Rising from the Burnout: A Recovery Kit for Women with ADHD
“Recognize that you are doing the best you can each day under your circumstances. Think to yourself (perhaps as you do a calming exercise): ‘Even though I’m feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and burned out, I’m going to send myself some love. I choose to feel calm. I choose to meet myself where I am.’”
Do you feeling tired or drained most of the time?
Do you feel like running away?
Do you struggle with procrastination? Does it take you longer to get things done these days?
These are all signs of burnout, a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that women with ADHD experience far too often. We’re prone to feeling chronically stressed because we navigate our busy lives while coping with executive functioning difficulties, a sensitive nervous system, and a mind that won’t shut off.
Gender roles and expectations also drive burnout. We’re often at the helm of our families and households while juggling our careers and other responsibilities. We’re perfectionists who, consciously or not, try to mask that we’re neurodivergent. We’re rarely compassionate with ourselves about the challenges we face. Instead, we’re always trying to compensate for them.
It’s even worse for women with undiagnosed ADHD, who don’t have the benefit of knowing why they spend days, weeks, even months feeling exhausted, drained, overwhelmed, and despondent.
Our emotionally dysregulated brains, which rarely leave fight-or-flight mode, often prevent us from being able to slow down and rest. But it’s what we need the most. Here’s how to recognize that you’re burned out, and how to take steps to recover.
1. Know the Signs of Burnout
Burnout has a way of stealthily creeping in. We often don’t know that we’re approaching burnout until it’s too late. But the signs are there. Our body is always speaking to us, and we must learn its language. Signs of burnout include but are not limited to the following:
Emotional Signs of Burnout
- feeling tired or drained most of the time
- feeling overwhelmed
- feeling like dropping it all and running away
- feeling detached and/or lonely
- thinking constant negative thoughts; having a cynical outlook
- feeling on edge
- feeling unable to “switch off”
Physical Signs of Burnout
- back/neck/shoulder pain
- gut issues
- recurrent illness
- jaw clenching
2. Question the Roots of Burnout
If your job is the primary cause of your burnout, as it is for so many of us, (the World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”) ask yourself the following questions:
- What triggers me to overwork? For many people, overworking is tied to feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome on the job. Fear of rejection (tied to rejection sensitive dysphoria) may also be involved.
- Am I setting reasonable expectations for myself? Examine your perfectionistic tendencies. Do you set high standards for yourself and often feel like you haven’t done enough? When does this come up?
- Do I define myself by my career? How can I detach from my work self?
- Am I honoring my work style and flow? Get to know yourself — including your energy levels, interests, work rhythms and patterns, environments, and more. Personality tests and career assessments can help you understand yourself and uncover passions and purpose, which then may reshape your entire way of living.
Burnout also comes from trying to do it all. Our inner critics force us to set high standards for ourselves and tend to make us feel like we haven’t done enough.
- Notice when your inner critic creeps up. Does the critical voice appear when you try to rest? When you set boundaries for yourself? When you try to ask for help? Let the voice have it’s say but recognize the truth.
3. Set Boundaries
Be Intentional with Your Time and Mental Space
Eliminating the stressor that’s causing you to burn out is best, but not always a possibility. That’s where boundaries come in. Ask yourself these questions to become more intentional about your time and space:
- When am I saying yes to doing something when I really want to say no?
- What do I value? Time with family and friends? Being present for my children? Create a poster of all the things you value and keep it in eye view for a constant reference that guides you back to your authentic desires. Then, ask yourself if your everyday life matches up to the values you wish to uphold.
- What energizes me? What depletes me?
Stop Multitasking. Seriously.
Compared to neurotypical people, we burn a lot more cognitive energy just trying to get through the day, which is why multitasking is not a good idea for us, according to Casey Dixon, an ADHD coach. “By engaging in task switching, you are spending more of your limited energy than you can afford,” she writes. Avoid multitasking to avoid burnout.
- Set a limit to how many things you’ll put on your daily to-do list.
- Work in shorter bursts and use a Time Timer clock to easily see the passing of time.
- Cut down on unnecessary notifications and distractions that eat up your time, attention, and energy. Work-related notifications will keep you in work mode even when you’re trying to disconnect.
4. Focus on Improving Your Sleep
Sleep deprivation is a key indicator of burnout. From working late and answering that “one last email” to revenge bedtime procrastination, burnout fuels insomnia and sets off a vicious cycle. Prioritize restful sleep:
- Commit to going to bed at a set time, even if things aren’t “done.” (Your to-do list will still be there tomorrow.)
- Create a soothing bedtime routine.
- Quiet your racing mind. Try brain dumping to clear mental declutter that’s preventing you from resting.
- Avoid mindlessly scrolling through your phone while in bed. Set a timer or make it a rule to “turn off” all your social media/notifications at a specific time.
5. Do Things That Make You Happy
Schedule in time to do something that brings you real joy, like going for a walk, texting a friend, watching a funny video that makes you laugh, or reconnecting with an old hobby. Even a few minutes can break you out of the stress zone and help you feel more balanced.
6. Practice Calming Techniques
Tapping and breathing exercises are simple activities you can do every morning and throughout the day when you most need it. A bath or even a splash of cold water can calm and reset your system. You don’t have to wait until you’re stressed or overwhelmed to use these tools. You can find lots of calming techniques and tutorials in my Vimeo account here.
7. Practice Self-Compassion
Recognize that you are doing the best you can each day under your circumstances. Think to yourself (perhaps as you do a calming exercise): “Even though I’m feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and burned out, I’m going to send myself some love. I choose to feel calm. I choose to meet myself where I am. I accept how I’m feeling. I choose to believe that my situation will improve.”
Here are other helpful affirmations to help you practice self-compassion as you respect your boundaries and recover from burnout:
- It’s safe to rest.
- It’s OK to finish for today.
- I’m allowed to relax.
- I’m enough right now.
- I give myself permission to relax and recharge.
- I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
- Whatever I have done today is enough.
- I am defined beyond my career.
- I live life according to my truth and values.
- I am learning to release control and surrender more.
- Where I am in my journey is where I’m meant to be.
- I’m creating when I’m resting.
- I chose to accept that whatever I do is enough right now.
How to Recover from Burnout: Next Steps
- Free Download: How Well Are You Handling Stress?
- Read: The Antidote to ADHD Fatigue and Exhaustion? Stacking Habits (and Spoons)
- Read: “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before My Flaming ADHD Burnout”
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