A seemingly simple question and answer, but actually quite complex once your delve a little deeper. ADHD burnout is when a person with ADHD feels physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted due to overexerting themselves. Burnout is something that we can all suffer from in our lives, especially at work and especially in adulthood. However, burnout in children and young people is also very possible.
ADHD burnout is very similar to general burnout, however, those with ADHD are much more prone to it. The symptoms of ADHD and the challenges they can pose daily mean that those with ADHD are more likely to struggle with it. If you are living with undiagnosed ADHD then the struggles leading to burnout can be really hard to spot.
Some of the symptoms of ADHD that can lead to burnout include:
Many people with ADHD (especially girls and women) suffer from Perfectionism, a direct coping skill to overcome the Imposter Syndrome we so often feel, or to pre-empt the perceived failure we imagine. Perfectionism can lead us to over-extend and spend too much energy on tasks.
People-pleasing & REJECTION SENSITIVITY DISORDER (RSD)
The want to people please and not let others down can mean we often take on extra workload. And our fear of rejection means we also struggle to say no to things, even when we know we have too much on our plate already.
Whilst those with ADHD are usually assumed to be unable to focus, ADHD is actually an inability to regulate our focus. So whilst a lot of the time we struggle to focus on subjects and tasks that do not hold our interest and flit from one to another. We can also focus for hours on end (hyperfocus) on subjects and tasks that either we are passionate about, or that are imminently due. This can lead to overwhelm or stress when faced with trying to manage everything.
Anxiety is more common in people with ADHD and can cause a lot of emotional and mental distress, leading to burnout.
motivation & procrastination
Those with ADHD can suffer from a lack of motivation and procrastination. This means that it takes us much longer to start revision, homework, tasks and jobs; quite often leaving right till the last minute. This again can lead to stress and anxiety, as well as exhaustion from having to do so much with so little time.
So how can we manage and avoid burnout?
To manage ADHD burnout we need to teach ourselves and/or our kids these coping strategies:
Learn to Say no
This is a really valuable skill to learn and one that we definitely need to model for our children to learn too. If you find saying ‘no’ (I know I do) hard then think of other ways you can phrase it. It doesn’t always have to be an out-and-out no. Asking for help to prioritize workload, or setting yourself ‘rules’ allow saying no to be easier. Personally, I know that agreeing to more than one ‘social’ event in one day (meeting for coffee, playdate, drinks etc.) is just too much for me. So I have a rule in my head that I don’t agree to more than one. It means that it’s not me saying no, but me sticking to my rule.
For children and young people then it’s really important to listen to them and hear their voice. Forcing a child to go to an event, or into a situation that is uncomfortable for them is not something we need to do. If they really don’t want to go to a party, then is it the end of the world if they don’t go? Or maybe they find supermarkets overwhelming, so could you shop at another time, without them? It may not always be possible, or it may be that they do need to attend for specific reasons.
But listening to them and discussing the reasons why they need to attend. Maybe planning how they can tell you if they are becoming overwhelmed. Even if they don’t use the word ‘no’ then watch for signs that your child may not be happy with something, or beginning to feel overwhelmed. Are they becoming highly reactive, or is there an increase in meltdowns over specific situations etc?
It’s okay to make mistakes
This is something that lots of ADHDers struggle with, especially if diagnosed late. We have spent years of life feeling that we are lazy, or worse ‘thick’ because we lack the motivation, or rush things to get finished and make silly mistakes. If like me, you suffer from Perfectionism too then the expectation is completely unrealistic. So a really important skill to learn is to accept that you can make mistakes and that everyone makes them at some point.
With children and young people, it is really important to look at how we deal with the situation when they make mistakes. If their mistakes are met with disdain or harsh judgement, then they will learn (as we did) to shut down. Possibly not to admit further mistakes. We need to praise their honesty and normalise making mistakes. Work with them on a positive and helpful way to move on and ‘fix’ if appropriate.
ask for help
Fear of rejection or having to admit perceived failure can lead those with ADHD to not ask for help. Years of being told you are lazy, to stop daydreaming, or to not living up to others’ expectations can leave us afraid to open up and ask for help. Similar to learning to say no and admitting mistakes, it can be so freeing to learn to ask for help.
ADHD burnout comes from us taking on far too much, or struggling to prioritise our workload and becoming overwhelmed. Asking for help allows us either to hand over any tasks that could be done by someone else. Or to re-prioritise and allow us to see what is important and what isn’t.
Again, children need to learn that asking for help is normal and not a sign of failure. We cannot and do not know everything. Make sure your kids feel safe in asking you for help and also encourage them to be the same at school and with their friends.
check your environment
There are a lot of environmental factors that can cause stress and anxiety for those with ADHD. Think about all the sensory elements that are part of everyday life, that NT (Neurotypical) people take for granted. This is especially important for children and young people who may not yet be able to understand or vocalise what exactly is causing them overwhelm or stress. Loud noises, bright lights and busy spaces can all lead to stress and anxiety, leading to ADHD Burnout. Especially if a large amount of time is spent in these places.
Looking at accommodations such as dimmed lighting, quiet spaces and earplugs/headphones are all ways of ensuring that you reduce any external stress factors from your day. For children and young people then their bedrooms are quite often their ‘safe’ space. Talk with them and notice how they are in this room. For me, my perfectionism traits meant I used to crave an immaculate home, and the boy’s rooms were always ‘insta‘ ready.
However, I’ve noticed with Sam especially that he loves the comfort of a very ‘soft’ room. So many pillows, blankets and soft ‘friends’ that within half an hour of me tidying his room, it would look messy again. I have taken a step back and allowed his rooms to be his space. I tidy maybe once a week if that. He can move his furniture and bed around as much as he wants. And we have lots of different lighting so he can have it as bright or as dark as he wants.
A little over a year ago I suffered a pretty catastrophic episode of burnout. Unable to work or cope with even the most simple daily tasks. It took over three months, medication and a lot of support from family and friends to be able to return to work. However, none of this would have been sustainable if it wasn’t for me taking the above steps. Recognising that my brain worked differently just like my boys, has allowed me to approach life in a way that works for me.
Everyone is different. Just as each individual with ADHD has a different set of symptoms and struggles, so does what will work for them in life. Taking the time to work that out early and giving our children a really strong sense of self; as well as the coping skills to hopefully help them recognise and manage the symptoms of ADHD burnout is so important.
How do you manage possible burnout? Have you noticed triggers in your children that make you worry? What is your advice to others suffering at the moment?
NB: Please note that the above is advice and comes from #LivedExperience as well as s.e.n. qualifications, but I am not a doctor. If you feel that you or your child may have ADHD, then please speak to your GP and/or school.
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