Are you hypersensitive to feelings of boredom –and.. is this related to Neurodiversity?
Last week I was reading an article about boredom and made me think about the potential benefits of recognizing when you are starting to become bored. I was interested if some people have a lower threshold to the feelings of boredom and if this drives other behaviors and has other consequences.
If you know me you will know I find it very hard to sit still and am always on the go, needing to doodle, fiddle, or multi-task or I lose focus very quickly. I find it impossible to just sit still. Even when reading a book I often have paper and pen by my side to jot down ideas as they pop-up! I even hate the thought of ‘doing nothing’.
What is boredom – a sense of irritation, agitation, apathy, being easily distractible?
What do you feel like when you are bored? Do you feel jittery, find it hard to sit still, feel anxious if you are contained?
Is the opposite of boredom feelings of being energized, interested, engaged, and active? In reading the article I became particularly interested in some of the feelings that being bored can lead to and it made me think about the association with boredom and ADHD:
Impulsiveness – seeking novelty and driving us to go from one activity to another to get a new thrill.
Poorer mental health – has been associated with anxiety and depression. Some people lack focus because they have become depressed and are apathetic.
When talking to a lot of adults with ADHD they also fear becoming bored and for some this leads them to feel agitated rather than apathetic. This was seen in a study comparing adults with and without ADHD.
Impulsivity –“ boredom can cause people to seek out new situations or challenges.” and can express greater curiosity. “They mentioned an experiment in 2019, where participants were offered the opportunity to look at photographs they had seen already or photographs that were unfamiliar to them.
Those who were bored showed a stronger preference for unfamiliar photographs, even when they knew these new photos would show them unpleasant things like cockroaches or dirty dishes.”
Finding a meaning in life- “People who feel bored report that their current situation is devoid of any purpose. In response, they actively seek out ways in which they can make life feel meaningful again.
This made me really think about the symptoms of ADHD which are associated with all of the above but also the benefits of ADHD if we can harness them.
Perhaps having a low threshold for feelings of boredom can lead to avoidance of being in that state. It can drive curiosity and can lead to you being open to considering new ideas, and seeing different connections.
It can drive activity that if channeled can be positive and purposeful. However, if the avoidance of boredom is channeled negatively it can lead to the opposite and lead to thrill-seeking behaviors.
Do we need to recognize the early signs of boredom and find ways to utilize them effectively?
It is important for those around the person who gets bored easily to also see that ‘being busy’ is not only OK but that sitting still can be really very difficult and can feel uncomfortable. What others see are the external signs (fidgety) but not the internal signs ( anxiety/agitation).
A fidgety child in the class is often told to sit still despite them needing to move to learn and can help with their focus. I always think it’s a bit like blinking, you can only not blink for a short while before you just have to! I really listen in meetings but need to doodle at the same time. I often need to move around a little but it doesn’t mean I am disinterested.
We need to see the importance of movement for some children. Sitting still in assembly for example may be much harder to do for very long and shouldn’t be seen as oppositional. Ironically during Covid-19, some parents have said how their children have been happier, more engaged, and more productive being at home because they don’t have to sit still for long. Some children going into school are in smaller classes with more space around them and this has also helped them.
So if the opposite of movement is stillness sometimes others may assume that relaxation is the answer to helping you reduce your ‘fidgety’ state. I have been told by others to try meditation.
The thought of sitting in a zen-like state with nothing to do but be with my thoughts is really hard for me to do and even gets me feeling agitated thinking about it!
Alternatively, going for a walk, playing a musical instrument, or weeding in the garden are great ways for me to achieve a flow state and having some time off from my busy brain. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the key people who developed the concept of the flow experience’.(It is worth watching his Ted talk – Flow the secret to happiness). He talks about when you are really involved in a task you have no attention left over to start thinking about other things. Some people talk about being ‘in the zone’.
They are not bored but fully engaged. While much of the research on flow has been done on those who are great musicians, great athletes, and top CEOs I believe we can use this approach to help us all. It has been showing to lead to greater clarity and create a sense of serenity. There is something about his work that is key in that the activity you choose must be sufficiently challenging and need to increase your skill level to gain the flow state.
While doing something you enjoy such as playing a musical instrument it can take you away from distracting thoughts and decrease the feelings of boredom. By gaining the flow state we can also lead to gains in creativity. There is a need to choose something that requires focus on what you are doing such as playing a sport, playing a computer game or going for a walk, or taking part in drama or dance. What works for one person may not work for another. For some children with ADHD maintaining interest to engage them ( and avoiding agitation or feelings of anxiety) it is important we set them a challenge that extends their learning while assuring they have the skills to do so.
So, is the opposite of being in a flow state feeling bored? Interestingly we see children and adults with ADHD get bored with the two things that have the lowest flow rates – watching TV and going to the toilet. I always wondered in my very neurodivergent household why we always had books in our toilet!
So should I develop meditation skills? One study did show some benefits of learning mindfulness in reducing anxiety in people with ADHD but maybe the reason for this was the structured course helping to stay focused for long enough to learn the skills, and maybe it is partly about the social aspect of being with others. Perhaps it’s great for some but not for all.
One size doesn’t fit all.
So the morals to this very garbled tale ( that I hope has interested you) are:
- Seeing the need for movement (small and big) in some children and adults is something that is required and not negative behavior. It is like being allowed to breathe. We need to see that being fidgety is not equated with a lack of interest and in reality movement for some can aid focus and increase pleasure and productivity.
- Not stopping movement when you start to sense boredom, may lead to increased feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Recognize the sensation of boredom and use it in productive ways and find ways that allow a flow state as this may lead to even greater creativity.
- Find what works for you (or your child) e.g. sport, horse riding, walking, playing music, even making bread – doing something physical that you have to focus on can help free your brain to make those creative connections.
- Next time you start to feel bored see it as a marker for physical activity that you like to do and are interested in.
Professor Amanda Kirby comes from a wonderful neurodivergent family and realizes that she has ADHD and always did but was not diagnosed. She was in a flow state and very excited about writing this and hopes you will be too!
She is the CEO of www.doitprofiler.com – a tech-for-good company that has web-based tools for you to explore more about your spiky profile and also delivers consultancy and training relating to neurodiversity.