Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms typically start in early childhood – ranging from mild to severe – but in many cases, it’s not recognized or diagnosed until a person reaches adulthood.
An estimated 4.4% of US adults have an ADHD diagnosis – with prevalence higher for males (5.4%) versus females (3.2%).
Everyone with ADHD has some difficulty with executive functioning, but each individual will have more trouble with some categories than others. Symptoms of ADHD can range from difficulty paying attention, impulsive behavior, and restlessness to low frustration tolerance and poor time management.
These symptoms can contribute to various physical, mental, and emotional problems that can significantly affect a person’s day-to-day life if left unmanaged – negatively impacting relationships, work performance, self-esteem, and even financial stability.
An additional complication for adults with ADHD is that they are at higher risk for suffering burnout compared to adults without it. This is due primarily to the disruptive symptoms making it more challenging for those living with ADHD to manage stress – particularly persistent stress.
What is ADHD burnout?
ADHD burnout is a specific type of burnout that can be easily ignited in those with untreated ADHD due to chronic stress and/or certain unexpected life changes.
ADHD burnout isn’t currently classified as a mental health disorder in its own right, but it’s certainly a widely recognized experience.
Why are people with ADHD more likely to experience burnout?
Adults with ADHD often have to work harder to achieve what most people can do with minimum effort. They can struggle to keep up with the standards of others and end up overcompensating by working longer hours in an effort to keep up.
This is frequently exacerbated by them taking on more than they can handle – saying yes without considering the consequences – adding to their stress levels and ultimately leading to overwhelm and exhaustion.
Poor time management skills, lack of organization, difficulty concentrating (or periods of hyperfocus), over-committing, and difficulty prioritizing are all symptoms that contribute to those living with ADHD being extra vulnerable to chronic stress and more prone to burnout.
Additionally, up to 70% of adults with ADHD have other mental health conditions to manage, like depression and anxiety, which can interfere with their ability to take good care of themselves and effectively manage daily stress levels.
Moreover, experts now understand that ADHD can trigger a range of physical conditions that affect overall life quality – including relationship problems, financial difficulties, and addiction – all of which can combine to create a snowball effect leading to a higher risk for burnout.
What are the leading causes of ADHD burnout?
ADHD burnout, as with regular burnout, is most commonly caused by a persistent and prolonged period of excess stress, typically work-related, that is left unmanaged. For those living with ADHD, this is made more complicated by the ADHD symptoms that they’re already trying to deal with.
There are several reasons that explain why ADHD burnout can develop, including:
The relentless effort to manage their ADHD symptoms and chronic stress while appearing ‘normal’ (often called ‘ADHD masking’) is exhausting and cannot be sustained without serious consequences. This masking can also mean that people with ADHD refuse to ask for help when they most need it.
People-pleasing and poor boundaries
Those with ADHD are often stereotyped as being ‘lazy’ or ‘not trying hard enough,’ which compels them to stay in constant motion rather than allowing themselves to take a rest. However, by not setting clear boundaries and allowing themselves the downtime and self-care they need before they reach exhaustion, the person’s ADHD symptoms are exacerbated, and burnout is more likely.
One aspect of ADHD that can disrupt a person’s daily routine and self-care is hyperfocus, where they become obsessively consumed by a task. Without regular breaks, this heightened focus can lead to irregular sleep, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise, resulting in increased stress levels and chronic fatigue – the perfect recipe for burnout.
What are the main symptoms of ADHD burnout?
ADHD burnout can be difficult to diagnose, given that no specific diagnostic tests are available for it. While it can look and feel different for each individual, there are common signs and symptoms that you can look out for, including the following.
- Lack of motivation
- Increased irritability and impatience
- Emotional extremes, such as overwhelming sadness or anger
- Feeling tired all the time, no matter how much rest you get
- Changes to eating habits and sleep routines
- Symptoms of imposter syndrome
- Poor decision management, leading to ADHD ‘freeze’
- Lack of interest or enthusiasm in normal activities previously enjoyed
- Withdrawal/isolation from family, friends, and work colleagues
- Unexplained physical pains, like persistent headaches, chest pains, and stomach aches
- Pessimism or resentment about work, home life, loved ones
- Low self-worth/low self-esteem
- Reliance on substances or behaviors that numb feelings or make you feel (temporarily) better
The symptoms of ADHD and burnout often overlap and can be very similar.
If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s essential to take the time to find solutions to readdress the balance between home and work life so your mental and physical well-being doesn’t deteriorate further.
It may help to speak with a mental health professional who can support you in exploring the underlying issues and teach you healthy coping strategies to break the burnout cycle.
Five top tips to prevent the ADHD burnout cycle
As burnout is most commonly caused by stress, reducing the stress in your life is the way forward. Of course, this is more complex than it sounds, but here are our top five tips to help you get started.
Learning to say no
Permitting yourself to say ‘no’ is crucial to avoid taking on too much, reaching a state of overwhelm, and then feeling bad for letting people down by not completing a task as promised. It may be a challenge to start this new habit of setting healthy boundaries and personal limits – you won’t want to disappoint people – but practice makes perfect!
Overestimating how long something will take
Those living with ADHD often underestimate how long things will take to do and then struggle to fit everything in – they may have alterations in time perception. A good strategy to avoid burnout, then, is to know your limitations and always overestimate the time it will take to complete every task. Of course, this should include non-work-related activities too!
While taking good care of yourself and including self-care in your daily routine is important, be careful not to make this another task you feel you need to fulfill and excel at! Self-care can be as simple as committing to regular deep rest through an afternoon nap, breathing exercises, or a meditation practice. It is not selfish or lazy to rest and recharge.
Dropping the mask
Many people with ADHD try to hide or ‘mask’ their symptoms and pretend everything is OK. However, it’s essential to take a step back from time to time to acknowledge how you’re really feeling – accepting who you are and your limitations without judgment.
Seeking support when you need it
Don’t try to convince yourself that you can cope with everything alone – this is self-sabotage. Everyone struggles from time to time, and it’s OK to ask for help when you need it. Prioritize your needs and ask for support from family and friends, work colleagues, an ADHD coach, or a therapist. They can help you reduce your stress levels before they reach the chronic stage.
How Tikvah Lake Recovery can help
No one’s life is completely stress-free, but stress levels usually follow a natural ebb and flow, which is easy to manage. However, feeling continuously overwhelmed by life without any periods of relief from stress while also dealing with other mental health conditions, like ADHD, will eventually lead to burnout.
For those where stress has remained too high for too long, a proper break is needed to fully recover, rejuvenate, and learn healthy coping strategies to successfully navigate life after recovery.
If you’re struggling with work-related stress or burnout and want to discuss your options, contact us today to learn more about our services. We are here and ready to help you get back to your very best self.