Healthy and Unhealthy Ways of Coping With Boredom in ADHD

A few weeks ago someone raised in an interesting question in response to one of my posts: what are the differences between healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with boredom in ADHD?

We often talk about things being “healthy” or “unhealthy” from a mental health point of view, but these terms can be tricky to define – even more so because something that’s “healthy” for someone in one situation might be “unhealthy” for someone in another situation.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people with ADHD seem to have a tendency to cope with boredom using addictions and “addictions.” By addictions without quotes I mean actual addictions to nicotine, drugs, etc. By “addictions” I mean addictions in the sense of people saying “I’m addicted to Netflix.”

For example, some research (here’s one study, but there are others) suggests that boredom is an important factor that leads people with ADHD to start smoking, along with things like stress and restlessness.

When it comes to no-quotes addictions, we’re talking about things that are unhealthy in the literal, physical sense. So that’s a pretty obvious example of an unhealthy way of coping with boredom.

For with-quotes “addictions,” it’s a little more complicated. To generalize, if it’s something that makes you feel good and doesn’t harm you physically or lower your quality of life, it’s probably a healthy way of coping with boredom.

So for example, TV fails that test because I usually don’t feel that great after if I binge-watch a TV show.

On the other hand, the two “addictions” that do the most for me in terms of fending off boredom are music and travel. For me, both these things get my brain into gear, so I organize my life to be able to get as much of each as possible. With music, that just means listening to as much as possible – things like concerts are my biggest non-essential expense. With travel, one of the biggest advantages of being self-employed is that I can travel and work at the same time.

Of course, one of the things about ADHD-related boredom is that it tends to strike when it’s least welcome – often, when we’re trying to do some sort of tedious task we have to focus on. When people with ADHD are faced with unstimulating tasks, our brains can just disengage and go looking for something more interesting to do, refusing to come back to the job at hand.

A common ADHDer tactic here is simply to avoid boredom-provoking tasks. Depending on the situation, this can be healthy or unhealthy.

If there are unnecessary activities that make you bored and exacerbate your concentration problems, it absolutely is healthy to cut these out of our life altogether. However, the problem is when you have necessary activities that you find boring and hard to pay attention to.

Here, avoiding these things isn’t a healthy approach because it’s obviously not sustainable – the boring tasks will just pile up and become overwhelming. Instead, the trick is to find something you can do alongside these activities that’ll make your brain happier. For me, listening to music while doing boring tasks is something that’s very helpful.

More generally, I think the key to dealing with ADHD-related boredom is to figure out what’s really interesting to you (this part can take a little exploring) and then structure your life to do those things as much as possible – including while you’re doing the things that are boring!

What are some other healthy or unhealthy ways of dealing with boredom? Please share your experiences!

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