do you keep yourself entertained when you’re bored and sick at home?