We Need To Talk About Painful Boredom In ADHD

Restful Life
5 min read

Ever feel like boredom isn't just a mental state, but a physical ache?

For people who are ADHD, the experience of boredom can be intense.

In ADHD brains, boredom manifests in a way that goes beyond simply feeling uninterested.

Imagine feeling like there are millions of things you could be doing. So you start cycling through activities. You turn on the TV but nothing looks good. You pick up a book but keep reading the same sentence over and over. Load up a video game, but you’re just not feeling it.

A restlessness takes hold, like an animal pacing in a zoo. It’s an itch that you just can’t scratch. An unbearable craving for something but nothing relieves it.

This isn’t an exaggeration – for many ADHDers, boredom can be a bodily sensation as much as a mental one.

It’s not just a lack of engagement. It’s a physical yearning for stimulation.

ADHD is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterised by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

But another aspect often overlooked is the uniquely painful experience of boredom. Also known as ADHD understimulation.

Why Boredom Feels Painful for Your ADHD Brain

When stuck in a long lecture about an uninteresting topic, most people’s minds will wander.

But if you are ADHD, boredom can hit much harder. It can feel like a physical drain, zapping your energy and making your body restless or even achy.

Current research suggests this is due to a potential difference within the dopamine pathway of the ADHD brain.

Dopamine is a crucial neurotransmitter that influences motivation, pleasure, and learning. Due to this potential dopamine difference, you may experience feeling understimulated more.

This means the ADHD brain often seeks heightened stimulation to engage with tasks. You can create this stimulation with:

  • novelty,
  • personal interest,
  • urgency, or
  • immediate rewards.

This is why ADHDers can often hyperfocus on captivating topics of interest like video games or reading. Unfortunately, you may lose focus after five minutes of doing something boring.

Two women with long black hair holding video game controllers looking to the left

While dopamine plays a starring role in the ADHD boredom experience, another brain chemical called norepinephrine might also be involved.

Norepinephrine is like a partner to dopamine. It helps with focus, alertness, and motivation. Low levels of dopamine may also affect norepinephrine production.

This can create a double whammy. Not only does the ADHD brain have variances in dopamine, which could impact motivation. But the ability to maintain focus and alertness through norepinephrine is also different.

The Downward Spiral: Consequences of Unmanaged Boredom in ADHD

Everyone gets bored. However, there are some serious consequences of unmanaged boredom for ADHDers.

Note, that these are only potential consequences. Not everyone will experience all of them. But it’s important to be aware of these risks and take steps to manage boredom effectively.

Emotional Distress

Chronic boredom can contribute to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even depression. The constant struggle to focus and stay engaged can be emotionally draining.

Low Self-Esteem

Difficulty completing or focusing on tasks may lead to feelings of inadequacy. You may blame yourself for your struggles with boredom, even though it’s a neurological difference.

Increased Procrastination

When faced with an uninteresting task, boredom can fuel procrastination. The desire to escape the boredom may lead to putting off the task entirely. This can lead to further stress and potential negative consequences.

Impulsive Behaviors

In an attempt to seek stimulation, you might engage in impulsive behaviours. This could involve excessive spending or engaging in high-risk activities.

Strained Relationships

Difficulty focusing during conversations, acting impulsively, or neglecting responsibilities due to boredom could strain relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

Substance Abuse

You may use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and cope with painful boredom.

Recognizing The Signs of ADHD Understimulation

A woman sits with her head in her hand looking bored

ADHD understimulation can often be mistaken for depression or chronic fatigue. But here are some signs that may point to understimulation:

  • Attention Shifting: Frequent distractions by unrelated thoughts
  • Focus Impairment: Difficulty concentrating, particularly on boring or repetitive tasks
  • Motivational Shortage: Lack of motivation to engage in activities
  • Procrastination Paralysis: Tendency to procrastinate and then feel overwhelmed
  • Increased Stimulation Needs: Requiring music or background noise to focus
  • Psychomotor Restlessness: Feeling pent-up tension and wanting to ‘get it out’
  • Emotional Dysregulation: Frequent episodes of irritation, frustration, anger, depression, or anxiety
  • Restlessness: Difficulty with stillness, relaxation, or restful self-care
  • Stimming Behaviors: Engaging in repetitive, self-stimulatory movements or sounds such as fidgeting, bouncing your leg or biting fingernails

Practical Strategies for Conquering ADHD Understimulation

Once you know that understimulation is the cause of painful boredom, you can create better strategies to support yourself.


  • Experiment and find what works best for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing ADHD boredom.
  • Be patient with yourself. Changing your habits and managing ADHD takes time and effort.
  • Celebrate your progress, and don’t get discouraged by setbacks.
  • Seek professional help to develop personalised strategies for managing boredom if needed

Here are some ideas you can try to help overcome ADHD understimulation:

Work Environment Modifications

  • Minimise Distractions: Find a quiet workspace free from clutter or visual distractions. Noise-cancelling headphones can also be helpful.
  • Maximise Stimulation: Create a stimulating environment. This could involve having fidget toys on hand, listening to music, or using a standing desk to encourage movement
  • Break Up the Monotony: If possible, periodically change your work environment. Work for short bursts in different locations throughout the day.

Task Management

  • Variety is Key: Vary your daily tasks and activities to prevent boredom. Alternate between focused work and movement breaks.
  • Gamification: Turn boring tasks into a game! Use neurodivergent-friendly apps or create your own reward system to incentivise yourself to complete tasks. This positive reinforcement can help motivate you to tackle the next task.
  • Timeboxing: Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Use a non-arbitrary timer to segment work into focused sprints with short breaks between.

Sensory Stimulation

  • Fidget Toys: Keep fidget toys on hand to provide a physical outlet for excess energy and to help increase stimulation and focus.
  • Movement Breaks: Schedule short breaks to get up and move around every 20-30 minutes. This could involve walking, stretching, or even doing some star jumps.
  • Sensory Integration: Incorporate activities that engage multiple senses: listen to music while working, chew gum, or use aromatherapy diffusers with invigorating scents like peppermint or citrus.

Novelty and Challenge

  • Seek Out New Activities: Regularly try new activities and hobbies to engage and stimulate your brain.
  • Body Doubling: Have someone beside you, either physically or virtually, while you both work to help you stay motivated and focused
  • Volunteer or Learn a New Skill: Engaging in activities that align with your interests and values can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Learning a new skill can be a great way to challenge your brain and stay motivated.

What To Do When Nothing Helps Relieve ADHD Understimulation

Woman in purple top & long black hair dances with eyes closed

Sometimes all the strategies in the world will still fail. And you’ll still experience painful boredom. Sometimes to the point of tears.

So when ADHD understimulation becomes unbearably itchy and irritating? The best way to cope is to move your body.

Getting up and doing any physical activity can help transform restless energy into a mood boost.

And it doesn’t have to be traditional exercise. It could be as simple as dancing around your kitchen, going for a walk, pottering in the garden, water aerobics or chair yoga.


For ADHD brains, boredom can be painful — impacting focus, energy, and even mood.

The good news is? There are ways to give your brain the fuel it craves and turn that boredom into focus. From creating a stimulating environment, breaking down complex tasks, incorporating movement breaks, and seeking novelty.

Remember, the key is experimentation. Find what works best for you, celebrate your progress, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed. With the right approach, you can conquer boredom and thrive.

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