I used to dread school. Not that anything especially bad happened. But the lack of stimulation, the sitting in class zoning out and losing the thread of what the teacher was saying, the watching the clock count down to when I could finally stop forcing myself to sit in one place and pretend to pay attention – all these things added up to a visceral aversion conjured up by the word “school.”
ADHD can come with an irrational fear of activities that are tedious, lacking in reward, and likely to make one’s attention wander. In fact, this dread is so deep-seated that avoiding “tasks that require sustained mental effort” is one of nine core inattentive symptoms listed among the DSM’s diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
Where does this dread of mundane and cognitively challenging tasks come from? There are a couple ways to think about it.
One is to remember that people with ADHD are naturally oriented toward seeking out reward, stimulation, novelty – in oversimplified terms, anything that will give us a hit of dopamine to balance out our brain chemistry. Boring and cognitively demanding activities are the polar opposite of what the ADHD brain is naturally drawn to.
Another way to look at it is that instinctively avoiding certain activities is a learned response. Over time, we notice that some tasks are especially hard to concentrate on or otherwise bring out the worst in our ADHD symptoms. These tasks are unpleasant, and we learn to dread them.
Wherever this dread comes from, confronting it is part of learning to manage ADHD.
One thing I’ve found helpful is scheduling the most dread-inducing activities earliest in the day. When I have items on my to-do list I’m feeling especially avoidant about, I try to do these things first. This helps me turn my attention away from the dread associated with these tasks and toward the reward of getting them out of the way and having the rest of my day clear.
It’s not necessarily possible to make ADHD dread go away. But if you recognize what it is and the power it has over your life, you can at least start to manage it. D’you dread mundane tasks, and d’you have any tips for other people who do? If so, please share below!