Do you wake up with your mental battery already drained?
Even with long hours of sleep and shots of caffeine, you don’t have the energy to get the ball rolling.
There’s a nagging itch to keep your mind occupied, which makes you restless and unsettled. This mental roadblock keeps you from working, while your unfinished work snowballs into stress and guilt.
Understimulation is a common experience for adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This can cause a person to feel bored, tired, unmotivated, or irritated all the time.
It’s important to realize that having ADHD doesn’t mean you’re “lazy” or “irresponsible.” ADHD is a genuine medical condition that makes it more challenging to do what you need to.
If you want to learn how to recharge your mental battery, explore the following practical tricks and strategies!
Unpacking Understimulation in ADHD: Recognizing the Signs
The best way to combat understimulation in ADHD is to learn how to detect it.
This phenomenon is often perceived as chronic fatigue or depression. But with closer observation, you’ll notice patterns unique to understimulation.
Look out for the following signs to identify understimulation in ADHD:
- Getting distracted by unrelated thoughts and then forgetting what you were supposed to do
- Feeling lethargic all the time despite getting enough (or excess) sleep
- Struggling to concentrate on the task at hand, especially if it’s uninteresting
- Having a lack of motivation to work on tasks you find boring or repetitive
- Procrastinating and avoiding a task but feeling tooguilty to do anything else
- Requiring extra simulation (e.g., loud music, background TV noises, etc.) to focus on an activity
- Experiencing immense restlessness and pent-up energy with nowhere to channel it to
- Feeling physically uncomfortable or unwell
- Getting irritated, frustrated, angry, depressed, or anxious often
- Feeling too mentally exhausted after work to enjoy other activities you used to
- Being unable to sit still, “relax,” or do nothing at all
- Stimming or performing repetitive and self-stimulatory movements and sounds (e.g., fidgeting, tapping your hands or feet, biting your nails, etc.)
By identifying that understimulation is the cause of these issues, it becomes easier to build strategies and support systems. All of which will help you overcome it and achieve your goals.
Causes of Understimulation in ADHD
Understimulation happens when there aren’t enough interesting things going on in your environment to keep you entertained or engaged. And while we can all relate to that, it’s especially tough for ADHDers.
If you have ADHD, you’re more likely to be understimulated when you’re:
- Doing activities with no short-term or immediate rewards and benefits
- Working on something that is too easy and poses no challenge
- Carrying out routine daily activities on autopilot mode
- Performing boring and repetitive tasks
If you’re like most people, you get bored when doing tasks that are uninteresting or repetitive. But those who don’t have ADHD can push their minds to focus.
However, those with ADHD often require more stimulation or pressure to get a task kickstarted.
Understimulation and the ADHD Brain
Because of the lack of dopamine in the brain, people with ADHD tend to find themselves in a motivation drought. So more stimulation is required to get the ADHD brain hooked and engaged in the activity or task at hand.
Meaning that the ADHD brain is always on the hunt for more stimulation, which might come in the form of novelty, personal interest, urgency, or immediate rewards.
You might struggle to prioritize boring but important tasks over new and fun activities. You may also notice that you can hyperfocus on something interesting, like playing video games or reading a book, for hours on end. In contrast, you may begin to lose focus after just five minutes of working.
Knowing there’s a scientific explanation for these behaviors can come as a wave of relief for many ADHDers.
Understimulation vs. Boredom in ADHD
Understimulation and boredom in ADHD aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand.
Understimulation (as mentioned above) happens when your external environment doesn’t interest or intrigue you enough. It’s a broader concept that describes situations where a person’s mental or sensory needs aren’t met.
On the other hand, boredom refers to the sense of dullness, impatience, or tiredness a person feels when they’re unengaged.
Understimulation often leads to feelings of boredom – but how a person experiences and reacts to understimulation can be different. For many ADHDers, understimulation may lead to not only boredom but also frustration, anger, irritation, and physical discomfort.
In ADHD, both understimulation and boredom can be overcome using similar strategies.
How to Cope With Understimulation
Understimulation affects people in different ways. But for most ADHDers, it can lead to missed deadlines, incomplete projects, and frustration.
Luckily, there are various ways to ramp up your stimulation and motivation levels.
Find Sources of Stimulation When Working
Many ADHDers don’t get enough stimulation from the task at hand to stay focused for long.
You can remedy this by finding other sources to keep your brain engaged while working on something you don’t enjoy.
Here’s what to do when you’re understimulated and have ADHD:
- Listen to music or a podcast, or turn the TV on in the background while you work.
- Find undisruptive ways to fidget (e.g., using a fidget toy, fiddling with stretchy bands, doodling while listening to a lecture, etc.).
- Eat or drink something that interests or excites you, like bubble tea or a spicy snack.
- Try body doubling, the practice of having someone beside you – physically or virtually – while you both work on your own tasks.
- Create a false sense of urgency by breaking down big projects into smaller goals and setting a deadline with some buffer time for each subtask.
- Turn boring tasks into mini-games (e.g., seeing how much laundry you can fold before the kettle boils).
The right source of stimulation should enhance your focus on a task instead of distracting you.
Introduce Novelty Into Your Routine
Novelty is an overlooked gem. Since the ADHD brain is always on the hunt for something new and exciting, switching up your daily routine can improve your focus and productivity.
Here are some routine-busting tips to help reduce understimulation in ADHD:
- Try working in new and different environments.
- Find ways to lighten up your work desk, like changing the decorations or photos.
- Spring clean your work desk occasionally to keep it decluttered.
- Reward yourself with something unique, like a meal at a new restaurant, after completing a goal.
- Change up your music playlist from time to time.
- Find fun activities to incorporate into your breaks (e.g., taking a stroll around a new block, having interesting snacks, trying a new stretching exercise, etc.).
Adding bits of novelty to your work and daily life can keep your brain happy and excited. This can make it easier to start working on tasks when you need to.
Refresh Your Mental To-Do List
Some ADHDers often find themselves unable to work on a task no matter how much they want to. They just can’t bring themselves to happily do anything else. This can lead to snowballing stress and tension.
What you can try next time is to refresh your mental hard disk. Eliminate that task you planned on doing from your brain’s to-do list, then give yourself permission to do something fun or exciting. Avoid harping or dwelling on that pending task, and simply enjoy yourself.
Once you’re feeling happier and more stimulated, it becomes easier to push through and get started on the task you initially planned to do.
Find Ways to Release Pent-Up Tension
Understimulation can cause frustration, anger, and restlessness. These emotions can build up since ADHDers are more likely to encounter understimulation daily.
To prevent these emotions from bubbling over, look for creative ways to increase your stimulation and reduce that tension.
You can try to schedule an activity you thoroughly enjoy in your day. This can be taking a walk or driving to a park, messing around with your art supplies, or playing an instrument for half an hour.
Some people even find something as simple as running, journaling their thoughts, or meditation helps release pent-up tension and frustration.
The Balancing Act: Avoiding Overstimulation
The ADHD brain may sometimes experience overstimulation or sensory overload.
Research suggests that those with ADHD are more likely to have sensory difficulties, as the ADHD brain processes and organizes stimuli differently.
This can lead to a range of symptoms when the brain becomes overwhelmed by emotions or information, including headaches, lightheadedness, anxiety, stress, and sleeping problems.
So the methods you use to increase stimulation shouldn’t distract you or overwhelm your brain with too much at once.
You might need to experiment a little to see what works for you. For example, you may find that your brain focuses better with a playlist in the background, but only with music that isn’t too loud or fast-paced.
Use Novelty, Urgency, and Passion to Your Advantage
There are many ways to deal with understimulation in ADHD.
Start by experimenting with different sources of stimulation, like having music playing while working.
Adding novelty and a sense of urgency to your routine can help you get your head into the game. You can also try to include hobbies and activities you’re passionate about in your daily schedule.
By pulling one or more of these levers, you can keep your brain happy, stimulated, and engaged, enabling you to bring your best to the table each day!
Looking for more ways to combat understimulation? ADDA+ is a resource hub that offers expert-backed information, courses, and tools to help you overcome understimulation and other ADHD-related challenges in daily life.
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