ADHD Burnout. Why Does It Happen And How Can It Be Prevented?

Extreme fatigue to the point of burnout is a common problem associated with ADHD. Yet, this burnout often goes unrecognized and untreated. Why does it happen and how can be prevented ADHD burnout? Let’s answer these questions in this article. 

What is burnout? 

Burnout is defined as a state of mental/emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by chronic, repeated stress. Although it is mostly related to work, burnout can be experienced by new parents, caretakers, or related to a relationship.  

For example, work-related burnout includes three main features:

1) An overwhelming fatigue and exhaustion. This is often described as feeling fatigued, worn out, depleted, debilitated, and with no energy.

2) A feeling of detachment from the job and cynicism. This can lead to abnormal attitudes towards clients or co-workers. A person may look more irritable or withdrawn. 

3) A sense of feeling ineffective and lacking in accomplishment. This translates into reduced productivity and an inability to cope with work-related stressors. 

Why does ADHD burnout develop?

There are several potential reasons that explain why ADHD burnout develops

  • Hyper sensitivity. Individuals with ADHD tend to be more sensitive than others, as so called emotional hyperarousal is a key feature of this condition. They feel more intense both positive and negative emotions- including stress.  
  • Hyperactivity/impulsivity. These are the main signs and symptoms of ADHD. These traits make a person unable to stay still, always on the go, fidgeting, talking excessively, acting without thinking and constantly moving. There is a lot of energy consumed in this process, leaving a person fatigued and drained. 
  • Hyperfocus. Many people with ADHD experience episodes- sometimes long lasting episodes- of intense attention on specific tasks. They can concentrate on a project and spend long hours without any breaks, and often cut down on quality sleep as well.  While productivity increases, hyperfocus eventually leads to overworking and meltdown. 
  • Sleeping problems. Insomnia and other sleeping issues are often experienced by children and adults with ADHD. What happens when you don’t sleep well at night? You wake up refreshed, fatigued, and more stressed the next day. More stress during the day creates more sleeping problems the following night, creating a vicious cycle. 
  • ADHD medications. While drugs can help manage symptoms of ADHD, both stimulant and non-stimulant drugs can also cause side effects in some people. The most common side effects associated with ADHD meds include restlessness, sleeping problems, irritability, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Comorbidities. Individuals with ADHD are at increased risk to also suffer from anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and various personality disorders. These conditions can contribute to, or worsen these burnouts. 

It is also important to understand the changes that develop in the brain. Research studies found ADHD associated with neuroinflammation (inflammation of the brain) and excess free radicals.  Genetic and environmental factors seem to be responsible for this brain inflammation. This inflammation is worsened by lack of sleep, stress, highly processed, substance abuse, and other unhealthy habits. One of the main signs of neuroinflammation is general fatigue and specifically brain fatigue, lack of focus, and unclear thoughts. Various scents and chemicals tend to worsen the symptoms of brain inflammation. Neuroinflammation also leads to brain degeneration and loss of healthy neurons, further contributing to brain dysfunction. 

How to prevent or manage burnouts?

  • Establish healthy boundaries at work. Take your job as it is- a job. Set up specific working hours and do your best during those hours. However, make sure you take breaks. Working overtime should occur occasionally, not  on a regular basis. Other areas of your life such as relationships and family, personal time and space are also important and you need to commit to spend quality time on them. Learn to delegate, ask for help, communicate clearly your needs, keep your relationship professional at work and learn to say no when you feel overwhelmed with the workload. 
  • Take care of yourself. You need personal time to recharge your batteries. Find a creative outlet such as a hobby. Get into a fitness routine and also plan quiet times which can be used to write in your journal, practice deep breathing, mindfulness meditation or yoga. 
  • Eat well. Nutrients from foods are converted into energy which is used by the body. Eating clean, healthy, nutrient rich foods can boost your energy and focus, while highly processed foods cause  inflammation, blood sugar imbalances,  brain fog and fatigue. Fill up your plate with fresh vegetables from all colors, have some fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive oil, as well as quality proteins from lean meats, fish and seafood. 
  • Sleep well. Make sure you get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep. Avoid coffee and energy drinks after 2-3 pm, keep your bedroom dark and avoid using electronic devices or watching TV before bedtime. Try to get as much sleep as possible between 10 pm and 2 am.  Ask your doctor if taking melatonin would be right for you- based on research studies, melatonin could be effective to manage insomnia associated with ADHD.