My wife would tell you I have a high pain tolerance and very little tolerance for pain. I’d rather be at a pain level of 10 for 10 minutes than at 2 for 2 hours. This is not uncommon for those of us with ADHD. We simply do not tolerate discomfort very well, and that is partly why children/teens (and even adults, much as we loathe to admit it) have meltdowns. Discomfort gives us an overwhelming sense of crawling in our skin; we’re desperately trying to escape the feeling that consumes us but are trapped in it. And this intolerance for discomfort can feed our volatile outbursts.
I once had a client who told me he couldn’t sleep; he said he just couldn’t get comfortable. In reaction to this discomfort, he would toss and turn until he eventually dozed off. So, to fall asleep faster, he just moved around a bunch, trying to shake off the discomfort. Of course, that movement is the very thing that kept him awake. We discussed what it would be like for him to notice his discomfort and focus on getting comfortable despite that irritation rather than trying to escape it. When I asked him what that might do, the client thought for a second or two, chuckled, and said, “I’d probably fall asleep a lot faster.”
This intolerance for discomfort can have some substantial adverse effects. For instance, it can make those of us with ADHD more prone to drug use and addiction because of our desire to avoid discomfort. Intolerance for discomfort also gets in the way of us developing self-awareness, which is vital to our success as ADHD individuals. Developing self-awareness, especially as teens and young adults, requires us to ask ourselves difficult and uncomfortable questions that will likely challenge and make us uncomfortable. Our avoidance of discomfort is typically the single most significant impediment between an ADHD person and their self-awareness.
Knowing this, we must deliberately notice when we avoid discomfort and consider our reactions. Notice what our triggers are and what helps us mitigate that discomfort. If we can think past our discomfort, we can identify solutions to help us mitigate it productively. For instance, listening to music on the train ride home makes it less dull. Or taking out the trash is easier when you do it on roller skates. Maybe watching SportsCenter while you brush your teeth makes that chore less uncomfortable. When you know what things in your life are likely to cause you discomfort and you are noticing when you are uncomfortable, you can prepare yourself.
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach