ADHD Burnout Could Be Why You’re Tired All the Time
Anyone living with ADHD knows that managing the symptoms can be tough, and if the condition is making you exhausted all the time, you may have ADHD burnout.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
October 13, 2023
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Living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make managing daily tasks more challenging, from staying organized to remembering plans. Despite these difficulties, many people with ADHD maintain their productivity and excel in school or work with the right support. But, doing so can be exhausting, and, as a result, many folks with ADHD may experience episodes of prolonged physical or emotional exhaustion, known as ADHD burnout. Below, we delve further into ADHD burnout, including what it is, its causes, and, most importantly, how to manage and recover from it.
What is ADHD burnout?
ADHD burnout describes the experience of feeling completely drained—physically, mentally, and emotionally—from managing ADHD symptoms, especially for a long time. Common ADHD symptoms, which often emerge in childhood and may persist into adulthood, include difficulties with focus, impulse, and hyperactivity.
For people with ADHD, the prolonged stress of trying to manage their symptoms and simultaneously live up to the expectations of their personal, academic, or work lives commonly leads to burnout. Like typical burnout (which anyone can experience), people dealing with ADHD burnout may feel exhausted, emotionally drained, and overwhelmed.
ADHD burnout isn’t a mental health diagnosis or a formal symptom of ADHD. Rather, it is a term that highlights a common experience for folks with ADHD as they try to overcome challenges and live in a world built for neurotypical people.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how a person thinks and processes information, but some also consider it a neurodivergent disorder, given how it impacts the brain. According to experts, the ADHD brain differs from a neurotypical one in many ways, from the size and activity levels of certain regions to the chemical signals traveling throughout the brain.
Signs of ADHD burnout
When people are dealing with ADHD burnout and feel overextended, they often self-soothe through detachment and apathy. In this way, ADHD burnout can often mimic the signs of depression, including sadness, irritability, a lack of motivation, and other symptoms that negatively impact a person’s quality of life. However, ADHD burnout symptoms will look different for everyone.
Here are some common ADHD burnout symptoms:
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you want to run away or escape from responsibilities
- Lowered productivity and poorer performance at work or school
- Feelings of fatigue and constant exhaustion
- Low self-confidence coupled with high self-criticism
- Lack of motivation and drive to complete tasks
- Anger and resentment toward responsibilities, obligations, and other people
- Irritability and mood swings
- Increased procrastination, including avoiding people, obligations, and tasks
- Physical health problems associated with chronic stress
What causes ADHD burnout?
As mentioned, ADHD burnout is commonly caused by the prolonged stress associated with managing ADHD symptoms and dealing with the diagnosis on a daily basis. That being said, it is possible for a person with ADHD, whose symptoms are well-managed, to also experience ADHD burnout. In other words, the amount of energy it takes to manage symptoms doesn’t always correlate to how vulnerable someone is to ADHD burnout.
Here are several other factors that can contribute to ADHD burnout:
Many people with ADHD tend to overcommit themselves. Simultaneously taking on too many tasks and responsibilities can lead to feeling overextended, overwhelmed, and eventually burning out.
Lack of self-care
Overextension and overcommitment get in the way of important self-care practices such as proper sleep, exercise, diet, and relaxation. Struggling to prioritize self-care increases a person’s vulnerability to ADHD burnout.
Perfectionism is a common negative coping mechanism for people with ADHD. Striving for perfection can lead to increased levels of stress, and create unrealistic standards that are difficult to attain. Constantly striving for these standards and not meeting them can lead to ADHD burnout.
The ADHD burnout cycle
The experience of ADHD burnout can turn into a vicious cycle. First, the demands of daily life pile up, then motivation lags, and finally, stress builds, and burnout worsens. This cycle can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to find relief. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the ADHD burnout cycle:
- There is some form of commitment or responsibility that requires increased attention, focus, and productivity.
- ADHD symptoms begin to interfere with the task.
- Feelings of stress and frustration begin to take hold.
- Avoidance, procrastination, and other unhealthy coping skills meant to alleviate the negative feelings momentarily lead to an even more difficult time completing the task.
- Increasing levels of stress and overwhelm lead to quitting, giving up, or a complete withdrawal from responsibilities.
- Due to the guilt caused by the lack of productivity, there is a tendency to overcommit to responsibilities, leading to further feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, beginning the cycle over again.
Coping skills for ADHD burnout
ADHD burnout is a real and significant challenge for people with ADHD, but with proper understanding, management, and support, it is possible to prevent and recover from it. The key to coping with ADHD burnout is to break the ADHD burnout cycle somewhere along the line and learn how to manage the symptoms of ADHD better. Here are some tips on better managing ADHD symptoms to decrease the likelihood of experiencing ADHD burnout.
Set realistic expectations for accomplishing tasks
Practice self-care, like getting enough sleep and exercise
Lean on your support system, including friends and family members
Seek professional help from a licensed mental health provider
Use therapy tools for managing ADHD symptoms
Set realistic expectations
The ADHD burnout cycle often occurs when a person begins to feel as though they are up against a set of tasks or responsibilities that they won’t be able to manage. Setting realistic expectations for your obligations and responsibilities will make you less likely to feel overly stressed and overwhelmed. For example, instead of making two plans with friends after work, consider making one. Or, instead of planning to clean your whole house or apartment in one hour, divide the task into smaller parts and aim to tackle just one (like the living room).
Maintaining a consistent routine that includes adequate rest, proper diet, exercise, and mindfulness practices can give you a great defense against having your ADHD symptoms get the best of you.
Take advantage of your support system
Living with unmanaged ADHD and experiencing ADHD burnout can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Reaching out to friends and family can be a valuable tool that can help remind you of your self-worth during times when you have doubts or insecurities.
Seek professional help
If you are having difficulty managing your ADHD symptoms, you are at a higher risk of experiencing ADHD burnout. Reaching out to a mental health professional can allow you to understand your diagnosis better and learn different tools and coping skills for managing your ADHD symptoms. Your therapist may use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common therapeutic modality for treating ADHD, or encourage medication as necessary for symptom management. All of this will decrease the likelihood of experiencing burnout.
Use your tools
In therapy, you will learn many valuable tools that can make living with ADHD more manageable. The better you manage your ADHD symptoms, the less likely you will be to experience burnout. Using to-do lists to prioritize tasks and setting realistic goals and clear boundaries are all skills worth practicing.
How Charlie Health can help with ADHD burnout
If you are struggling to navigate life with ADHD or dealing with ADHD burnout, Charlie Health is here to help.
Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers more than once weekly support to young people dealing with complex mental health conditions and their families with a combination of peer groups, individual therapy, and family therapy. The mental health professionals working at Charlie Health will create a personalized treatment plan for you based on your unique mental health needs—whether you’re dealing with chronic stress, emotional reactivity, or other symptoms of ADHD and ADHD burnout. Managing ADHD burnout can be hard, but with professional help, it is possible.