If you live with ADHD, you know that it can be a constant challenge to stay on top of things. Between work, family, and social obligations, it's easy to get overwhelmed and burned out. Add to that "hustle culture" and our natural inclination as humans to compare ourselves to others, and you have a recipe for an epic crash. Luckily, there are some things you can do to avoid reaching that point.
The cycle of over-committing and overextending can lead to burnout in people with ADHD. Our natural difficulties with accurately estimating time and effort lead us to bite off more than we can chew, and we end up with more balls in the air than we can catch. This often leads us to a vicious cycle of overwhelm, burnout, and guilt.
One of the most heartbreakingly common things I hear from clients is that they were often called lazy, or careless. Told that they weren’t trying hard enough, when it felt like they were giving their all.
Hearing those things over and over again hurts, and we learn to overcompensate with extreme people-pleasing, never saying no, and beating ourselves up when we inevitably drop a ball. We begin to believe that our productivity is directly linked to our value.
Caught in such a cycle, rest becomes an indulgence. We feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious when we try to relax. We fear the weight of inertia, because we know how difficult it is to find the motivation to get going. It feels easier to just keep working, keep pushing, until we hit the literal breaking point.
The more we crash, the more we whittle down our resilience. We hit the breaking point quicker, with fewer things on our plate - then beat ourselves up because "I know I can do more than this!" And with the guilt track playing in our heads, even the rest we do manage to take isn't actually restorative.
1. Practice Self-Compassion
We're not machines, no matter how much we try to act like it. And, even machines need time to rest and refuel - you can't drive your car without stopping for gas and the occasional tune-up. When the car runs out of gas, you (probably) don't yell at it. Instead, you pull over and fill up, even if it's not convenient, and makes you run a little late. We need to rest and recharge, too. So, switch out the guilt track with some positive affirmations.
2. Build Stronger Boundaries
Saying no is extremely difficult when you're not accustomed to it. As you begin to better understand your capacity and limits, though, it's crucial to protect your time and energy with some healthy boundaries. If it's tough at first, you can even tell people you trust that you're practicing saying no, and have them ask you for little things to start practicing your 'no' with.
3. Track Your Time, Energy, and Mood
Speaking of capacity and limits, many of us have no idea what those are. You can begin learning what they are by tracking how long it takes to complete tasks, how you felt before and after them, how much energy it took to complete them, or any other metric you find useful. And remember, our capacity and energy levels shift based on how much sleep we get, how much stress we're under, and other factors. It may take time, but keeping a log of some of these factors will eventually give you a better sense of when to say no.
4. Learn to Delegate
Perfectionism is another common ADHD challenge. It's hard to ask others for help when you feel they won't give the task the same care that you do. There's also that element of people-pleasing, not wanting to let someone down, or show vulnerability. Again, if it's difficult, it's okay to start small. Think about how good you feel when you're able to help someone you care about - then give them the opportunity to feel that good, too, by helping you.
5. Plan Recovery Time into Each Day
Another benefit of tracking your time, energy, and mood is that you'll have a better sense of when to plan for rest. If you know you're going to be doing a task that takes a lot of time, effort, or energy, make sure to block out some rest time immediately afterward. Aim for relaxing activities away from screens - a short walk, some meditation, a hot bath or shower, dancing to your favorite tunes - whatever feels restorative to you.
6. Seek Professional Help
If you're struggling to manage your ADHD on your own, seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you deal with the deep-seated feelings of guilt and shame, and an ADHD coach like the ones at Shimmer can help you implement strategies to make daily life more manageable.
ADHD can be difficult to live with all on its own. When we push ourselves too hard, the resulting burnout often worsens symptoms and can lead to a cycle of guilt and overexertion. There are things you can do to avoid burnout. Learning to ask for help, gaining insight into your limits, practicing self-compassion, delegating, and boundary setting will help to reduce the risk of burnout and protect your overall mental health.