5 Creative Ways To Overcome Boredom for Adults with ADHD
We all get bored sometimes.
It happens in the waiting room at the doctor’s office when they’re running behind schedule, at work while the boss drones on and on about a project we’re not directly involved in, and when we’re sitting in rush hour traffic waiting for the light to turn green.
Boredom may be an inconvenience, but it actually evolved to serve an essential purpose… to evoke and initiate action. However, for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who struggle with taking action, boredom can become a bigger problem. Because of the known ADHD gap or delay between knowing and doing, people with ADHD can too often get stuck in that bored state. And since boredom is a ‘default mode’ state, it can lead to poor decision-making and risky behavior as the brain tries to find ways to stimulate itself.
Boredom and ADHD
People with ADHD have lower than normal levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases when you’re doing something you enjoy and decreases when you’re bored. In neurotypical adults, the brain can self-regulate and bring itself back to homeostasis. In adults with ADHD, however, the already low dopamine levels just get lower when they experience boredom, sending the brain into a tailspin of “Must find something to do right now!”
This is problematic because the brain’s insistence on a dopamine hit can lead someone with ADHD to seek out instant gratification, regardless of the consequence. Where a neurotypical person might push themselves to complete a boring task because there’s a reward if they finish (or a penalty if they don’t), someone with ADHD might quit halfway through because they can’t even see the finish line, let alone come up with a plan to get there.
Boredom can also increase impulsivity, causing someone to find themselves in less-than-desirable situations. They might be rude to a waiter who they feel is taking too long with their food or cut someone off in traffic because they think that person is driving too slowly.
Unhealthy ADHD Boredom-Busters
A person living with ADHD tends to crave stimulation. As a result, to overcome boredom ADHD adults are likely to take the path of least resistance to find it and often engage in less helpful behaviors. Some unhealthy boredom solutions include:
- Binge eating or choosing unhealthy “feel good” foods
- Picking fights with a friend, family member or co-worker just to have something to argue about
- Excessive use of tv, internet, or video games
- Giving up on a boring task entirely because you can’t stand it anymore, and then never completing essential tasks
- Numbing out by choosing drugs or alcohol to “bust” boredom
These things may cure boredom…for the moment. However, they can lead to long-term consequences such as disordered eating, addiction, and problems maintaining relationships at work and at home.
If you find yourself using negative behaviors to alleviate your boredom, try replacing them with the following habits.
Positive Ways to Combat Boredom for ADHD Adults
1. Create Anticipation
If you know you’re entering a situation in which you’re likely to become bored, plan ahead. A great tool was introduced on this episode of ‘How to ADHD’ – you can create a dopa-menu! Come up with a list of things you love to do, and have them ready to roll whenever you’re bored. Examples may include saving a few favorite podcast episodes to listen to at any time. Or, keep a book in your car to only read while waiting. Another idea may be to plan a text date with your best friend while you’re waiting in line at the DMV. When you have something to look forward to, and intentionally create anticipation, even boring situations aren’t that bad.
2. Visualize Your Finish Line
Do you often quit or procrastinate on a task because you can’t see what’s in it for you? Try this! Physically imagine a finish line in your line of sight and experiment with different rewards. Whether it’s the milkshake you’ll have when you finish, the vacation you’re working overtime to afford, or even just a picture of the family you’re working to support, visualizing an ACTUAL physical pay-off can help you overcome those intermittent boredom signals. The task may still be boring but seeing what you’re working toward is a huge motivator to pushing through.
3. To Overcome Boredom, Plan An Imaginary Adventure
Home alone and nothing to do? Take a trip anywhere you’d like to go. Research flights, virtually tour hotel rooms, open Google Earth and go on a journey. Spend some time gathering ideas for an itinerary you’d like to do while there. Studies have shown that imagining something real like a vacation can trigger the same parts of the brain that the actual experience does. This means that your “fake” imaginary vacation can have a very real effect on your emotional state!
4. Challenge Yourself
As much as we wish life could be all fun, all the time, the fact remains that there will always be boring tasks to complete whether we like it or not. To combat boredom – try game-ifying different tasks. Gamification is a process of playing little games with yourself. See how much work you can complete in a given period of time, or race yourself to bang out tasks within 5 minutes. See if you can clean out the fridge in less than 15 minutes, or how many budget reports you can process before lunch. When you set up challenges to race against the clock or try to beat previous records, you create more epinephrine and dopamine, and these neuromodulators enhance your focus and help redirect your brain in a positive manner.
5. Find Your Spoonful of Sugar
In the words of everyone’s favorite magical nanny, Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.” This boredom strategy is all about creating rewards! Find ways to introduce fun into normally tedious tasks, whether that means dancing while you vacuum, listening to your favorite standup comedian while you fold laundry, or taking work calls on the back deck instead of in your home office.
Don’t Let ADHD-Related Boredom Drag You Down!
People with ADHD are more prone to boredom than those without the condition, and they’re likely to feel boredom’s effects on a deeper level. But that doesn’t mean life has to be doom and gloom. When you find creative ways to overcome boredom, you’ll be more efficient, more successful, and ultimately be more satisfied with your life!
As a certified ADHD coach who also lives with the condition, I’m uniquely qualified to help you face (and mitigate) your ADHD symptoms ad unique challenges. Book your FREE Discovery Call with me today and let’s get to work!