What Happens When HSPs Get Under-Stimulated?

A highly sensitive person leans on one hand looking bored because of understimulation

For an HSP’s powerful, deep-processing mind, understimulation can start to feel a lot like burnout. Enter “bore-out” — burnout’s dreary cousin

Everybody experiences an idle moment from time to time — and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that many of us who are highly sensitive people (HSPs) even welcome these moments. After all, they provide our sensitive nervous systems with a much-needed break since we hate busy schedules and feeling rushed.

But the real trouble begins when these quiet moments turn into weeks, months, or even years — and start to be detrimental to your well-being. That’s because, for an HSP’s powerful, deep-processing mind, under-stimulation can be nearly as draining as overstimulation. The result is a state known as “boreout.”

‘Boreout’: Burnout’s Boring Cousin

You certainly have heard of burnout, but you may have not had a chance to meet its “boring” cousin yet, boreout. Both burnout and boreout come from the family of work-related health issues. They manifest similarly, but they are caused by different factors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout results from occupational stress. Boreout, however, stems from the lack of purpose and challenge in your professional life. And, if you’re an HSP, you know that having a purpose is very important to us.

Another difference lies in the amount of recognition each condition gets. Whereas burnout has made its way into the International Classification of Diseases (where it is classified as an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition) and initiatives of numerous HR departments, boreout is still relatively unknown. One of the reasons may be the social stigma associated with being unproductive at work or simply being unfulfilled by one’s job. Whereas “busy as usual” is a perfectly reasonable answer to your colleague inquiring about your well-being at the watercooler, “bored as ever” would probably not do the trick.

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More Than Just Being Bored

So, when you experience boreout, there’s a sense of being unchallenged and having a work underload. This may mean you don’t find your job tasks meaningful or you don’t feel challenged enough, so your growth becomes stagnant. 

Wait, aren’t people who don’t do anything at work just lazy? Not really. The difference between lazy people and people suffering from boreout is that the former enjoy doing nothing (even though they may not like the consequences of it), whereas the latter experience serious mental and/or physical discomfort. In fact, being bored-out is so much more than just being bored. It is also feeling:

  • Empty (because you don’t see any point in what you are doing)
  • Useless (you don’t feel anyone needs your skills and expertise)
  • Disappointed (you feel you are not living up to your full potential)
  • Misunderstood (some people may tell you to be grateful to have a job at all) 
  • Lost (others may not relate to boreout and don’t get how you’re feeling)
  • Anxious (self-explanatory!)

Over time, these feelings may grow into depression, research shows, and start to manifest physically, in the form of ailments such as headaches, insomnia, or tinnitus. That’s the point when the idiom “bored out of one’s mind” loses its metaphorical meaning and becomes a real threat.

Another thing to know about boreout is that certain people are more prone to it than the others. For instance, think of people in feast-or-famine freelance jobs or employees required to perform repetitive administrative tasks. HSPs, with their uniquely wired brains —  which are equally sensitive to understimulation as they are to overstimulation — and thirst for meaning in everything they do, constitute another vulnerable group. HSPs are already more prone to burnout, so it would make sense they may be more prone to boreout, too. 

Don’t Let Yourself Get ‘Bored to Death’

They say “prevention is better than cure,” but as you cannot always avoid physical illnesses, you cannot always prevent mental health problems either, such as boreout. To cope takes an active mindset, plus the support of your employer, and sometimes even a third party (your partner, a mental health professional, a career coach, etc.). 

Here are some strategies that helped me to overcome boreout as a highly sensitive person — and I hope they work for you, too.

5 Ways for Highly Sensitive People Guide to Cope With ‘Boreout’

1. Use the summer to prepare for the winter (so to speak).

Our minds and bodies are astonishingly similar in this aspect. Just like your body’s immune system keeps you physically healthy by fighting off viruses and germs, your mental resilience helps you cope with threats to your mental health, including lack of meaning and purpose at work. And just like with physical immunity, cultivating your mental resilience is a life-long task that you need to start with well before the actual issue arises. So, use the summer to prepare for winter (so so speak)…

So how do you build mental resilience? Even though there is not a single tried-and-true method, most people would agree that taking care of your physical health can help increase your mental state. These things include healthy eating, getting in a “flow state,” spending time in nature, getting enough sleep (which HSPs need more of anyway), and fostering strong interpersonal relationships (among others).

2. Don’t “bet on one horse” — in other words, don’t count solely on your job to give you a sense of purpose.

As Lotta Harju, an assistant professor at EM Lyon Business School, told the BBC, unfulfilling jobs are not a 21st-century invention. What has changed are our expectations as to what role our jobs should play in our lives.

This one may come difficult to highly sensitive people. We think and feel deeply, and often have a hard time if we don’t give things our all. We want to pour 100 percent of ourselves into everything we do (and even more so if it is something as important as our job). This is when the art of setting boundaries comes into play. Well-set boundaries will help you preserve your mental energy for other worthwhile things in life, be it your family, pet, or life-long hobbies.

Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System? 

HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

3. “Look before you leap” — check out a company’s work culture before you take the job.

Just like there are certain occupations in which employees are more prone to burnout, there are also certain ones in which employees are more prone to boreout. (Similarly, there are certain companies whose culture is a breeding ground for all kinds of mental health issues, but that’s a whole other article!)

And even though these companies usually don’t promote this information on their website or in their job posts, as a highly sensitive person, you can use your intuition to spot red flags before you sign the contract.

On the positive side, there are also certain green flags to look for in your future employer. These include:

  • Autonomy and having a say in which tasks you are going to take on
  • A flexible work schedule
  • A culture of open dialogue and appreciation (sidenote: HSPs are not great with criticism, so it’s nice to have a job in which we feel valued — and are given feedback on what we do well, not just what we could do better)

4. Talk it out — either with your employer, friend, or professional.

If you have recognized boreout symptoms in yourself, it’s high time to have a sincere chat with your manager. Other people who can support you on your journey include your family and friends, colleagues, life or career coaches, and therapists

This is, however, easier said than done, particularly because of the social stigma associated with boreout. It may be even worse if you are a highly sensitive person, because your brain makes you highly aware of other people’s emotions. If this is the case, don’t let the shame stop you from healing. Educate yourself about boreout and you will realize that it is far more common than you think. And if you don’t take the first step in talking about it, nothing will change.

5. Follow your passion and make a career change.

If the above mentioned strategies failed, you should consider leaving your job. There may be a whole plethora of reasons holding you back, but one common issue among boreout sufferers is a lack of self-esteem. You may have no recent achievements to be proud of, no projects to include in your portfolio, and/or no figures to impress your future employer. 

Or, you may be in the wrong career field altogether. Perhaps you took a job for a paycheck, but you know it’s not your true calling. So why not pursue something that is?

If you are in a boreout situation, you can easily boost your self-esteem by looking at your other achievements in life, be it in volunteering or parenting. Also, don’t forget about the unique superpowers you can bring to the table as a highly sensitive person, like your knack for details, your empathy, and how focused you can be when you put your mind to something.

But, right now, listen to your HSP intuition and find a job that’s more fulfilling, or more aligned with, what you’d like to do with your life. The boreout is not worth it, trust me.

HSPs, have you ever found yourself in a boreout situation? What did you do about it? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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