ADHD boredom intolerance can cause you to act out in order to stimulate your brain. Here are strategies that can help.

Young woman walking with headphones onShare on Pinterest
Santi Nuñez/Stocksy United

If you have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), your brain consistently seeks stimulation and you likely crave mental and physical tasks that hold your interest.

When you get bored, you might suddenly zone out on the task at hand, fidget, or seek interest elsewhere. You may act out in a way to avoid boredom and stimulate the reward center in your brain. This is referred to as boredom intolerance.

But you aren’t doomed to struggle through boring tasks, trying to stay focused and not disruptive. There are strategies that can help you stop feeling bored and start staying focused.

If you have ADHD, your brain may have lower levels of the chemical dopamine that operates as a chemical messenger in the brain, communicating reward and regulating focus. This can affect your level of interest in things and the amount of stimulation you need and can handle.

You can quickly lose focus in areas of your life that you don’t enjoy, like homework or work.

By comparison, a person who doesn’t have ADHD often finds it easier to get through boring tasks in their day.

According to the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), neurotypical folks can often focus on future rewards, such as getting a good grade or a promotion at work, to help them pay attention.

But a person with ADHD has a harder time being motivated by future rewards. An ADHD brain wants boredom relief and it wants it now.

Research has shown that high rates or intensity of boredom is a core symptom of people with ADHD.

Feeling bored can lead to poor academic performance as well problems with relationships and attention.

The desire to avoid boredom can lead you to engage in activities that could be problematic, such as calling out in class or joining in on conversations that don’t involve you.

These behaviors may frustrate you and the people around you, leading to feelings of rejection and increased isolation.

In her book “The Elephant in the ADHD Room: Beating Boredom as the Secret to Managing ADHD,” Letitia Sweitzer argues that both boredom and boredom avoidance actually drive the clinical diagnostic types of ADHD, including:

  • inattention
  • impulsivity
  • hyperactivity

Sweitzer offers several pieces of advice on how you can manage boredom and engage better. The following suggestions may help you to stop feeling bored and manage your less interesting tasks.

Figure out your elements of interest

One of the first things you can try is to figure out what activities, work, assignments, and outlets of expression are interesting to you.

If you don’t know, taking some self-discovery time may help to find activities that will allow you to avoid boredom.

When you find what you prefer, you can spend some time each day focusing on that activity to help stimulate you and prevent boredom from setting in.

Pen down your top joys

Boredom can become overwhelming at times, which is why writing down your top joys and interests may help during periods where boredom sets in. If you have written down some interests, you can then select one of them when you are feeling bored or as a break to help prevent boredom.

The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) recommends using other organizational tools, such as index cards, if you’re not a list person. If you use index cards, you can pull one out when bored and do the activity on the card.

Remix boring tasks

A problem you have likely run into is that you can’t always do things you love all day, every day. At some point, you’re going to have to do homework or go to work.

Just because you have to do something, doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a stimulating task into a boring task.

Doing this will look different for everyone, but some ways to remix a boring task include:

Of course, you need to follow the rules of your school and employer when modifying tasks, but sometimes a simple change that fits your interests can help keep you more engaged.

Stimulating activities for ADHD adults, teens, and kids

  • handling fidget toys
  • listening to short story audiobooks or podcasts
  • playing games with yourself to motivate you to get through a tedious or boring task, such as competitions to see how much you can do in an hour
  • trying evidence-based exercises good for ADHD, such as running, skiing, or dancing — anything that keeps you interested!
  • learning a new skill such as a new language, programming, or cooking
  • practicing mindfulness and giving yourself breaks
  • working on quick puzzles or brain games
  • taking a creative course such as painting, drawing, or pottery

ADHD boredom intolerance can cause you to seek stimulation when faced with boring activities. You may find yourself acting out, drifting off in your thoughts, or getting bored much more quickly than your peers.

And when you get bored, you may have more trouble stimulating your brain and getting motivated again.

To avoid boredom, you can take steps such as identifying things that bring you happiness and help stimulate your mind. You can also set time limits and spice up the less interesting responsibilities with other sensory stimuli while you focus.