Sanctum Healthcare • Mar 25 •
What is ADHD burnout and how to cope?
If you are someone that has ADHD, chances are that you are familiar with having a long list of jobs and responsibilities, all of priority, all important, and all need to be done now, or yesterday. The ability to prioritise tasks and organise projects is a common challenge among those with ADHD and it is often thought that people with ADHD tend to think horizontally instead of vertically.
An individual with ADHD is more likely to think about the tasks they must complete, all at once and jump from one to another without fully completing each task, ending the day with 5 unfinished projects. Neurotypical people tend to think more vertically, with the ability to prioritise, working through the most important task first and completing it before moving on to the next.
This feeling of importance and time sensitivity for every task can quickly lead to overwhelm, and not being able to focus on one at a time can quickly lead to a feeling of failure and ADHD burnout. Let’s look at what ADHD burnout is, ways to cope if you have it, and how to keep it at bay.
What exactly is ADHD burnout?
ADHD burnout is the symptom of overcommitting and overextending oneself that leads to fatigue and physical exhaustion in people with ADHD. Difficulty in saying no and taking on more than you can deal with, fear of rejection, letting someone down, and appearing to struggle, are some of the reasons why people with ADHD suffer from burnout and it can be experienced in varying forms for different people. Some of the broader symptoms of ADHD burnout include
- Difficulty concentrating
- Intense feelings of guilt
- Anxiety and depression
- Lack of motivation
- Extreme irritability
- Low productivity
Overcommitting to things can be a never-ending cycle for someone with ADHD, especially for those that are undiagnosed, and it can be detrimental to mental health. The feelings of guilt around failing to meet expectations can be emotionally and physically exhausting, but the good news is that by accurate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment and a better awareness of ADHD and burnout, you can stop the cycle and learn how to cope and combat it when it arises.
Why are people with ADHD more susceptible to burnout?
It is thought that people with ADHD are more susceptible to ADHD burnout as during childhood, it is likely that they experienced low self-worth, due to constantly trying to keep up with their peers, having to work twice as hard and overcompensating for their shortcomings, whilst still being told to try harder. This usually follows from school to the workplace and manifests in the individual taking on more work than humanly possible to impress their peers but ultimately, this lack of personal limits leads to extreme depletion physically and emotionally.
There is also a sense of guilt around resting, taking time for themselves, and appearing to say no in those with ADHD and this again stems from a childhood of having to do more than others to fit in, be socially accepted, and gain approval. Taking time for themselves and saying no could make them look lazy in the eyes of others, something they probably heard a lot during school from a lack of understanding and because they are already overstretched, could make them seem selfish and like they are not a team player. This is exactly what a person with ADHD needs to do to protect themselves from ADHD burnout.
A struggle with executive dysfunction is a common theme in those with ADHD and this means that the individual will have difficulty in organising tasks, which also means that it is difficult to estimate the amount of time and effort it will take to complete, which also makes it easy to overcommit by accident. Those with ADHD are prolific people pleasers and struggle with their own boundaries, so again this fear of saying no and being rejected, also called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is a main driving factor of overcommitting and burning out. The central nervous system of someone with ADHD responds to this feeling of overwhelm by shutting down and going into what is called a freeze response, where you are unable to begin or complete a task and move forward in any way.
How to avoid ADHD burnout and ways to cope if you have it
If you feel you are in ADHD burnout at the moment, there are ways you can get yourself through and cope with the symptoms you are experiencing. Below are 3 ways to help navigate your way through ADHD burnout in the moment-
- First and foremost, commit yourself to rest. Continuing at breakneck speed is only going to make you feel worse. Stop, find a comfy chair, or lie down and practice some deep breathing, meditation, daydream, or anything that will help you to switch off and reset.
- Next, think about where you gain your self-worth. Chances are that your self-worth is reliant on the approval of others and what you can do for people, rather than what you are doing for yourself. You are worthy regardless of how much you do for others or what their opinion is of you.
- Lastly, ask for help. If you have overcommitted yourself and it looks like you are not able to fulfil what you had originally committed to then let that person know. They are humans too and it is ok to struggle sometimes. Ask for extra time, help with work, etc. but also, help from peers, a coach, or a therapist can be beneficial.
If you are someone that is susceptible to ADHD burnout, there are a few ways you can try to prevent it, although it is important to remember that if you apply these techniques and you still experience ADHD burnout, you have not failed, it’s just practice.
Overestimate time for projects.
This is a great way to gain a stronger sense of your limitations. Taking the time you think it will take to complete a task, and doubling it, enables you space to think clearer and work on the project to the best of your ability without being restricted by time.
Get comfortable with saying no.
Your ADHD brain does not have a limitless capacity; therefore, it is physically impossible to commit to every opportunity presented to you. Getting used to saying no, or even changing the time constraints to work in your favour, is not selfish, it’s practical and there may be people that are disappointed but that’s ok, you are not responsible for their emotions.
Don’t hide your struggles.
Masking is a very common trait among people with ADHD, and it is something that is used to hide the fact that they are struggling but what this does in turn is lead people to think that you can handle whatever is thrown at you, leading to more and more responsibilities coming your way. Letting people see that you are in fact human, and have limitations encourages others to help and support you in any way they can.
How a specialist ADHD clinic can help
If you think you may have ADHD and have been experiencing ADHD burnout but have not yet been diagnosed, then speaking with an ADHD psychiatrist at a specialist ADHD clinic could be the path you need to manage your symptoms and lead a fulfilled and happy life.
Sanctum is a private ADHD clinic that specialises in assessing and supporting individuals with ADHD, helping them understand their diagnosis and ways they can use their ADHD as a positive force in their life. We believe that ADHD can be your superpower and we have a carefully selected, multi-disciplinary team of experts on hand who understand the unique set of circumstances their clients face.
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