ADHD Burnout Cycle and 9 Ways to Escape It

Demi Aspey
10mins read
Aug 3, 2023

Ever felt like your ADHD is running a marathon and doesn’t know to quit when your feet can no longer carry you? 

Welcome to the infamous "ADHD burnout" club! 

I say welcome, but it’s a very unwelcome phenomenon. The ADHD burnout cycle can sneak up like my cat wanting breakfast at 4 am and screaming in my face until I give in. 

It's tough to spot the signs—ADHD burnout symptoms often blend with our daily grind. 

Is today just extra stressful, or am I amid the dark burnout cycle?

Whether you're an adult navigating the choppy ADHD seas or a veteran seeking a map to ADHD burnout recovery, we've got your back at Deepwrk. 

Let's hit pause, zoom in, and unpack 7 epic strategies to dodge the burnout bullet and reclaim your energy. 

What is ADHD Burnout? 🔥

Let's dive deeply into this notorious creature, ADHD burnout. 

You're striving for that elusive perfection, juggling a million balls in the air while your brain's playing ping-pong with a barrage of thoughts.

You’re exhausted, anxious, and depressed, and nothing can motivate you.

It sounds like you’ve found yourself locked in the ADHD burnout cycle.

What does ADHD burnout look like? 

Think extreme fatigue, loss of interest, difficulty focusing, and emotional instability. It's a sneaky little bugger! 

The merciless cycle begins innocently enough.

You're overthinking every detail, getting trapped in an exhausting game of mental tug-of-war. You’re focused on pleasing everyone but yourself; you can’t possibly let anyone down. The world might implode if you do. The perfectionist in you is working overtime, demanding flawless results.

Inevitably, you are overwhelmed and facing the dreaded ADHD paralysis or what we “endearingly” call the "ADHD freeze."

You'd think that'd be enough drama for one brain, right? But wait, there's more! 

(Of course, there is…)

Anxiety struts onto the stage, making a grand entrance. And let's not forget the special guest appearance by our dear old friend: overcompensation.

You're pushing harder to overcome ADHD symptoms, working longer, and dancing on the razor's edge of pressure, all in a heroic attempt to cope.

Tell me this isn’t you:

Spungebob cleaning meme ADHD Burnout

The endgame?

You're caught in the unrelenting jaws of ADHD burnout, feeling like a phone on 1% battery... perpetually.

On top of the exhaustion dragging you around, you’ve likely lost interest and pleasure in daily activities. Everything becomes a trigger.

The tiniest new task coming into your inbox or via whatever workstream you have is enough to tip you over the edge. It’s the part where I usually have a little cry and completely withdraw because the mountain becomes too high to even look at!

But remember; this isn't the final act. 

We've got some pretty nifty strategies up our sleeves for tackling the ADHD burnout symptoms and steering you towards a successful ADHD burnout recovery.

Trust me, burnout has become a staple event in my life, and it's only by mastering a few strategies I can minimise burnout cycles.

ADHD masking & pressure to overcompensate for ADHD symptoms 🎭

When it comes to 'ADHD masking', it refers to our attempts to hide or downplay our ADHD symptoms to fit societal norms. This behaviour can become quite an exhausting act, a strain that, over time, can fuel ADHD burnout.

Then, there's overcompensation, a pressure we put on ourselves to perform beyond our natural abilities to counterbalance our perceived ADHD shortcomings and the unhelpful ADHD stereotypes.

I feel like I’m constantly hiding my struggles to not appear weak, unreliable or incapable. 

ADHD is feeling like you're always behind, overworking, burning out in a blaze of glory

I guess a lot of it manifests from fear of letting others down.

It feels in tune with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and emotional sensitivity, which yearn for our ADHD’s full attention.

All this masking leads to overextending ourselves and exacerbating the burnout cycle because we never put ourselves first.

Unfortunately, this heightened effort is unsustainable and often leads us down the path towards burnout. Understanding and acknowledging these patterns is crucial in breaking the ADHD burnout cycle. 

It's about time we gave ourselves permission to live authentically without the added pressure.

Understanding the ADHD Burnout Cycle ♻️

The ADHD burnout cycle – the merry-go-round that’s lost it's 'merry'.

The endless cycle of overs: overcommitting, overextending and overcompensating to mask your ADHD symptoms.

Hamster expecting adhd burnout cycle meme

We don’t talk enough about the exhaustion of trying to blend as neurotypical.

It’s enough to drain you from the core.

When you're living with ADHD, it can feel like you're always on full throttle.

Every day, your mind has to wade through a whirlwind of stimuli, ideas, and emotions that keep you in a state of high alert.

This constant vigilance can take a toll on you, leading to the dreaded ADHD burnout.

And then there’s the hangover - except not a wine one!

The hyperfocus hangover. I get it, it CAN feel like a “superpower” at times but it’s also kryptonite.

Hyperfocus is unpredictable, when it does show up, it’s all-consuming, and the following exhaustion can make burnout ten times worse!

Yes, we can tap into the magic of hyperfocus, but when fuelled by anxiety, deadlines and panic, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Hello, inevitable crash and burnout!

ADHD is being chronically overwhelmed

So why do ADHD and burnout go hand-in-hand so often? 

It's because ADHD tends to scatter your thoughts, making it a Herculean task to maintain focus.

The energy you expend to regain that focus can lead to fatigue and burnout.

I like to think of it as the burnout cocktail - it sounds swanky on the menu, but slip one too many ingredients in, and you’ll be flat on the floor within no time.

Here’s the ADHD burnout cocktail recipe:

  1. A heavy serving of overcompensations + overcommitment for the full enjoyment of others
  2. Ensure the ADHD flavours are masked fully + make up for them with added ingredients like people pleasing (it may take the most effort to mask ADHD fully - don’t get tired!)
  3. Add a healthy dose of anxiety, RSD + emotional sensitivity into the mix - don’t forget to blend in the perfectionism…perfectly!
  4. Ignore your limits and avoid setting boundaries - a mega dash of hyperfocus + ADHD rumination will finish the cocktail nicely.

And voila, you have a burnout cocktail that’ll knock your socks off!

The impact can be severe.

It can throw a wrench into your daily routine, churn a storm of emotional upheaval, and drain you physically.

The interesting (or should I say, challenging) part?

The ADHD burnout cycle doesn't discriminate—it can crash anyone's party, regardless of age.

But here's the good news: Recognising this pattern is half the battle.

By being proactive and better understanding our reactions and responses, we can nip ADHD burnout in the bud.

I promise you that navigating life's much easier when you're in the driver's seat!

ADHD Burnout Symptoms

Recognising the ADHD burnout symptoms can be the toughest part because if you’re anything like me, you often don’t realise you’re burning until you’re burnt.

Stewie burnt meme ADHD burnout cycle

But don't fret; we're here to help you piece it together. All of us will experience burnout at some point, ADHD or not.

It’s something our Deepwrk team and community can relate to all too well, especially when we’ve been pushing ourselves in situations we never found purpose. 

ADHD Burnout Emotional Symptoms 😭

First up on the radar are the emotional symptoms.

You might find yourself feeling unusually irritable, anxious, or apathetic.

Your motivation could take a nosedive, and things you once enjoyed might feel like a chore.

It’s my number one signaller, I’ll often get angry or feel triggered by the most insignificant things.

After an outburst or breakdown, I reflect and think, “Ah, I’m in my burnout cycle again!”.

ADHD Burnout Physical Symptoms 😫

Physically, ADHD burnout can manifest as constant fatigue, no matter how much sleep you get. 

Headaches, body aches, and a general sense of being unwell can become frequent visitors.

I usually suspect something is up when I wake from sleep feeling like I’ve been run over by a ten-tonne truck.

Then there's the impact on your cognitive abilities.

I feel dazed and confused for hours, and focus has seen itself right out of the window! 

ADHD burnout can make concentrating, remembering things, or ADHD decision fatigue.

You may feel mentally foggy and find it hard to stay organised.

So, if you've been feeling more like a drained battery than your usual energetic self, you might be dealing with ADHD burnout.

Recognising these symptoms is simply the first step toward recovery. Because you're not alone at the end of the day; together, we can navigate this. 

Next up - strategies to break this cycle and bounce back stronger!

Because in the famous words of Rocky Balboa, “It’s not about how hard you can hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward!”.

Rocky Steps

9 Strategies to Escape the ADHD Burnout Cycle 💪

Burnout might seem inevitable in living with ADHD, but trust me; it's not a mandatory rite of passage. 

We completely control our minds, reactions and choices (my therapist relentlessly reminds me every time I forget).

Let's unpack seven practical strategies to help dodge the ADHD burnout bullet:

#1: Set Boundaries: Say No 🙅‍♀️

Remember, your time and energy are precious commodities.

Learning to set boundaries and comfortably say 'no' can prevent overextension and maintain your emotional well-being.

People pleasing, though a huge ADHD trait, always puts you last. 

Embrace the no!

#2: Set Realistic Goals and Priorities ✅

Aiming for the stars? Make sure your ladder reaches.

Setting attainable goals and prioritising effectively can make your tasks manageable and reduce unnecessary stress.

Remember to delegate where possible and eliminate the unnecessary. 

Three priorities per day is my rule!

#3: Timebox and break tasks down

Timeboxing involves setting aside specific time slots for each task.

The timeboxing technique works like magic as it creates a sense of urgency that fuels motivation and efficiency.

It helps you focus on what matters and eliminates work spillage by setting a time-bound framework.

It also helps you avoid overwhelm by breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable bits.

Have you tried ADHD coworking? It's a great way to timebox, break down tasks, and get stuff done.

#4: Self-Care & Lifestyle Changes 🚴♂️

Caring for your body and mind is vital in preventing burnout.

Regular sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise go a long way in maintaining your overall health.

Plus, a solid workout is the ultimate form of stress release!

#5: Rest & Make Time for Doing Nothing 😴

Sometimes, doing nothing is the best 'something' you can do.

Prioritise taking breaks, allow the luxury of downtime, and ensure you make space for activities that bring you joy and gratitude. 

And if you want to become a couch gremlin for a day, I say more power to you.

Wrap up in that duvet and binge Disney+ until you snooze away!

#6: Unwind with Stress Management & Mindfulness 🧘

Let's face it, managing ADHD is a rollercoaster. 

The antidote? No, it’s not screaming to get off (tried it, doesn’t work!). 

Mindfulness and stress management make the dips a bit less stomach churning. These techniques will be your personal superheroes, fending off overwhelm and nurturing a sense of calm.

Practice meditation, journaling and breathing techniques. 

Plus, keeping your workspace tidy and distraction-free can provide that extra shield against ADHD burnout. Trust me, a clean desk can sometimes be the best therapist! 

#7: Explore ADHD-Friendly Gizmos ⌚

If you're living with ADHD, a few handy gadgets can be game-changers.

From gravity blankets offering a snug retreat, sunrise alarm clocks giving a gentle start to the day, to noise machines and headphones building a focus fortress around you.

And don't forget time-managing smartwatches like Garmin or Apple Watch. 

These ADHD products and gadgets could be your personal ADHD survival kit. 

If you live in the UK the government’s Access to Work ADHD scheme can cover some of these expenses.

#8: Try Body Doubling 👯

Body doubling is simply getting stuff done in the presence of another person.

It's like having an ADHD accountability buddy beside you, ensuring you set boundaries, work in a structured manner, and find time for rest.

Having an accountability partner can help your reduce overwhelm, stress, and increase motivation.

You can body double in person (with friends and colleagues) or online with an ADHD body doubling app like Deepwrk.

#9: Reach Out to the Pros 💬

It's crucial to remember: seeking help is brave, not weak.

When the ADHD maze gets twisty, therapists, support groups, and ADHD-focused counsellors can guide you through.

I’m the biggest advocate that EVERY person should have a therapist, even when our minds feel calm and content.

For us ADHD lot, therapists and coaches help not only with recovery from ADHD burnout but also give you the tools to manage your ADHD more effectively. 

Big shout out to my therapist who let me rant at her for 45 minutes straight when I was last burned out!

Quick FAQ Wrap-Up 

We've travelled a long road today, haven't we? Now, let's clear up some final curiosities: 

Why is the ADHD burnout cycle a biggie? 

It's a vicious cycle of overdoing, overcompensating, overreaching, over crashing, overcommitting, overextending…over bloody burning!

A whole lot of OVER!

Once out of it, you go with full force into new tasks and commitments until they eventually cripple you again. Rinse and repeat. Breaking free is key to managing ADHD. 

That's all, folks! Thank you for hanging out and learning about ADHD and the dreaded burnout cycle.

Hopefully, you’ve found some value to make your days a little less stressful.

Stay tuned for more helpful human advice. Until then, keep being awesome!

Find your flow with Deepwrk. ADHD body doubling to get things done solo, not alone!
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.