Several years ago, I interviewed ADHD coach and expert Pete Quily. Pete said, “Boredom is like kryptonite to someone with ADHD.”
Pete might have been speaking truer words than he thought. On the bright side, our ADHD ability to hyperfocus might actually be a health boon.
I’m dying of boredom
According to a radio piece called, “Boredom: Not mental inactivity but a state of stress,” aired on CBC Radio One’s program, The Current last Friday, people who are bored at work have a 40 to 50% higher mortality rate.
University of Waterloo research psychologist James Danckert, who was interviewed for the show pointed out that when we’re bored, our body responds much like when we’re experiencing an unpleasant, stressful event. For those of us with ADHD, these two are pretty much synonymous, and it looks like the similarities are deeper than we thought.
When we’re more stressed, our cortisol levels and heart rate go up. Apparently, the same thing happens when you’re bored.
There’s a vote for the health benefits of hyperfocus if I’ve ever heard one.
The image of someone who’s bored might be someone slothfully lounging on the couch, a bat in torpor, or a hyperactive ADHDer working as a security guard; you’d think that their heart rate would be slowed to the tempo of a dirge. But research shows it’s the opposite.
On the other hand, according to Danckert, when you’re focused on task you’re enjoying, your heart rate drops. There’s a vote for the health benefits of hyperfocus if I’ve ever heard one.
Boredom: take a pill and get over it
Danckert cited studies that show when workers at super-boring jobs were given amphetamines, they didn’t find their jobs boring anymore. Coffee also hides the effects of boredom, according to Danckert.
Where’s the punchline?
Considering I take a stimulant drug to treat my ADHD, and that many of us use coffee for much the same effect, I couldn’t help but listen for the punchline as the radio piece went on.
At any moment, I was convinced I’d hear Danckert utter the words, “…and this applies to no one more than those with ADHD.”
Not so. Not once was there mention of ADHD, ADD, or any of the research associated with it.
Why did I expect to hear about me?
Lest you accuse me of being a self-centered narcissist (it wouldn’t be the first time, but that’s another story), everything I was hearing reminded me of ADHD research. See if you recognized yourself in any of this:
- chronic boredom produces high-risk behavior
- research into boredom looks at the brain’s reward systems including the frontal cortex (so does ADHD research)
- jobs where you have to sit all the time are structurally boring (same goes for kids who are made to sit for long periods of time at school)
- there’s a connection between drug addictions boredom
Implications for those of us with ADHD
Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent program, and worth a listen. After all, the implications may be more applicable to us than any other group.
Bottom line is, if you’re an adult with ADHD stuck in a boring job, maybe you should seriously consider switching. After all, we might be the one and only group who actually could die from boredom!
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Last reviewed: 17 Oct 2012