Boredom is a feeling people with ADHD know all too well. Writing emails seems like an impossible task and looking at (someone else’s) spreadsheet feels mind-numbing. An ADHD brain wants immediate relief from boredom and will chase it at the expense of your priorities.
Fortunately, we have advice on how to make even the most boring tasks a little easier.
Is boredom a symptom of ADHD?
Boredom - and boredom intolerance - is a result of ADHD; not a symptom. And it’s most likely related to dopamine.
Boredom and dopamine
Dopamine is the feel-good hormone that helps people create habits and stay motivated. Unfortunately, ADHDers typically have lower levels of dopamine, impacting our ability to stay interested in tasks. Consequently, people with ADHD don’t get the same fulfillment from completing tasks.
And unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what your intellectual values are, either. If your brain hasn't had a charge of dopamine in a while, it won’t matter how much you care about your friend's breakup story — you'll feel bored anyway
Boredom can lead to isolation
Something doesn’t need to be inherently boring for an ADHD brain to want to quit it. An ADHD brain can suddenly decide it’s bored of a class in your chosen major, a job you worked hard to get, or even a romantic relationship.
Boredom and under stimulation might cause you to do embarrassing things, like interrupting class or intruding on other people’s conversations. It can look like mindlessly checking social media when you shouldn’t be and the app’s music starts blasting, outing you as being totally checked out. It can even be losing interest in your significant other, even when you love them dearly.
Maybe these behaviors frustrate people around you or embarrass you enough to feel annoying or rejected. Acting out because you’re bored or behaving in a way you don’t like is frustrating. These feelings can lead to social anxiety, rejection sensitive dysphoria, and entirely avoiding social situations.
Recognize the signs
The first step is to recognize when you’re bored. Haven’t been productive in an hour? Are you scrolling when you shouldn’t be? Did you zone out in the middle of your friend’s break-up story? Self-awareness and identifying boredom is the first step toward personal growth and change.
There are three clinical diagnostic types of ADHD. Fixing your boredom requires knowing which type you are.
Inattentive: losing focus, forgetting details, daydreaming
Hyperactive-Impulsive: anything seems more interesting than what you’re ‘supposed’ to be doing; feeling physically ‘on the go’
Combined: a combination of the above
What isn’t boring to you?
Think about things you’re passionate about and what makes them interesting. Do they involve problem-solving, speed, color, suspense, hands-on, humor, rhythm, or even risk? If one of your characteristics is rhythm, try listening to instrumental electronic music while you complete your tasks. If it’s hands-on, find a job that doesn’t require you to sit at a desk all day or search for ways to make it more active.
Revise tedious tasks
Everyone’s characteristics are different, but a common denominator of fighting boredom is novelty and experiencing things in a new way. Changing up your most tedious tasks can make them feel much more tolerable. Here are some revision examples:
- Can’t do the dishes? Buy a fun new sponge and good-smelling soap. (I’ve heard a lot of ADHDers love Scrub Daddy sponges and Dawn Power Wash)
- Change your computer background so today doesn’t feel like a continuation of yesterday
- Work outside or sit at a different table at home
- Reward yourself when tasks are complete (or even before!)
- Create games for yourself like completing your tasks in an allotted amount of time
Try a stimulating activity
- Listen to an ADHD podcast
- Fidget toys are great for times you need to sit still and listen
- Try a quick puzzle or brain teaser
- Complete small, achievable goals, like making your bed or watering that dying plant on the counter
Stimulating the ADHD brain
Unhealthy lifestyle choices to avoid boredom
When someone with ADHD is bored they may lean on destructive behaviors to satisfy their boredom. Awareness of these unhealthy tendencies can help avoid them.
- Getting emotional. Negative emotions like anger stimulate the brain due to increased adrenaline production, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity.
- Toxic relationships. Some people with ADHD fall victim to toxic relationships due to intense highs and lows of fighting and then making up.
- Addiction. People with ADHD have a higher likelihood of addictions like drugs, alcohol, or even food. This easy dopamine hit soothes the ADHD brain at a dangerous cost.
- Mobile device addiction. So much of social media now is short-form video. Giving your brain dopamine hits on demand makes it feel impossible to be satisfied by finishing those expense reports. Log all the way out of distracting apps and move the icons somewhere that will take an extra second to access. Even a slight delay in gratification can help break the cycle.
Healthy lifestyle choices to avoid boredom
- Intense cardio or another exercise
- Maintaining a healthy, high-protein diet
- Consuming Omega-3 fatty acids
How to overcome boredom
Do the task with someone else
Whether you are working with a body double to help you stay on task or with a friend to stay social, working with another person is a good way to keep boredom away.
Make it fun (great for inattentive types)
For whatever reason, I find it impossible to send emails. I found that the best way to reply to emails is to first write a silly, unprofessional version of what I need to say, but in a space that's completely outside of the space I usually send emails, like in a word document. I rewrite it once I’m interested in the topic again. You can even make it rhyme or write it into a whole poem. No matter how you do it, making it fun will make it tolerable.
Do it as soon as possible
Your willpower (and medication) will dissipate as the day goes on. Do your least favorite tasks right after you take your medication, or in the morning — or whenever you usually feel the most productive —to make sure they get done.
Get moving (great for hyperactive types)
Try walking around while on a work call and see how you feel. Some people with ADHD have found that exercising while completing their work responsibilities allows them to think more clearly. Try using an under-desk walking treadmill or sitting on an exercise ball while you work.
Eliminate other distractions
Of course, your work feels incredibly boring when your favorite things are only five feet away! Try to work in a distraction-free zone but somewhere with the right amount of stimuli. Some people with ADHD find working in a coffee shop or an isolated library cube is exactly what they need.
Make a “to-don’t” list (great for impulsive types)
A personal favorite method to keep me from getting distracted is something I call a “to-don’t” list. Keep a scratch pad of paper next to you as you work and every time you have an impulse to get up and do something, write it down. If your ADHD is anything like mine, by the end of the day you’ll have a pretty hilarious list of things you thought were really important at the time.
Learn to tolerate boredom
Sometimes you’re bored and there’s nothing you can do about it! Here are some methods to stick it out.
Start with the part of the assignment that you like. Even if you think you hate the whole thing, there must be some aspect of it that you hate a little less. Finding mental focus during dull moments can help use your time constructively.
Focus on your thoughts as they happen or turn your attention to your breath. Don’t worry if you can’t fully quiet your brain. Mindfulness is called a practice for a reason! You might be surprised how honed in your attention can become after a brief meditation or mindfulness session.
Have you ever heard of a shower thought?
You know, those huge life epiphanies that happen when you’re taking a shower? It turns out that brilliant shower thoughts happen because we relax our brains and allow them to wander. Performing a ritual you know as well as your shower routine allows your brain to daydream and come up with some pretty interesting stuff. When doing a boring task like folding laundry or washing the dishes, lean into your imagination. You never know what you’ll come up with.