Jeremy was a bright student who worked hard and succeeded academically. He was bored easily, but he loved to learn and had done exceptionally well at a prestigious university. As a result, Jeremy attained his dream of being accepted to med school. He expected that medical studies would be an extension of the smorgasbord of intellectual challenges he had experienced in college. But Jeremy was soon disappointed. The memorization of more or less unimportant facts made Jeremy and his brain feel half asleep. He resorted to simultaneously listening to both the television and the radio to remain awake enough and have sufficient attention to commit to memory what he needed for his exams. That Jeremy’s brain began to fall asleep when confronted with uninteresting information was an important sign that Jeremy had attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Your Brain’s Role in Boredom
Despite the endless controversy, ADHD is a legitimate brain disorder that results in problems with low stimulation and boredom. Because the prefrontal cortex or governing system of the brain is impaired in ADHD, there is also often difficulty with executive functions or common forms of self-regulation, including focus, attention, concentration, goal-setting, planning, organization, and impulse control. And, they have difficulty tolerating boredom. In fact, many individuals with ADHD feel understimulated—even bored—because the activity in the front of their brains is too low.
ADHD & Stimulation
Some individuals with ADHD experience low prefrontal cortex activity and under stimulation to an extreme degree. Activities that would make most of us tremble with anxiety—such as motorcycle racing or skydiving—seem to calm these individuals, probably because these exciting activities boost the low activity in their PFC. For example, a man I knew who was an airplane wing walker required an extreme amount of stimulation was for him to feel calm and comfortable.
Most of us would be paralyzed by anxiety walking on the wing of an airplane mid-flight, but this man, who normally experienced boring situations as remarkably intolerable, was optimally stimulated when engaging in his hobby. He stopped being distracted and became simply mindful, alert, and fully aware in the present moment. Why? Well, the adrenaline pumped out by his adrenal glands boosted his typically very low-functioning PFC, so he felt calm and focused walking on wings instead of rattled by his normal state of intense boredom. To each his own, for sure.
This is the important point I want to make: Many people with ADHD have difficulty tolerating boredom, and many seek out experiences in which intensity or stimulation is high. Sometimes the stimulation is extreme. The wing walker overcame his intolerable boredom by walking on the wings of an airplane in mid-flight. But the stimulation can also be of a different order. Think of those who are “addicted” to their iPhones and other mobile devices, because the constant pings alert them to new information; novelty stimulates and relieves their boredom.
ADHD’s Interference With Everyday Tasks
Many individuals with ADHD who could barely spend ten minutes doing boring activities such as paying bills or doing their taxes can easily lose themselves for many consecutive hours playing exciting video games. The constant change and feedback they receive by playing overcome their boredom. The stimulation, novelty, and excitement get them to pay attention. Without it, they are apathetic, fatigued, or spacey. Some patients with ADHD even become bored in their relationship with a romantic partner after several months; they break off the relationship, not because it is a bad one, but because they need a new relationship, a new person, someone fresh, novel.
At Amen Clinics, we understand the pain and frustration that ADHD can cause for families and adults. We approach each individual with a sense of compassion and respect. Our experienced clinical staff will take a full history of each patient using The 4 Circles Approach before beginning treatment with SPECT imaging or making other recommendations. Connect with us today by calling 888-288-9834 to learn more – we are waiting to help you, or schedule a visit today!