I’m sure as an adult with ADHD you’re all too familiar with the feeling of boredom. That restless feeling, sometimes intense, when you’re just not really engaged in something interesting. And, sure, everyone experiences boredom at times. But, as an adult with ADHD, your boredom can feel incredibly excruciating, maybe even intolerable.
Of course, sometimes you feel bored because the activity is, well, boring. Make sense. But the feeling of boredom for adults with ADHD can be magnified. One of the reasons is the understimulation in the prefrontal cortex of your brain because of lack of sufficient neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine.
It is common to think of lack of follow-through as a consequence of boredom. And, no doubt, the fallout from not closing the loop on your important tasks can definitely land you in serious hot water at times. But there are also other ways you can get in trouble when you are feeling bored.
So, figuring out how to manage your boredom should rate pretty high on your list when thinking about how to work with your ADHD.
Know What It Feels Like When You are Bored
The first step in managing your boredom is to be aware of when you’re bored. This may seem obvious and simple, but it is neither, really.
For example, many adults with ADHD, as noted in the quote below, can become frustrated when they feel bored. And so, while they may be able to identify the frustration, they may be missing the root cause of the frustration, which is that they are bored.
“When I get bored a second feels like a minute, a minute feels like an hour, an hour to me is like a day and a day is like a month. Boredom becomes frustration and frustration becomes anger.” – Newsletter Subscriber
You also may think you are tired when really you are bored. Then, if you think you are tired and decide to take a nap, you may feel even more lethargic — bored. You see how this can become a vicious cycle. And to break this cycle what you may need in the moment is stimulation, not a nap!
In addition, boredom can feel like intense restlessness. It’s almost as if you’re ready to crawl out of your skin! And you’re just not sure what to do. Hopefully, you can catch this so you can direct your energies in a positive way. But that doesn’t always happen, right?
The key is to learn what boredom feels like for you so you can address it appropriately. And, recognizing in the moment how it feels is the first step. What does boredom feel like for you?
Understand Why You Feel Bored
The next step is to be able to identify why you are feeling bored in the moment.
One of the most obvious reasons for feeling bored is, of course, that the task has no meaning — importance — for you and is boring. For adults with ADHD, this is the proverbial kiss of death in terms of being able to attend to an activity.
But what about the times when a task does have importance for you and you still feel bored? It might be that the activity, while important, is not interesting — stimulating — enough. This might be because the specific task is tedious or your work environment isn’t stimulating enough.
Remember, adults with ADHD already have abnormally low levels of dopamine. But, when an activity is interesting, dopamine levels in the reward center of the brain increase in response to the expectation of a reward, releasing the energy you need to pursue your important activities.
And, when an activity is not inherently interesting, the reward center in your brain doesn’t get activated. Without the good feeling you get from the dopamine being released you won’t have the stimulation you need to pursue the activity. This is one possibility.
The other possibility for your feelings of boredom is that your energy is waning because you are sleep deprived, hungry or just worn out. However, you may interpret this feeling as one of boredom. So, it is useful to check in with yourself to see if any of these are true when your mojo is just not there.
Recognize the Impact of Your Boredom
Your need for stimulation might lead you down many different avenues. The consequences of which may range from fairly benign to pretty serious. And, whether or not you decide to address your boredom, will probably depend on how it impacts you and others around you. So, let’s look at some possibilities.
One possibility is you might seek out activities that provide you with the stimulation you crave. They may be time-wasting activities, such as surfing the Internet, playing games or watching TV. Alternatively, you might distract yourself with meaningful activities (exercise, hobbies, etc.), but just not the ones you intended.
Your need for stimulation may also lead you to engage in risky behaviors — picking a fight, drinking, taking drugs, anonymous sex, driving fast, etc. This can result in serious negative short-term and long-term consequences, such as addictions.
The other alternative is you check out because you misinterpret your boredom for being tired. And sleep longer than you need or take naps in the middle of the day. This can leave you feeling even more bored! The antidote sometimes to waking up your tired brain is stimulation, rather than a nap.
Whatever your experience with boredom there are solutions you can use to learn to manage it.
Solution #1 – Give Your Floating Attention A Job
Sometimes you may put forth Herculean effort to engage in tasks that, while, perhaps, important, are boring. As hard as you try, you may find it nearly impossible to engage fully in these activities. You know, participating in meetings, dealing with finances, answering emails, having hard 1–1 conversations etc.
Part of the reason is you have some floating attention — the part of the brain scanning the horizon for stimulation. And, if you don’t give it a job to do, you will likely engage in the activities I mentioned above to stimulate your brain. And that may not be at all what you want to do.
One strategy is to distract the part of the brain that gets bored by giving your floating attention a job to do. Because, when you do this, you will be better able to focus on your primary task. In fact, you may be doing this already when you doodle in a meeting or play with a pen while talking to someone.
Depending on the context any of the following can give your floating attention a job:
- use white noise (SimplyNoise) or music (Focus@Will) in the background
- play with a fidget object.
- doodle or take notes.
- have your meeting while walking
The bottom line is don’t leave it up to chance as to what you might do when you’re bored. Think of what you might do to engage your floating attention so you can focus on your primary task.
Solution #2 – Learn to Tolerate a Bit of Discomfort
Depending on the context and the level of your boredom it may be possible and prudent to learn to tolerate a bit of discomfort. I know that this is not always possible, as boredom for adults with ADHD can feel excruciating. And that’s not hyperbole!
But, when you recognize that you are bored, you might say to yourself, “This doesn’t feel great, but I can hang in there a little while longer…” Because sometimes it’s not possible to get the stimulation you need. And you don’t want to do something you’ll later regret. So, learning how to tolerate a bit of discomfort from your boredom is also important.
Solution #3 – Take A Break and Get the Stimulation You Need
When the discomfort is too great and giving your floating attention a job to do isn’t going to cut it, it may be time to take a break. Especially when you’ve used up all your reserves to self-regulate. Because, if you don’t take a break and get the stimulation you need, you may:
- get up and leave a meeting at the most inopportune time.
- interrupt a meeting or conversation and say something imprudent.
- show obvious signs of boredom, like rolling your eyes. Happens.
So, to avoid this, you’ll need to recognize when you’ve reached your limit before there are any unintended consequences. And then, at this critical moment, ask for what you need, when possible. For example, you may ask to wrap up a meeting/conversation, and suggest another time to reconvene
Entertaining Your Brain
Yes, it would be great to minimize our engagement in activities we find boring. And I encourage you to do this as much as possible. But obviously, you’ll have to participate in activities you find boring at times. So, the best you can do is find ways to make these times somewhat palatable.
And you can do this by finding ways to engage the boring part of your brain, learning to be with the discomfort or taking a break, when possible. What are you going to try this week?