ADHD & Burnout

ADHD & Burnout

Burnout is not a mental health condition, however, it is an experience people with ADHD are particularly susceptible to and may experience to higher degrees than neurotypical people [3]. It is an ongoing feeling of mental and physical exhaustion generally triggered by excessive, prolonged stress concerning responsibilities, especially those in employment and education [3]. Experiencing burnout often means less motivation, challenges at work or in school, and a negative perception of oneself [3]. 

Many symptoms of ADHD act as causes of burnout. Procrastination and a lack of motivation can cause individuals with ADHD to put off a task only to rush to complete it before a deadline, prompting emotional and physical burnout from having to hurry through too many things with no break [4]. Symptomatic inattention can cause similar issues to the lack of attention and compound productivity issues that come with ADHD [4]. 

Anxiety, which commonly accompanies ADHD, can lead to significant emotional and mental distress prompting burnout [4]. Overcompensation for executive dysfunction in an effort to appear and act neurotypical, called masking, can cause overexertion and difficulty admitting one is struggling to avoid letting people down [4]. This overcompensation can be prompted by false beliefs and insecurities that come from trying to act neurotypical without support for symptoms of ADHD, such as executive dysfunction, especially internalized ideas that one is lazy, careless, or unintelligent due to long-term comparison between an individual with ADHD and their neurotypical peers from a young age [2]. Trying hard for long periods of time and still never accomplishing the goal of being neurotypical can take a heavy toll, namely burnout [2].  

People with ADHD often struggle to plan and organize their lives and responsibilities effectively [4]. This can cause an individual to overextend themselves and become overwhelmed by an unmanageable workload, leading to mental exhaustion and burnout [4]. Many people with ADHD feel guilty for resting because they’ve been told to try harder for so much of their lives and they fear they will disappoint people in their lives by taking a break [2]. Denying oneself rest, however, is often the cause of exhaustion and can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD [2]. People with ADHD tend to have difficulty with task initiation, experiencing a hesitation to stop their productivity in fear they will not be able to start again [2]. ADHD also means a tendency to overcommit due to trouble with estimating the amount of time and effort required for a task, as well as setting boundaries [2]. The executive dysfunction that accompanies ADHD means difficulty with task sequencing, initiation, and organization [2]. Accruing too many tasks can make the accomplishment of anything feel impossible, prompting a freeze response that heightens anxiety [2]. Even knowing one’s anxiety, people with ADHD often have a hard time saying ‘no’ when asked to do things because they avoid disappointing the people around them or being rejected [2]. This is often described as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria [2]. 

ADHD burnout often causes a significant increase in irritability, differences in typical appetite and routine, changes in how one recaps their day or their work, overcommitting, experiencing Imposter Syndrome and a freeze response due to executive dysfunction exacerbated by stress [2]. It also leads to decreased motivation, an inability to concentrate, low levels of productivity, feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, and cynicism [2]. Experiencing these symptoms of ADHD burnout can have tangible effects on one’s life, including compounded stress, personal and professional problems with family or work, and worsened mental well-being [3]. 

University of Massachusetts conducted a study on ADHD in Adults from 2000 - 2003 comparing the experiences of adults with ADHD, termed “ADHDers”, to the experiences of adults without any medical or psychological illnesses, termed “non-ADHDers” [1]. It found that 44.6% of ADHDers had behavioral problems at work, compared to 2.4% of Non-ADHDers [1]. 17.4% of ADHDers had been fired from a job, compared with 3.7% of Non-ADHDers [1]. 17.3% of ADHDers had been forced to quit due to hostility, versus 4.9% of Non-ADHDers [1]. 32.6% of ADHDers had quit their jobs due to boredom, compared with 15.5% of Non-ADHDers [1]. Finally, 11.1% of ADHDers had been disciplined by their bosses, versus 0.6% of Non-ADHDers [1]. These statistics illustrate that people with ADHD experience problems with their jobs at higher rates than their neurotypical peers. One study found that adults with ADHD are three to six times more likely than their neurotypical peers to experience one or multiple burnouts [1]. However, the Attention Deficit Disorder Association has found that adults with ADHD succeed when they work mostly in their areas of strength, and that they can overcome many challenges at work with the right accommodations [1]. 

There are many suggested ways to address ADHD burnout, the most important of which is to ask for help when you need it. This includes seeking workplace and school accommodations and support from therapy, colleagues, friends and family, an ADHD coach, or even a manager at work. Equally important is committing to rest, not viewing self-care as another task, but making time for activities that genuinely help you to heal and reset [2]. While masking is an understandable response to ADHD symptoms, not masking can reduce the amount of effort put into each day and allow others to see the support and help that you need [2]. It is important to affirm your own worth – to know that you are valuable independent of the productivity and use you contribute [2]. Learning to say “no” without apology is a critical step in learning how to set boundaries both personally and professionally for the sake of one’s mental health [2]. Knowing that your capacity has limits is a form of self-care and another important step in learning to set boundaries [2]. It can be helpful to overestimate the amount of time each task will take to avoid overbooking your schedule and allow adequate time for your brain to recover [2]. 

Most people experience some form of burnout, but for people with ADHD, it can have a debilitating effect on their day-to-day life and cause significant mental-emotional distress. Learning how to set boundaries and seek out necessary forms of support is essential to managing the frequency and intensity of burnout. 

 

Sources:

[1] ADDA Editorial Team. 26 September 2022. “ADHD and Burnout in the Workplace: Still Much to Do.”Attention Deficit Disorder Association. https://add.org/adhd-in-the-workplace-still-much-to-do/ 

[2] Finch, Sam Dylan. 4 August 2022. “ADHD burnout (why you’re always exhausted).” Inflow. 

https://www.getinflow.io/post/adhd-burnout

[3] Hovde, Michael & Washington, Nicole. 14 October 2022. “All About ADHD Burnout.” PsychCentral. 

https://psychcentral.com/adhd/adhd-burnout 

[4] 11 October 2022. “ADHD Burnout: How to Limit Burnout and Stress in Work.” The ADHD Centre.

https://www.adhdcentre.co.uk/adhd-burnout-how-to-limit-burnout-and-stress-in-work/ 


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