Don't want to read through the long version? Scroll to the bottom for the TL;DR.
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is often described as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gifts us with creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and infectious enthusiasm. On the other, it can lead to exhaustion, frustration, and, eventually, burnout.
As an ADHD coach and behavior analyst who also has ADHD, I understand the unique challenges that we face when it comes to burnout, and right now, I am in the thick of my own ADHD burnout.
Understanding ADHD Burnout
ADHD burnout is a phenomenon that many neurodivergent people face, but it's not widely discussed. It's characterized by a deep sense of exhaustion, both physically and mentally, that goes beyond ordinary fatigue. It often occurs when the demands of daily life, work, and societal expectations become overwhelming for someone with ADHD.
What Causes ADHD Burnout?
The Demands of "Masking": Neurodivergent people often engage in "masking," a coping strategy where they hide or suppress their ADHD traits to fit into neurotypical expectations. This constant effort is draining and can eventually lead to burnout.
Sensory Overload: ADHD individuals can have heightened sensitivities to sensory stimuli due to our inability to filter sensory input, leading to sensory overload. This can be particularly overwhelming in environments with bright lights, loud noises, or crowded spaces. It can also be a cumulative effect from pushing through sensory triggers instead of accommodating your individual needs.
Executive Function Challenges: ADHD often impacts executive functions, including organization, time management, and planning. Difficulties in these areas can lead to heightened stress and may contribute to burnout, particularly when our daily responsibilities require a high level of executive functioning skills.
Perfectionism: Many neurodivergent individuals, including those with ADHD, may experience perfectionism, which can lead to excessive self-criticism and pressure to excel in all aspects of life.
Chronic Stressors: ADHDers often have less flexible nervous systems, increasing the amount of time it takes to recover from stressors in our lives. When exposed to stress without adequate recovery, it can ultimately result in burnout.
Recovering from ADHD Burnout
Although it may be challenging to see your way out of burnout when you are in the thick of it, there are steps you can take to recover.
Self-Compassion: The first step to recovery is self-compassion. Understand that ADHD is a part of your unique neurodiversity, and it's okay to have limitations and moments of struggle. Be kind to yourself.
Spoon Theory: Spoon Theory, which is often used to explain the limited energy reserves of those with chronic illnesses, can be applied to ADHD, especially when we are experiencing ADHD burnout. Recognize that you have a finite amount of "spoons" each day and prioritize tasks accordingly (for more information on energy pacing systems like spoon theory, check out Dr. Neff's blog here).
Get Back to Basics: Ensure you get enough sleep, eat food, drink water, move your body, and feel the sunshine on your skin. When experiencing ADHD burnout, I choose gentle forms of exercise or prioritize movement that lets me experience joy and connect with my values.
Set Realistic Goals: Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps. Delegate or delete what you can. Aim for B- work instead of A+ work - it still counts! This approach can help prevent overwhelm and reduce the risk of burnout.
Seek Support: Connect with your support system, a supportive neurodivergent community and/or a coach or therapist who understands ADHD and neurodiversity. Share your experiences and learn from others who have navigated similar challenges. Remember, you're not alone.
ADHD burnout is a real and challenging aspect for ADHDers. It's crucial to understand the underlying causes and to approach recovery from a place of self-compassion and self-awareness. By embracing an energy pacing approach (such as Spoon Theory) and prioritizing your basic needs, you can learn to manage your energy effectively and prevent burnout from derailing your journey towards a fulfilling life.
Remember, neurodiversity is a valuable and unique perspective that enriches our society. Embrace your neurodivergent identity, and start the journey back to thriving.
TL;DR: ADHD burnout can occur from many of the things that ADHDers experience on a daily basis. If you are experiencing ADHD burnout, there are steps you can take to recover.