A woman massaging her temples being overwhelmed with paperwork and deadlines

Burnout can occur in anyone at any time, but it is especially common in individuals with ADHD. The unique stressors faced by individuals with this condition can lead to a vicious cycle of productivity, impulsivity, high stress, and, ultimately, burnout. Understanding how and why ADHD burnout occurs can help you develop strategies to avoid it. 

What is ADHD?

First, let’s review what ADHD is. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While it’s often associated with children, ADHD can persist into adulthood, impacting various aspects of daily life such as work, relationships, and academic performance. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with organization, time management, maintaining focus, and regulating emotions.

If diagnosed, ADHD is usually treated with a combination of cognitive therapy and medication. 

What is Burnout?

We often use the term “burnout” to describe a general feeling of being bored or worn out. But burnout is actually a recognized psychological condition. It describes the emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress or pressure. It is more than just feeling tired or overwhelmed—it is a state of feeling depleted, detached, and unable to cope. 

Burnout can manifest in different ways, including feeling cynical or disillusioned about work or life, reduced productivity, and a sense of disconnection from others. While burnout is often linked to work-related stress, it can occur in any area of life where a person feels the weight of too much pressure. 

Why does Burnout Occur in Individuals with ADHD?

The nature of ADHD can predispose individuals to burnout due to several factors:

Executive Functioning Challenges

ADHD often involves difficulties with executive functions such as planning, organization, and time management. These challenges can lead to increased stress and anxiety when trying to manage daily tasks and responsibilities. Repeated negative feedback in the workplace or elsewhere with regards to disorganization or performance can be a factor in ADHD burnout. 

Hyperfocus and Impulsivity

ADHD is commonly associated with distractibility, but individuals with ADHD can also experience periods of intense concentration, known as hyperfocus. This can lead to overcommitment and neglect of other responsibilities. Outside pressure to complete additional tasks during a period of hyperfocus can be extremely stressful and contribute to ADHD burnout.  

Individuals with ADHD are also more prone to impulsive behaviors, which can further detract from workplace and personal productivity. Constant criticism of impulsive behaviors can overwhelm and discourage a person with ADHD. 

Societal Expectations

In a society that values productivity and efficiency, individuals with ADHD may feel pressured to meet certain standards that are difficult for them to achieve consistently, especially if they are constantly compared to those without ADHD. This pressure can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and exacerbate ADHD burnout.

ADHD Burnout In the Workplace

Again, ADHD burnout is not limited to the workplace. However, it is worth noting a few statistics to understand just how difficult standard workplace procedures and expectations are for people with ADHD.

Referencing a study by the University of Massachusetts, the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) found that ADHD adults reported being fired much more frequently than non-ADHD workers. 17.3 percent of those surveyed also felt compelled to quit due to hostility (compared to 4.9 percent in non-ADHD workers). 

In addition, the same study found that adults with ADHD were twice as likely to quit a job due to boredom. These statistics give insights into the frequency of ADHD burnout and suggest a dire need for workplace initiatives to accommodate neurodivergent employees. 

What Is The ADHD Burnout Cycle?

ADHD burnout often follows a predictable cycle. The duration of each phase varies from person to person, but the cycle generally looks as follows:

Initial Energy and Enthusiasm: Individuals with ADHD may approach a new or existing project or task feeling optimistic and energized. 

Overcommitment and Hyperfocus: As they become engrossed in the task, they may hyperfocus and lose track of time, leading to overcommitment and neglect of other responsibilities.

Stress and Overwhelmed Feelings: As deadlines loom and tasks pile up, stress and feelings of being overburdened set in. Executive functioning challenges make it difficult to prioritize and manage mounting tasks effectively, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Burnout: Eventually, the individual reaches a point of burnout, characterized by exhaustion, reduced motivation, and difficulty concentrating. At the burnout phase, a person may ultimately give up on a project or quit their job to avoid negative feedback. 

Symptoms of ADHD Burnout

The symptoms of ADHD burnout are the same in those without ADHD. These include: 

Is Burnout Serious? 

Yes, burnout is indeed a serious condition that can have significant implications for one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being:

Physical Health Impacts: Chronic stress associated with burnout can lead to physical health problems such as fatigue, insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, and weakened immune function. High cortisol levels linked to long-term stress can also increase risk factors for cardiovascular disease

Mental Health Effects: Burnout is closely linked to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse. The persistent feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment associated with burnout can significantly impact one’s overall mood and outlook on life.

Impaired Functioning: ADHD burnout can impair cognitive functioning, making it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, and solve problems. This can negatively affect performance at work or school, as well as interpersonal relationships.

Decreased Quality of Life:  Individuals experiencing burnout often report decreased satisfaction and enjoyment in their personal and professional lives. Burnout can lead to feelings of disillusionment, isolation, and a sense of being trapped in an unfulfilling situation.

Increased Risk of Burnout Recurrence: If left unaddressed, burnout can become a recurring problem, making it more difficult to recover each time it occurs. Chronic burnout can have long-term consequences for one’s career, relationships, and overall well-being.

Recovery from ADHD Burnout

Given the potentially serious consequences of ignoring burnout, it is important to recognize the symptoms and take proactive steps to address it. If you or someone you know is struggling with signs of ADHD burnout, the first step should be to consult with a qualified mental health clinician. He or she can help you develop strategies for dealing with high stress situations and offer practical suggestions for executive functioning tasks. 

In Destin, the caring professionals at The Crane Center assist with all types of mental health concerns, including childhood and adult ADHD. We use a combination of traditional and alternative therapies to provide personalized treatment programs that get results. Text or email today to schedule a consultation. 

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