BMJ article 0203017

The Anti-boredom Campaign became public with an article in the BMJ in March 2017 followed by a large piece on p3 of The Times, and has been written about in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. There have been invitations to speak and advisory panel member, Jeremy Smith, has collaborated with the Empathy Museum and has written a powerful piece for the BMJ ‘The Malady of Boredom’.

Boredom in the times of COVID-19: Anna Farthing, Arts Programme Director in the University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Fund has recognised boredom as a suffering for patients during this time and created a ‘Boredom Busting‘ newspaper with contributors including Banksy, and Anthony Gormley and supported by the ABC. 65,000 copies have gone to patients across the UK.  The National Lottery has supported a ‘Origami for Community‘ inspiration leaflet with 25,000 going to patients and also staff in hospitals to overcome boredom and anxiety.

Congratulations to Dr Tina Kendall for her work with young people to create a valuable and inspiring resource ‘Boredom-19 Project‘. Chelmsford Creatives are a group of 15-24 year olds who explored their experiences of boredom under lock-down in creative ways as part of the British Science Festival 2020. Take a look at their zine and get inspired.

Articles on the Anti-boredom Campaign

The Guardian – 17th March 2020 – Letters: ‘Things to do at home for the over 70s from Origami to the Open University – Dr Lizzie Burns

“origami has not been mentioned, which is ideal for those who are alone”

“for creativity and self-expression, relaxation, and connection with others”

Psychreg – December 2018 – ‘Origami can be a boredom buster‘ – Dr Lizzie Burns

“few of us can cope with a bare room and nothing to do”

“the problem comes where we’re trapped; whether in school, prison, hospital or a job; boredom grows and undermines well-being”

“we can choose to escape boredom in either destructive, or creative ways. Origami offers a positive, creative and absorbing technique”

Our greatest congratulations and thanks to Jeremy Smith:

BMJ Opinion – November 2018 – ‘The Malady of Boredom‘ – Jeremy Smith

“Many of the doctors and specialists who attended me were happy to discuss my anxiety, detachment, and morbid lethargy but none seemed able to grasp the boredom that was its root cause. Indeed, their inability to acknowledge what to me seemed obvious was every bit as debilitating as the condition itself.”

BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care – August 2018 – ‘Elephant in the ward: Boredom in hospitals‘ – Dr Lizzie Burns

“Could hospitals unintentionally be encouraging boredom and its negative psychological effects? The drive for minimalist clinical spaces in adult wards may help support infection control, but how healthy is this for the mind during vulnerable times?”

OX Magazine – December 2017 – ‘The hidden cost of boredom‘ – Dr Lizzie Burns interviewed by Jeremy Smith

The hidden cost of boredom

Daily Mail – 19th September 2017 – ‘Why being bored in hospital could make your stay even longer…‘  Dr Lizzie Burns interviewed by Jonathan Gornall


The Daily Telegraph – 22nd August 2017 – ‘Doctor’s Diary: Bored to Death‘ including the Anti-boredom Campaign by Dr James Le Fanu

“Boredom is a surprisingly interesting state of mind, an indicator of its remorseless need for stimulation and engagement – which, if not fulfilled, can have a whole series of adverse consequences.”

“When, as in hospital, it is combined with apprehension and negative feelings, it is, as one patient described it, “my biggest problem and enemy – despite the many opportunities for distraction provided by the internet”. 

“For the past few years, creative specialist Elizabeth Burns, working with oncology patients at London’s University College Hospital, has found imaginative methods to combat boredom, minimise symptoms of pain and fatigue and promote recovery.  Last year, she launched the splendidly titled Anti-boredom Campaign to promote research into this neglected but important issue. Any suggestions from those who might have successfully combated the ennui of their time in hospital would be much appreciated.”

BBC Radio Wales–  7th March 2017 – Interview with Lizzie about the Anti-boredom Campaign (18.30-19.10; 21.30-26.50)

The Times – p3 on 7th March 2017 ‘Origami would beat hospital tedium’ – Science writer, Tom Whipple

The Times p3 070317

The British Medical Journal – Opinions 2nd March 2017 – ‘Pass me an anti-boredom pill doctor‘ – Dr Lizzie Burns

The Hippocratic Post – 29th October 2016 – ‘Medicine for the mind‘ – Dr Lizzie Burns

Other relevant articles…

The New York Times – 21st August 2020 – ‘Is the lockdown making you depressed or are you just boredom?‘ – Richard A Friedman

“I worry that calling this a wave of clinically significant depression or anxiety might be premature. What if we’re just bored out of our minds?”

“boredom is an aversive and nearly universal psychological experience that can lead to trouble, which makes it worthy of our attention”

“humans crave, to a varying degree, stimulation, and a quarantine effectively prevents us from getting very much of it. Those who are more novelty and sensation seeking, like teenagers, are particularly prone to boredom”

The Conversation – 21st August 2020 – ‘Leprosy of the soul? A brief history of boredom‘ – Wijnand van Tilburg

“Erich Fromm blatantly denounced boredom as “perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today”

“boredom encourages a search for meaning in life, propels exploration, and inspires novelty seeking”

The New Yorker – 20th August 2020 – ‘What does boredom do to us – and for us?‘ – Margaret Talbot

“emotional responses to the COVID-19 quarantine in Italy, people cited boredom as the second most negative aspect of being required to stay at home, just after freedom and just before a lack of fresh air”

The Washington Post – 28th March 2020 – ‘These are boom times for boredom and the researchers who study it‘ – Michael S Rosenwald

The Sydney Morning Herald – 4th June 2018 – ‘Benefit from your boredom‘ – Linda Blair

“decide to do something you believe is important and worthwhile, you’ll not only alleviate boredom, you’ll feel proud and satisfied as well”

The Independent – 20th August 2017 – ‘Lonely dogs’ brains shrink due to ‘bestial boredom’, scientist warns’

“They often yawn, bark, howl and whine. Some sleep a lot – a sign of apathy. Some of this is anxiety but often they are just really bored”

“Boredom has long been thought of a solely human emotion but animals suffer from it too. Research shows that being kept in barren environments without stimulation damages the brain”

“Human prisoners describe boredom as a torment and a monster that takes them over”

The Times – 20th August 2017 – ‘Lonely pets’ brain cells are dying from boredom‘ on research by Dr Charlotte Burn

The Daily Telegraph – 13th August 2017 – ‘I was told to stay in hospital or die‘ – Jeremy Clarkson talks of boredom in hospital, by Hannah Furness

“I’m not sure many of you will have found yourself in hospital, not having planned to be there… But for me it was a new experience. And a weird one.”

“Because I was in a room with nothing on the walls except wallpaper, and most of that was coming off.   And I was in there for an hour, on my own, with absolutely nothing to do. The boredom was so bad I thought often about killing myself.”

“This is the problem with hospitals.  People who stay in them become institutionalised and incapable of speaking about anything other than what nurse brought what drug at what time. Boredom turns them into bores.”

The Sun – 13th August 2017 – ‘Deadly boredom: Jeremy Clarkson said he was so bored in hospital he ‘thought about killing myself’ after he was struck down with pneumonia on holiday in Majorca‘ by Alex Diaz, Shaun Wooller and Gemma Mullin

Wales NHS – 22nd December 2016 – ‘Older people in community hospitals: Avoiding boredom and loneliness

BBC News – 4th December 2016 – ‘Bored to death’ pensioner Joe Bartley starts job

“‘I was bored to death sat here doing nothing not seeing anyone’. He described living alone as ‘solitary confinement'”

Evening Standard – 21st September 2016 ‘Why art critic Brian Sewell  has written his first children’s book at the age of 83

“I needed something to occupy my mind while I was enduring radiotherapy since illness is exceedingly boring”

“I need to write that’s my problem.  I don’t feel alive unless I’m writing something”

The Daily Telegraph – 16th January 2016 – ‘It was only a tiny garden, but it helped me smile again‘ – Jeremy Smith spent months in hospital after a devastating fall.  But it was the boredom that nearly did it for him.

“with nothing else to alleviate the monotony of hospital routine, the past is where I sought sanctuary”

“Boredom is, as many patients will attest, as close to torture as any Dark Ages tormentor could inflict.  The pain of the operations, the stripping away of dignity necessitated by weak non-existent bathroom functions and worry over pressure sores doesn’t come close to matching the horror of a mind able to feed only on itself.”

“My biggest challenge was motivating myself – everything felt like a chore”

“The tiny courtyard (a garden) quickly became my “other life”.  I stopped reliving the past and, buoyed by the sudden sense of calm sweeping over me, began to plan the future.”

“Focusing on the garden helped me to overcome my feelings of detachment, orientate my emotions and fight the terrifying lethargy brought on by mundane hospital life. It saved me.”

BMJ – 9th January 2016  – ‘Colouring books for adults on the ward‘ – Miriam Rigby, palliative care speciality doctor

“Patients tell us that colouring can make the hours go faster during the long days and nights of an inpatient stay.”

“It relaxes the mind and the body”

“While you are doing it, you concentrate only on that one task”

The Daily Telegraph – 25th March 2015 – ‘Boredom makes people more creative, claim psychologists‘ – Sarah Knapton

The Daily Telegraph magazine – 4th October 2014 –  ‘Can life in a nursing home be made uplifting and purposeful? ‘ – Atul Gawande

“the Three Plagues of nursing home existence: boredom, loneliness and helplessness.”

“To attack the Three Plagues they needed to bring in life. They would put green plants in every room.  They would tear up the lawn and create a vegetable and flower garden. And they would bring in animals.”

“Gradually people started to accept that filling Chase with life was everyone’s task. They did not do so because of any rational set of arguments or compromises but because of the effect on the residents soon became impossible to ignore: the residents began to wake up and come to life.”

“People who had been completely withdrawn and non-ambulatory started coming to the nurses’ station and saying ‘I’ll take the dog for a walk'”

“the number of prescriptions required per resident fell to half that of the control nursing home… The total drug costs fell to only 38 per cent of the comparison study.  Deaths fell 15 per cent.”

“I believe that the difference in death rates could be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to life.”

“..what living things provide. In place of boredom, they offer spontaneity. In place of loneliness, they offer companionship.  In place of helplessness, they offer a chance to take care of another being.”

The Guardian – 9th January 2011 – ‘NHS hospitals are told to offer patients bingo sessions to beat boredom

“When a patient’s needs are not met it may affect their emotional state”

“When people are in hospital for a while they get used to lying in bed and looking at the walls of their room or the ward. Patients can become depressed with a lack of stimulation.”- Dr Kay Jenkins, clinical psychologist

“Depression among participants has fallen, patient satisfaction has risen and length of stay on the two wards has dropped by 25%.”

“A lot of it is about changing the culture in hospitals, getting people to realise that you don’t have to have pyjamas on and stay in bed all day. Your brain is a muscle like any other; you use it or lose it.”

BBC News – 15th June 2006 – ‘The trick of solving boredom on wards’ – Dr Daniel K Sokol

“When I first started on the ’rounds’, I was struck by the stultifying sense of boredom that pervaded the wards”

“for a few brief  minutes, I strive to pull off my greatest trick of all: to make them forget they are ill”

“I wonder why the NHS, ostensibly so patient-centered, does not do more to improve the patient experience in hospitals?”

“Perhaps it is a deliberate choice: if patients are bored and have a rotten time, they will want to leave at the earliest opportunity, thus saving money for the cash-strapped NHS.  On the other hand, changing the decor and encouraging magicians and other artists to volunteer may well increase patient and staff satisfaction and reduce the number of complaints”

Arts Council England – ‘Create: Perspectives on the value of art and culture‘ – Andrew Marr

“we all feel the difference between passive dullness and the energetic thrill of actually doing something”

“If art is essential to the human experience, does it not follow that it is likely to reinvigorate those who make it?  And if they are – well, to put it simply, feeling a bit better as a result – aren’t they more likely to want to continue to live and therefore to behave in a way that promotes rather than degrades physical health?

Many major hospitals thinks so. This doesn’t mean that everybody coming round from a major heart operation is forces to turn out freshly made pots, but it does mean that everyone who’d like to feel the world around them anew gets help, crayons and photography – and encouragement.  One of the worst aspects of the hospital experience is the enforced passivity.”

“Picking up a pencil becomes a way of fighting back – an assertion that you are an active, thinking presence.”


Friday 9th June – Humanists Annual Conference in Cambridge.  Lizzie will talk about the Anti-boredom Campaign as part of a Professionals Conference.

Saturday 6th May – Oxford Medfest 2017 on ‘Eros & Thanatos: Matters of Life and Death’  in Oriel College sponsored by The Royal College of Psychiatrists.  Lizzie spoke about the Campaign as part of a discussions panel.

Friday 28th April – Celebrating Oliver Sacks in Queen’s College, University of Oxford. Lizzie was invited to speak as part of a special day celebrating Oliver Sacks and spoke about ‘Leonard’s Medicine for the Mind’.

In the words of Oliver Sacks, “animals get diseases, but only man falls radically into sickness”


Empathy Museum – journalist, blogger and Advisory Panel member of the Anti-boredom Campaign, Jeremy Smith, shared his experiences.  Jeremy shared his memories of an accident, being in hospital and suffering from boredom, and how writing helped bring him back to remembering who he was and seeing a future again.  Our thanks to the Empathy Museum with an opportunity at ‘Celebrating Oliver Sacks’ day,  for participants to listen to Jeremy’s story as part of the ‘A mile in my shoes’ project while trying out a wheelchair.