When You Have ADHD, Boredom Is Painful
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can often lead to boredom. It can also result in discovering exciting methods to counter that discontent. In certain ways, I get bored less often than friends who do not have the condition, and what someone considers uninteresting is entirely subjective. Still, it appears I am not alone when it comes to ADHDers who absolutely despise being bored.
Boredom Is Very Uncomfortable for ADHDers
It can be hard to explain to others how excruciating boredom can feel. I was often baffled by those who refer to a job as “pretty boring” but still tolerable. A tedious job terrifies me (at least if it lasts a long time). ADHD coach Andrew Lewis puts it well when he compares ADHD boredom to physical pain.1 I have indeed been bored to tears.
Part of this frustration is how people respond. One therapist advised me that work is not fun, and we all have to do things we do not find “fun” to survive. At the time, neither of us thought I had ADHD. He was not exactly wrong, but his advice did not help me in the slightest. I found it incredibly disheartening. It made me feel that all I had to look forward to was a career doing something I hated or, more likely, moving from one unfulfilling job to another. Even wonderful jobs would eventually become intolerable.
ADHD and an Interest-Based Nervous System
Lewis notes that ADHD brains have trouble regulating dopamine, neurotransmitters “responsible for our feelings of reward, interest, and stimulation.”1 It is likely one reason ADHDers are prone to addiction. We must seek stimulation that our brain has issues processing. Interestingly, a stimulated brain also helps our self-control and ability to tolerate boredom, so engaging our brain by doing something enjoyable can actually help us complete banal tasks.
I was shocked when I first realized that many people prioritize projects based on importance (to them and others), rewards, and punishments. ADHDers tend to prioritize based on urgency, novelty, challenge, and personal interest.2 It is not that we lack attention, it is that we struggle to direct our attention at will. It can feel almost physically impossible to something I want or need to do if I find it horribly boring.
How to Cope with ADHD Boredom
ADHDers, including myself, develop many strategies to avoid being bored. (Not all of those coping methods are feasible or even safe.) When young, I would read cereal boxes, calculate serving sizes, and count things to keep my mind occupied. I also composed stories, made up television episodes, or went over favorite movies in my head.
Sometimes, staving off boredom involves taking breaks and slowing down. I am experimenting with working on projects for longer blocks of time while still breaking up those blocks in order to relax and reset. Checking in on your physical and mental health is also crucial. This might include taking a few minutes to meditate, exercise, and making sure to eat and drink. Counterintuitively, pausing when I want to speed up helps me feel more balanced and less restless.
Taking the right medication, creating something (writing, drawing, singing, etc.), and consciously doing things you enjoy, like reading or dancing, can also ignite those sparks that help with self-control and diminish boredom. Other tips include spending time outside, talking with friends, or trying something new and a little frightening.3
Do you have ADHD and feel the same way about being bored? If so, what challenges do you face and how do you deal with them? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading.
Matteson, N. (2019, June 12). When You Have ADHD, Boredom Is Painful, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2019/6/when-you-have-adhd-boredom-is-painful
Author: Noelle Matteson
I’m hoping I can explain this to my GP and might show them your article, if that’s OK? Thanks!