ADHD Burnout: Understanding the Connection and Finding Relief

What are the main symptoms of ADHD burnout?


adhd burnout

ADHD burnout refers to the intense mental, emotional, and sometimes physical exhaustion that individuals with ADHD may experience, often due to the chronic effort of coping with their ADHD symptoms in environments that aren’t accommodating. Due to years of chronic stress, you often ignore the signs that you are exhausted, masking, and trying twice as hard as you should have to meet neurotypical standards without help or support.

  • Increased Fatigue: ADHD burnout is extreme exhaustion and nervous system fatigue.
  • Skill Regression: Tasks that were once manageable or things that you had learned and could do you may struggle with.
  • Heightened ADHD Symptoms: Core ADHD symptoms like inattention, emotional dysregulation, sensory sensitivity, rejection sensitivity, and other executive function loss may worsen.
  • Decreased Cognitive Function: This can manifest as increased forgetfulness, difficulty in making decisions, or feeling mentally “foggy.”
  • Withdrawal: Individuals might pull away from social engagements, work, or other responsibilities, preferring isolation because these situations are so demanding

Is there a link between ADHD and burnout?

Absolutely. Especially for women. ADHD women have been taught to mask and ignore signs that their body is distressed. Neurodivergent burnout is believed to differ from that experienced by neurotypical individuals. Due to the unique neurological makeup of ADHD and autistic individuals, they often encounter chronic stress and fatigue due to masking, discrimination invalidation, and stress. This is especially true when they are consistently subjected to sensory, social, and daily stressors in an environment that lacks adequate support, understanding, or compassion. From childhood, you’ve likely faced heightened stress compared to neurotypical peers. Over time, this accumulated stress can take a toll, leading to the significant mental and physical exhaustion we call burnout.

What Causes ADHD Burnout?

ADHD burnout is a culmination of continuous efforts to fit into a neurotypical world. Striving to hide perceived flaws, being a pleaser, being perfectionistic, trying to fit in, and working twice as hard can eventually catch up. This is what led to adhd burnout.

Key factors contributing to ADHD burnout include:

Discrimination and Stigma: Facing societal discrimination and stigma can be mentally taxing, pushing individuals to prove themselves constantly.

Environmental Overwhelm: Continuously being in environments that exceed one’s comfort level can lead to burnout. This is especially true when these settings are not accommodating to neurodivergent needs.

The Pursuit of Neurotypicality: The relentless effort to appear “neurotypical” and fit into societal norms can result in both mental and physical fatigue.

Sensory Overload: Beyond the mental strain, there’s a sensory component to ADHD burnout. Neurodivergent individuals often experience sensory overload, adding to their exhaustion.

ADHD burnout stems from the constant push to adapt to a world that doesn’t always understand or accommodate neurodivergent needs. Over time, this can lead to complete and utter exhaustion, affecting both the mind and body.

Are there Long-Term Effects of ADHD Burnout?

Yes and no. If you rest, you can recover, but if you don’t, it can chip away at your health.

ADHDers often experience more minor episodes of burnout before facing more significant burnout events. Regular self-care and tuning into one’s needs can help mitigate these episodes. By consistently accommodating oneself and practicing self-care, the chances of experiencing severe burnout episodes decrease. Conversely, chronic stress, lack of accommodations, and pushing oneself beyond one’s limits can increase the likelihood of a significant burnout episode.

Recent Findings on ADHD Burnout

While there’s a wealth of research on burnout among autistic individuals, studies specifically targeting ADHD burnout are limited. However, given that ADHD and autism are now both classified as neurodevelopmental disorders, insights from autism research can provide valuable perspectives on ADHD burnout.

Most of the existing research on autism burnout has been influenced by the lived experiences of autistic individuals. This emphasis on firsthand accounts ensures that the findings are rooted in genuine experiences, offering a more accurate understanding of burnout in the neurodivergent community.

Regarding ADHD-specific research, a notable study focuses on medical students with ADHD. While this study doesn’t provide a comprehensive view of ADHD burnout, it highlights discrimination, stigma, and exhaustion issues. These medical students often grapple with feelings of not fitting in and face challenges in keeping up with their peers.

Here are some of the main points: Bullying and Isolation: Medical students with ADHD often face bullying, leading to feelings of isolation, which can contribute to burnout.

Lack of Support: When these students disclose their ADHD, the absence of personalized support in medical school intensifies their burnout risk.

Fear of Judgment: The pressure to maintain a professional image in medical school makes them hesitant to discuss their ADHD, adding to their stress and potential burnout.

Hidden Strengths: Despite facing burnout, these students possess ADHD-associated strengths, like empathy and resilience under pressure, which are often overlooked in the medical environment.

Need for Change: To combat burnout, medical schools should offer more support, like peer groups, and make necessary adjustments for students with ADHD.

In summary, while direct research on ADHD burnout is sparse, the broader understanding of burnout in the neurodivergent community, especially from autism studies, offers valuable insights. More targeted studies on ADHD burnout are needed to understand its nuances and implications fully.

Are there any Treatments for ADHD Burnout?

1. Extended Rest: It’s crucial to take an extended break from the responsibilities that led to adhd burnout. Ideally, this would mean taking a hiatus from work for about 12 weeks. If this isn’t feasible, consider a substantial reduction in work responsibilities.

2. Work Adjustments: Transitioning to part-time work, eliminating particularly stressful tasks, or opting for remote work can help alleviate ADHD burnout symptoms. The goal is to minimize the factors that exacerbate burnout.

3. Limit Social Activities: If social interactions contribute to your adhd burnout, especially if they involve masking your true self, reducing such engagements is beneficial. Focus on activities that genuinely bring joy and relaxation.

4. Engage in Special Interests: Delving into hobbies or interests that you’re passionate about can be therapeutic. These activities can serve as a refuge, offering a break from the demands of daily life.

5. Unmasking: It’s essential to find environments where you can be your authentic self without the need to mask or conform to societal expectations.

6. Connect with Like-minded Individuals: Based on insights from research on autistic individuals, spending time with people who understand and share similar experiences can be healing. This often means connecting with other neurodivergent individuals or those with whom you can be genuine.

In essence, treating ADHD burnout revolves around creating a supportive environment that prioritizes well-being, authenticity, and genuine connections.

Lifestyle Changes to Combat ADHD Burnout: Returning to Life

To effectively address ADHD burnout, making specific lifestyle adjustments that prioritize well-being and reduce environmental stressors is essential.

Here are some recommended changes:

1. Self-Accommodation: Ensure that your daily environment, especially your workplace, is tailored to your needs. This might involve seeking workplace accommodations or even considering a job change if the current environment is excessively stressful.

2. Workplace Adjustments: Consider transitioning to part-time work, obtaining necessary accommodations, or finding a more supportive work environment. These changes can significantly reduce the risk of burnout.

3. Regular Breaks: Integrate short breaks throughout your day to rest and recharge. This can prevent the accumulation of stress and help maintain focus.

4. Body Awareness: Regularly check in with your body to gauge stress levels. Recognize signs of tension or discomfort and take proactive steps to alleviate them.

5. Emotional Recognition: If you experience alexithymia and difficulty in identifying and describing feelings, work on strategies to understand them better.

More changes to consider:

1. Acknowledge Grief: Recognize that adapting to a new lifestyle might involve grieving the loss of a neurotypical life. It’s essential to process this grief to move forward.

2. Seek Understanding Friends: Surround yourself with friends who comprehend and support your ADHD journey. Their empathy and understanding can be invaluable.

3. Choose a Suitable Job: Opt for a job that aligns with your strengths and values. Continuously being pushed beyond your comfort zone can lead to recurring burnout. Finding a balance where you can thrive without feeling overwhelmed is crucial.

4. Redefine Success: Let go of the idea of striving for a neurotypical standard of functioning. While challenging, releasing these ideals can lead to a more authentic and fulfilling life.

5. Embrace Self-Care and Self-Compassion: Prioritize self-care activities that resonate with you, whether it’s reading, mindfulness practices, nature walks, or other hobbies. Coupled with self-compassion, these practices become vital tools in your journey toward a balanced life.

6. Learn about energy management. Understand and manage physical, emotional, and cognitive energy throughout the day. This includes:

Special Interests:

    • Engaging in special interests is crucial for protecting and recovering from burnout. It is essential to incorporate time into your schedule to do what interests you, even if it seems frivolous or unproductive. It helps balance energy and can shield against low moods.

By implementing these changes, you can create a supportive environment that caters to your unique needs, helping reduce the symptoms of ADHD burnout.

How can someone with ADHD  burnout find support?

1. Seek professional help: A qualified therapist or counselor who specializes in neurodivergent affirming therapy or burnout can provide invaluable guidance and support. They can help you understand your condition better, develop coping strategies, and provide a safe space for you to express your thoughts and emotions. Look for therapists who have experience working with ADHD or burnout, and consider seeking recommendations from trusted sources.

2. Join support groups: Connecting with others who share similar experiences can be highly beneficial. Support groups provide a platform where you can share your challenges, learn from others, and receive emotional support. Many support groups specifically cater to individuals with ADHD can be affirming and destigmatizing, and this has been shown to help you heal from burnout.

4. Build a strong support network: Surround yourself with understanding and supportive individuals. Do not spend time around people who make you feel the need to mask or hide who you authentically are.

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