It’s important that you don’t lie to yourself. If you lie to yourself, you end up with burnout.Patrick Pichette
Hello, Human Beans! I hope this finds you well. I’m sitting here on a beautiful day, scheduling out blog posts and thinking about burnout. People with ADHD are more prone to it than their neurotypical counterparts for a number of reasons.
At the tail end of 2020, I was in full-scale burnout. I was barely functioning, my anxiety levels were through the roof, and I wasn’t being productive at work or at home. Things got so bad for me, that I had to take six months of medical leave to heal and work things out in therapy.
I went back to work in June of 2021. By November, I was in burnout again. Thing is, I got healthy when I was off work, but my job remained toxic. Going right back into the toxic environment, I was only able to make it a few months before I started to struggle again. The more I struggled, the worse the burnout got and so on and so on. It was a vicious cycle.
It started affecting me at home. I couldn’t create for the blog or otherwise. I was spending most of my time in bed, severely depressed. Not getting any exercise, I gained a massive amount of weight..which, in turn, contributed to my depression. Again, cyclical.
I’m feeling much better. There were some good changes at work that took some of the pressure off. The effects were almost immediate. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I’m doing way better at work, I’m writing again, and I’m managing to stay out of the bed on most days. Still, I think this is an important topic that we should all be aware of.
While I strongly believe that everyone is susceptible to burnout in a society that tells us our worth is based on our ability to produce, ADHDers are much more likely to find themselves there. They are more likely to develop chronic burnout, which means that they never really fully heal and experience it more often.
So what causes burnout in and ADHDer? There are many causes and it’s different for each individual person, but here are some of the key causes:
- Overcompensation – Folks with ADHD have to try much harder than their peers to do certain things. We also have a lifetime of being put down under our belts. We often overcompensate to live up to other people’s ideals.
- Not recognizing limits – We all have our limits. ADHDers are bad about putting too much on their plate. It becomes impossible to juggle all the responsibilities and you start dropping the balls.
- Trouble with organization – Trying to stay organized can feel like an impossible feat for someone with ADHD
- Difficulty prioritizing – Oftentimes, everything feels like the most important thing to us
- Hyperfocus with no breaks – Hyperfocus is all well and good until you get burnout before the project is finished
- Difficulty concentrating – This can be exhausting and contribute greatly to burnout
- Lack of motivation – This is both a cause and a symptom
Stress can also play a vital role, as with what happened to me. I was under tremendous pressure to produce and the greater the pressure, the more I found myself unable to produce. What is it with me and vicious cycles?!
Once the pressure was off, I started thriving and not only at work. I was able to complete another novel in my free-time. I started it off the back of my first completed novel. That said, I wrote the first one in 15 days. It was all I did in every spare moment that I had for 15 days. By the time I got halfway through the second book, I burned out. I couldn’t touch any of my fiction writing for months.
Signs of Burnout
An important step in overcoming burnout is recognizing the signs and symptoms so that you can practice self-care, rest, and let yourself heal. Again, the signs of burnout will differ for every person, but there does seem to be some universal overlap.
- Feeling tired all of the time – Exhaustion is one of the first signs to notice when you’re burning out.
- Changes in appetite or sleep – This could mean eating and sleeping too much or too little.
- Self-doubt – Burnout makes us question our capacity to accomplish things.
- Felling hopeless or helpless – Burnout makes it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Detachment/Derealization/Dissociation – Feeling detached from reality, like life isn’t “real,” and dissociated are all common signs of burnout.
- Decreased motivation – Both a sign and a symptom, you often have trouble getting up and going.
- Decreased focus/attention – Again, a sign and a symptom, burnout will make it harder for your to focus your attention.
- Anxiety – When I was going through it, my anxiety was as severe as it had ever been. I was having 12-hour long panic attacks.
- Lack of creativity – Creative block is a common symptom. If you can’t concentrate, you can’t create.
- Lack of Purpose – You know longer have the time or energy to follow your purposes.
- Emotional numbness – It often results in an apathy of sorts. A way to shut down the stress of the situation.
- Becoming critical or cynical (especially about work) – this includes suddenly not being able to stand your coworkers, no longer “believing in” what you do, etc.
- Any number of physical symptoms – (headaches, stomach issues, joint and muscle pain, etc.)
For people with ADHD specifically, we may also experience worsening of the following symptoms during burnout:
- Emotional dyregulation – It becomes even harder to control our emotions
- Low self-worth
- Impulse control
- Rejection sensitivity
Burnout can happen on the whole, like with me. It was affecting every part of my life. It was sending me to the bed for days on end. But you can also burn yourself out on an activity as well. A few Christmases ago, I decided I was going to crochet everyone something for Christmas. I did. A blanket for my grandpa, some scarfs, Christmas tree ornaments, etc. But I put SO much pressure on myself to get everything done in time that I was a stressed out mess. I haven’t completed a crochet project since.
Another good example: ADHD people tend to have a “safe” food or a favorite food. They will eat this food every, single day, sometimes for months on end. Then, out of nowhere, the thought of it makes them want to vomit. They can’t eat…they can’t even look at it. They burned out on it.4
Burnout can be everything from mildly annoying to downright life-shattering.
11 Ways to Combat Burnout
Self-care is extremely important in battling burnout. Once you start noticing the signs, you should have some kind of self-care back-up plan. A few different ways that you can calm down, relax, breathe, and rest. Here are some of the ways that you can prevent it from happening in the first place:
- Focus on your needs – This is really important and something that we don’t do often enough. We live in a society that tells us it’s “selfish” to focus on ourselves. It isn’t. Like Lizzo says, “When I shine, we all shine.” You have to put on your own safety mask first, before you can help others.
- Listen to your mind and body – This is as important as your needs. Your mind and your body will tell you when they need a break. It’s your job to listen to them. Don’t push yourself so hard; it’s okay to not be okay.
- Be mindful of your emotions – For so many of us, when our emotions run too high in any direction, it means there is something wrong. Are you tired, hungry, too hot or too cold, etc. The same goes for burnout. When your brain is short-circuiting, it’s hard to control your emotions.
- Learn grounding and breathing exercises – I know it sounds silly and cliche, but they really do help. Grounding exercises can help bring you back down during anxiety, dissociation, and overwhelm.
- Set and enforce healthy boundaries – This is extremely important in giving you peace of mind. Never feel guilty for enforcing your boundaries. The people that love will glady comply.
- Say no and don’t feel guilty about it! And don’t worry about excuses. No is complete sentence. “I don’t want to,” is a valid reason.
- Assess your priorities – People with ADHD often have trouble prioritizing tasks. We give everything top priority, so everything feels urgent. We need to get better about taking a step back and seeing what can be done after we’ve rested.
- Develop a routine for sleep – Getting plenty of sleep is essential to making sure that you don’t burn out. Look into sleep hygeine make sure you get 6-8 hours a night, depending on what you need.
- Recognize even your smallest accomplishments – I’m going to be honest, sometimes this means celebrating that your were able to take a shower that day, you managed to get outside for a few minutes, or you accomplish something great at work. Whatever wins you have, pat yourself on the back for them.
- Drop your masks – Masking is exhausting. If it is safe for you, let the masks fall. Keeping up the facade will lead you straight into burnout.
- Ask for help – This seems to be a tough spot for many people with ADHD, but asking for help is imperative. You can’t be expected to be all things at all times. Let people help you. Whether is be therapy or a friend helping you clean your house, accept the help that you are given graciously.
So, that’s that. I hope that after reading this article you’ll have a better understanding of what ADHD burnout looks like, why it happens, and what you can do to prevent it. We all feel better when we’re kind to ourselves. Allow yourself to be imperfect and know that it’s what makes you perfectly you.
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