Are People With ADD/ADHD Unusually Prone to Burnout?

Burnout

With an estimated 4.4% of American adults diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), often called attention-deficit disorder (ADD), many people cope with the range of symptoms associated with this condition. For example, those who have ADHD may indulge in impulsive behaviors, procrastinate, have trouble staying organized, become distracted easily, or struggle with a short attention span. Moreover, experts now know that ADD/ADHD can trigger an array of physical consequences and may carry frustrating side effects on overall life quality, including workplace issues, romantic relationship problems, addiction, and even financial difficulties.

But there is another lesser-known danger for those who contend with ADD/ADHD: burnout. Though the exact definition can be difficult to pinpoint, burnout generally refers to a trio of general symptoms—alienation from activities, exhaustion, and poor performance—that can strike at work or in the home and may be confused with depression. Here are just some of the ways in which the characteristics of ADHD can contribute—all of which can combine to create a snowball effect, ultimately leading to the utter depletion known as burnout.

Burnout generally refers to a trio of general symptoms—alienation, exhaustion, and poor performance—that can strike at work or in the home. It can happen to anyone, but people with ADD/ADHD are more prone to burnout. Click To Tweet

6 ADHD Characteristics That Lead to Burnout

1. Impulsively saying yes.

Impulsivity is a common manifestation of ADD/ADHD, and when that behavior leads to volunteering for more than you can handle, burnout may occur in the not-too-distant future. Taking on too many tasks without thinking through the effort involved leaves you exhausted, overwhelmed, and even resentful. These tendencies stem from the same area of the brain: ADD/ADHD typically occurs as a result of neurological dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex, while saying yes without considering consequences is associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex. Signing up for an overload of responsibility often leads to anxiety and, eventually, burnout.

Beat burnout: Practice saying, “Let me think about it” before reflexively saying yes.

2. Trouble with organization.

Alongside saying yes without thinking, disorganization is one of the bad habits that can derail forward progress in life—and those with ADD/ADHD are particularly prone to it. When faced with a lack of organization in the home or workplace, it takes greater effort to stay on track and complete tasks. This can trigger a cumulative effect: When those disorganization-fueled derailments pile up, they may further exacerbate procrastination and ultimately lead to the desire to give up completely.

Beat burnout: Ask a friend or family member to help you get organized or to teach you how to use organizational systems.

3. Difficulty concentrating.

Those with ADD/ADHD can display remarkable concentration when delving into their passion projects. But, on the other side of the coin, staying focused can frequently pose a challenge. Though not all attention issues are caused by ADD/ADHD, this condition often leads to the feeling that the brain is “all over the place,” unable to home in on a specific target. There is a reason for this inability to concentrate: Brain imaging at Amen Clinics has found that when people with ADD/ADHD try to concentrate, blood flow actually decreases in the prefrontal cortex—the opposite of a healthy brain, in which blood flow increases during concentration.

Beat burnout: Start a daily meditation practice, as brain imaging research shows that it enhances function in the PFC and improves focus.

4. Lack of motivation.

Those with ADHD may often be written off as lazy, but they’re often just misunderstood—because this condition appears to be closely tied to a lack of motivation. One study even concluded that ADD/ADHD is a disorder marked not only by lack of attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity but also by a deficit in motivation. The study noted that this appears to reflect a low-functioning dopamine reward pathway, which therefore makes it difficult to summon the motivation needed to tackle tasks. This deficit can make someone want to give up altogether—another telltale sign of burnout.

Beat burnout: In order to boost dopamine naturally, your body needs tyrosine, which can be found in avocados, almonds, bananas, eggs, fish, beans, and dark chocolate.

5. Difficulty prioritizing.

When it’s time to start a project, a person with ADD/ADHD may have trouble knowing how or where to begin—or, for a project that’s already underway, how to prioritize during the process, in order to follow through and complete it. This lack of initiative or continuity understandably causes anxiety, which can contribute to feelings of burnout.

Beat burnout: For tasks such as work projects, hobbies, or schoolwork, employ helpful learning strategies to push back against these potential pitfalls.

6. Stress from overcompensation.

Especially in school or the workplace, comparison with others—and feeling like you aren’t measuring up to your colleagues—easily leads to increased stress over time. This all can add up to working harder and putting in longer hours to do what others can do more efficiently in less time. One study found that the persistent hyperactivity associated with ADHD may lead to emotional exhaustion and poor work performance. The findings demonstrated that ADHD is also likely an underlying factor of emotional exhaustion syndrome and burnout. Because burnout itself creates a hyperactive phase, it can be difficult to differentiate from the hyperactivity caused by ADHD, but the condition makes someone extra vulnerable to stress, which can easily result in burnout.

Beat burnout: Practice stress-management strategies and challenge automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) such as, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not as smart as my colleagues.”

ADD/ADHD and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

5 Comments »

  1. I think I have ADD. I am 45 and it has created difficulties.

    Comment by Andy larned — April 15, 2022 @ 5:50 AM

  2. Eye opening. I suffer from ADD as well as MDD. Together it makes it hard to fight.

    Thanks Dr Amen.

    Comment by LCinOh — April 16, 2022 @ 11:48 AM

  3. This is another article that is my life in black and white—my life I hate it I hate it I hate it;I don’t want to continue life like this; surrounded by family who make me feel worse . I wish they knew their words comments inflection in their voice hurt my heart , They And maybe I just make it too difficult go on. It took me ALL day to organize the laundry/ pantry today And I didn’t finish it I was getting distracted over and over- I always think these products will take two hours. my days off I’ve never get anything done, but laundry and grocery shopping— thst takes ME forever too. This reminds me of commenting on a post. Too long. I got a comment back last week from y”YOU” and I will call tomorrow – I have been both nervous and excited to call. Than you for all you do

    Comment by Ginger Valiska — April 17, 2022 @ 8:43 PM

  4. Excellent article with some perspective I had not thought of. Thank you for the great information. I always like when you mention healthy foods that can help while experiencing some of the mental health issues we deal with.

    Comment by Leslie K — April 18, 2022 @ 3:41 PM

  5. Thanks very interesting.
    I am 44 and have ADHD. Highly the psychiatrist told me 2&4 years ago. It will be very hard for me to live if I don’t get organizational help. Yet how did I manage my first 28 years so well before I met my wife. I mostly lived by myself from 20-28. I paied my bills, did my laundry, worked out, and even did 2 years on a MSc Study as engineer and finished a BSc. Yes I had motivation problems doing the homework, yes it felt my friends got faster through homework. But I did it and wasn’t burned out.
    Less fast food, lbo smart phone, almost no chatting on the internet. Generally less screen time and more outdoors and relaxing interactions with friends.
    I think our lifestyle since The first iPhone and FB , YouTube and the such take our focus away and we can’t get the good brain time we need.
    For me personally it shows that during the last 12-14 years my condition got worse and I could handle less and less. As mentioned the former subjects including less healthy food. Less homemade food and regular bedtime as we can just watch what we want 24/7/365.
    I also think ADD/ADHD people are just performing better in other fields, in ways we are not accepted. Called lazy and only thinking about fun stuff. Yes. But we outperform the typical office workers in those tasks.
    We should learn to go back to what we are strong in and change/adapt our lifestyles towards our natural being.
    Many ADHD er i know are highly intelligent and connect dots others don’t see.
    Enough for today. Thanks for the great insight. ADHD is not a sickness. It’s just nature that wants people that perform better in other ways. 🙂 We should be proud of it instead of hating ourselves for not being like others. We all are unique. Every person on this planet

    Comment by Oliver Schirach — April 25, 2022 @ 12:22 PM

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