The Neurodivergent Guide to Understanding Burnout (2023)

The essence:The word "burnout" gets thrown around a lot these days, but how well do you really understand it? πŸ€” This guide will help you understand what it is, why it happens and how to correct burnout if you are neurodivergent.

The word "burnout" gets thrown around a lot these days, but how well do you really understand it? πŸ€”

As much as I'm glad society has gotten to a point where we talk openly and frequently about burnout, it also raises some issues that don't necessarily help the burnout crisis our society is going through.

First of all,When there is so much talk about burnout, the definition gets a bit lost in the noise.

Well, there are a lot of things we call's not really burnout. 😬

For example, exhaustion and depletion are often used interchangeably. And although they are similar, they are not the same.

Why does that matter? Why do I care about fine semantics?

BecauseDifferent problems require different solutions.

In order to recover and prevent burnout, we need to understand what it really is. As well as what it is not.

This is exactly what this post is meant to help with.

It should contain everything you need to know to really understand what burnout is as a concept, when you experience it, and how to recover.


What is burnout?

Burnout was first coined in 1975 by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who defined it as follows:

  • Emotional exhaustion... I think we all know what it is and how it feels 😩
  • Depersonalization, or when you feel disconnected from your sense of identity.
  • Reduced sense of achievement or underestimation of one's own work and achievements.

Originally, the term burnout was only used to talk about the experience of the caring or "helping" professions.

But luckily ever sinceThe definition was expanded as psychology came to understand how many other people (like...literally everyone) may depend on experience.

First, the discussion extended to professional work in general.

For example,the WHO officially recognizes itas an "occupational phenomenon" present in most chronic work stress jobs.

His definition of burnout is similar to Freudenberger's, with features such as:

  • Rapid depletion or depletion of energy
  • Feeling distant or skeptical about your work.
  • Reduced efficiency and increased errors.

Where, in my (humble) opinion, the definition still falls short of considering burnout purely as something in the workplace.

Fortunately, in recent years more people are realizing that work is not the only cause of burnout.

Andthe book of exhaustionexplains, any chronic stressor can burn you out if the stress is intense enough for long enough.

It's not just about jobs, it's about all the different ways we are forced to work and work for our existence.

And it's important to recognize that.

In particular, it is important to recognize how exclusion in your society can cause or exacerbate burnout, where burnout is concentrated.

For example,Being neurodivergent in a neurotypical, empowering society can itself be a chronic stressor.

And that's what we're going to talk about today: how to deal with burnout when you have ADHD, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.

(I have these 3 along with other chronic health issues that have contributed a lotMy own burnout story.)

How Burnout Is Different When You're Neurodivergent

emone of my favorite books, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell talks about a phenomenon called Stanford Duck Syndrome.

It refers to how calm or collected ducks can look when you see their upper body floating in the water, but they are paddling feverishly below the surface.

The Neurodivergent Guide to Understanding Burnout (1)

The name comes from the description of Stanford students and their "grind or die culture". ButWhen I first read the description, it fit my entire life as a neurodivergent person.

When you're neurodivergent, it can feel like you've spent your entire life feverishly rowing just to stay afloat, just to keep up with the neurotypical pace of life around you.

miWe can only row so long before we fall a bit into the water.

This is when we experience neurodivergent burnout.

And this may differ from the way neurotypical people experience burnout, both in preparation and in recovery.

First, neurodivergent people are more prone to stress, anxiety, and depression that lead to burnout.

Sowe can burn more easily and more frequently.

In second place,Dealing with burnout can be different.We might experience things like:

  • Changes in everyday symptoms
  • Regression in interests or communication
  • more frequent stimulation
  • Desire for more or less routine.

It can also be more difficult to identify what we are experiencing as exhaustion since interoception can block this understanding.

Many of us are also concerned with how common comorbidities are.chronic physicalor mental illness.

These too get worse and are exacerbated by exhaustion.

It's all a cruel vicious circle. πŸ™ˆ

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What Causes Neurodivergent Burnout?

Generally,Burnout occurs after getting stuck in a cycle of stress,I talk more about itSummary of my book on burnout.

It is when we experience more stress than the things that help us deal with that stress.

Most of us have a LOT of stress built up inside of us. And from time to time we collapse under that weight.

More precise,that stress is caused by things like:

  • Work that does not correspond to our strengths
  • Overwork and exploitation in the workplace
  • Having to juggle many responsibilities with little support
  • Dealing with abuse or discrimination in addition to anything else listed

And that's just for people in general.

In neurodivergent people, some additional causes of burnout are:

  • Routine Disorder (as much as we ADHD people hate it, it's actually good for us)
  • Frequent masking (which can make any activity exponentially more strenuous)
  • Lack of accommodation at school or at work.
  • Training...which actually includes the masking material and shelters

The 12 stages of burnout

Another factor that makes burnout confusing is thisIt's not a switch that suddenly turns on and off. It's more of a slide or roller coaster with hills and loops.

This can make identification particularly frustrating.

Do you remember Freudenberger from before?

He and his colleague Gail North have developed a 12-step burnout model that describes the transition from "fresh and unburned" to "burned to ashes."

The different phases are:

  1. Feeling the compulsive need to prove yourself and your worth.
  2. You have to work harder and harder for that.
  3. This makes it easier for you to neglect personal needs like sleep, nutrition, and relaxation and…
  4. Ignore and distance yourself from your problems, sometimes for...
  5. Check yours temporarilycore valuesto justify focusing more on work (or whatever else is draining you).
  6. Of course, you also deny that all this is happening, so you don't have to face it.
  7. If necessary, remove yourself from non-working areas to facilitate rejection.
  8. You may also make strange behavior changes to fit the job and your "new" values.
  9. Eventually, you can become depersonalized and stop perceiving your own essential needs.
  10. You may also feel an inner emptiness that you try to compensate with excesses or 'struggling' with certain activities.
  11. When all else fails, depression sets in.
  12. Left untreated, depression blends in with everything else until you reach a mental and/or physical breakdown.

It can be a tough ride down this slippery slide.

It can also be a crazier ride to go from stage 1 to stage 5 to stage 8 and back to stage 3 before you feel really exhausted. With interoception, you may not even notice it. 🎒

But not feeling it doesn't mean it's not happening.

Fortunately, by better understanding burnout and its causes, we can also createtool kitsso we can take care of it ourselves.

These can act as stopgap measures for slippage and prevent us from falling further towards collapse.

Reduce burnout with a self-care action plan

Creating a plan for your daily and weekly self-care will help you proactively rest and burn out less often. To create your own plan, download our free worksheet.

Create a self-care action plan

How to Recover From Neurodivergent Burnout

Recovering from burnout is simple, but not easy.

That's allall about restand taking breaks from whatever got you stuck in the stress cycle in the first place.

This way you end the cycle you are stuck in and avoid getting stuck in another.

Complete the stress cycle

Some short-term activities to complete the cycle are:

  • physical activity
  • Casual but friendly social interaction.
  • laughter and love
  • Want
  • creative expression

What doesn't work is toxic positivity, like suppressing emotions or telling yourself it's okay.

I personally thinkdaily, dance &watch comediesbe my favorite ways to close the circle.

Rest to recover your energy

Stressful work can wear you outEnergyMore than usual.

The stress this causes exhausts you even more.

And unfortunately, even completing the stress cycle can take more energy.

That's a lot of wasted energy at a time when you have little to start with.

The only way to get it back is to rest. And I'm talking about intentional, intentional rest.

The rest category you prefer depends on your exhaustion situation. But it's definitely going to take more than a night on the couch followed by a good night's sleep.

You need a LOT of good sleep and time for more restorative activities when you are awake.

AndAlex Soojung-Kim Pang speaks in the book Rest, there are four main components that make an activity calm:

  • Relaxation or "a state of low activation and greater beneficial effect".
  • Take control of your own time, energy, and attention.
  • Master experiences or engage in valuable things that you are good at.
  • Detachment or abandonment of work both mentally and physically.

miI guarantee it: it will take more rest than you think you need.It will take longer than you initially thought. You want to be patient with yourself.

Take a proactive approach to self-care

When you've recovered from a bout of burnout, you'll want to prevent more from happening in the future.

While eliminating burnout completely may not be realistic for most of us, reducing its frequency is. Over the past 5 years, I have gone from once a quarter to once a year for severe burnout.

How did I do this?

through the movementfrom a reactive approach to self-care to a proactive approach.

A reactive self-care approach is when you simply rest or attend to other self-care needs in response to something else.

Maybe it's because you "won" by being productive enough (whatever that means). Or maybe you've exhausted yourself so much that you can't deny your need until the next Earn milestone.

However, a proactive self-care approach is to rest before you need it.

Visualize calm and self-care as part of your daily routines and habits.

That means things like:

  • Practice self-care habits every day.
  • Set and enforce limits around your work and activity
  • be careful with your energy

You can continue to use ours.Self Care Action Plan Worksheetto help you transition to this proactive approach.

Last tip: take it easy

As you better understand burnout, it can be easy to blame yourself for past burnouts because you now see more clearly than before how and why they happened.

ButShame is not a self-care strategy.

This will only make things worse.

Try to practice patience, self-compassion, and self-awareness throughout the process, and things will come more naturally in the future.

Reduce burnout with a self-care action plan

Creating a plan for your daily and weekly self-care will help you proactively rest and burn out less often. To create your own plan, download our free worksheet.

Create a self-care action plan

And if you liked this post, you will also love:

  • Redefining Productivity: What Does No Rush Mean?
  • Is work-life balance a myth? Here's the brightest shot
  • How to be productive with an ADHD brain
  • 3 systems for neurodivergent creatives
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