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Boredom as an ADHD Symptom Magnifier

Life with ADHD can feel like an ongoing epic battle against boredom. That’s why my first post ever on this blog was about how music is one of my favorite weapons against boredom.

People with ADHD tend to have a need for stimulation and short-term rewards. As a result, they have higher levels of boredom proneness on average.

But it’s not just that ADHDers get bored more easily. What I want to talk about today is a particular effect boredom can have on us: namely, it can exaggerate our ADHD symptoms. If you struggle with something as a consequence of ADHD, adding a sense of boredom into the mix can cause you to struggle with that thing even more.

Magnifying GlassI’m being a little vague, so let’s go through some specific ADHD symptoms, starting with a classic one: inattention.

Chances are you’ve found that it’s harder to sustain concentration on tedious tasks. When the ADHD brain is confronted with an understimulating activity, it tends to automatically go off in search of something more interesting to do – that is, to wander away from the task at hand.

ADHDers aren’t known for being able to force themselves to pay attention to tasks at will, and being bored only compounds that problem. When a task is interesting, on the other hand, not only do people with ADHD have fewer problems sustaining attention, but they can at times become quite focused indeed.

While we’re talking about big, broad ADHD symptoms like inattention, why not mention hyperactivity?

One of the theories behind why hyperactivity is sometimes part of ADHD is that it’s a way to compensate for a sense of understimulation. If that’s true, you can guess that being bored wouldn’t help things. Indeed, if you’re like me, you might find that being in a boring situation definitely doesn’t make you any less fidgety!

Related to hyperactivity is impatience, including a tendency to rush through things or even skip over necessary steps. Doing things too fast is one way to escape boring situations as efficiently as possible, or even to make those situations a little more exciting, so you can again see how boredom could exacerbate this side of ADHD.

It’s a similar situation with impulsivity. Pursuing short-term rewards at the expense of more meaningful goals or unexciting tasks that need to be done is both a symptom of ADHD and a way to escape boredom. Coincidence? Probably not.

In fact, I’m going to make a pretty bold claim here, which is that you can name almost any ADHD symptom at random, and boredom can make that symptom worse in some way.

I think that holds even for highly specific symptoms. For example: interrupting other people? That tendency sure is not going to get better if the conversation is boring – except, I guess, if being bored causes you to zone out and stop paying attention to the conversation entirely.

The more general pattern here is that since understimulation and how your brain reacts to understimulation seem to be part of ADHD, being in exceptionally understimulating situations is nothing but bad news in terms of ADHD symptoms.

What that means is that figuring out how to cope with boredom becomes an important part of managing ADHD. In my next post, I’m going to talk about two types of strategies I use in this area. In the meantime, feel free to share other ADHD symptoms that boredom can magnify that I neglected to include in this post!

Image: Flickr/theilr

Boredom as an ADHD Symptom Magnifier


Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.


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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). Boredom as an ADHD Symptom Magnifier. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2020/03/boredom-as-an-adhd-symptom-magnifier/

 

Last updated: 3 Mar 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.