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Feeling Burnt Out? I’m Not Surprised, and You Shouldn’t Be Either

lack-of-focus-300x249A few years ago, I had a large influx of clients. Within a month and a half, I welcomed seven new clients. Of the seven, six confided that they were on leave from work for burnout! One was on sick leave for burnout for the third time and, believing there must be some underlying cause, did his own research and discovered he’d been suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) all along.

I was intrigued by this seeming coincidence. I began reviewing my files to determine the number of clients, past and current, who had mentioned suffering from burnout at some point in their lives. I was shocked to discover that over half, 54%, of my clients had been on sick leave for burnout, depression or stress-related health problems at least once in their professional lives. Some had had several periods of stress-related sick leave.

I began digging deep into the literature and found one study that had been conducted on a group of people who were on long-term disability for burnout or stress-related health issues. What they found astounded me. Within that pool of 62 people, they found 24% suffered from ADHD and up to 56% met the criteria for ADHD but testing results were inconclusive because of other confounding issues.

When you consider that the incidence of adult ADHD in the general population is 4 to 8%, this indicates that there’s an increased risk for adults with ADHD; they are three to six times more likely to suffer from burnout or stress-related health problems.

Seeking to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of burnout, I began to research in earnest. While there is no diagnosis of “burnout”, we understand it to be extreme exhaustion brought on by prolonged periods of stress. As I learned more, I realized ADHD-related burnout was quite different from neurotypical or “textbook” cases of burnout.

ADHD-Related Burnout vs. “Textbook” Burnout

The underlying cause or reason that people burn out differs between the two groups. Neurotypicals (people without ADHD) who burn out often do so because they are trying to prove themselves. They (or others, such as their parents) face high expectations and are trying to “over-perform” as a way of getting noticed. People with ADHD burn out because of the stress brought on by a fear of losing their jobs.  They work harder and put in longer hours trying to catch up because they don’t feel productive. They try to make up for their poor productivity and to hide the shame they feel about their inability to meet their workload.

Neglecting your own needs can exacerbate burnout. These two groups (neurotypicals vs. adults with ADHD) neglect their needs for different reasons; whereas ADHDers skimp on sleep, abandon exercise routines and work through their lunch hour and late into the night in an effort to keep up with what they see as the “normal” demands of their job, neurotypicals do the same but because they choose to use that time to fit in more projects that will give them more visibility.

Another difference between the two groups is that while in both “textbook” and ADHD-related burnout, employees suffer from cognitive impairment such as lack of focus, poor short-term memory and challenges with managing their emotions, for neurotypicals, the impairment is due to their prolonged stress and will abate after a period of rest. For adults with ADHD, the cognitive impairment is typically symptomatic of their ADHD (made worse by the stress to be sure) and is at the source of the burnout. Those symptoms remain even after long periods of rest, so a second or even a third bout of burnout is inevitable unless changes are made beyond simple rest, because the source of the burnout has not been addressed.

Recognizing the Source of Burnout is a Prerequisite to the Right Treatment

It’s true that in all burnout cases, rest is needed to reduce the effects of prolonged stress. However, for ADHDers, the treatment must also include an “attack” on the underlying source of the burnout, by managing the ADHD symptoms. The objective is to reduce the level of impairment resulting from the ADHD, and so allow the ADHDer to improve his or her work performance. One of the most dramatic ways to optimize focus improve productivity is for the ADHD-burnout sufferer to learn ADHD-friendly energy and time management strategies as well as organizational strategies. Helping the ADHD employee build awareness of the signs of overwhelming stress and helping them prepare a plan of action to enable them to respond to it effectively is essential to prevent future burnouts.

Finally, beyond simple rest, burnout victims benefit enormously from “recovery activities” such as improving health hygiene (sleep, exercise and nutrition), connecting with family and friends and engaging in creative activities. These help reduce the effects of stress and cut the level of stress to a manageable level.

In today’s society, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to eliminate stress that could lead to burnout.  However, we can learn to effectively manage that stress by recognizing the true underlying causes of ADHD-related burnout and treating the problem at the source.

Finally! Another ADDA Conference for ADHD Adults This Summer

Recently the ADD Association, an organization that offers education, advocacy and awareness for Adults with ADHD announced that they would be holding a national conference aimed at ADDers in Detroit, Michigan. This is great news!

The 14th International Adult AD/HD Conference will take place July 18th to 21st, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center with the theme, Reach Out for Connection, Hope and Empowerment.

My First Experience of the ADDA Conference

Having been to the last three ADDA National Conferences, I am amazed at how ADDA consistently offers excellent conferences with great speakers. This year should be another amazing year with keynote speaker, Sari Solden, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder and Journeys Through ADDulthood. I heard Sari speak at that first conference and I thoroughly enjoyed her analogy about “sheep shame”, her own personal battle with ADHD. She was insightful, funny and entertaining and I look forward to hearing her speak again.

When we first heard of the ADDA conference in 2005 from a friend who had been to a few of them, Duane and I decided to go to see what other nuggets on ADHD we could get. What we found surpassed our expectations. For Duane and many of our local friends who came with us, not only did they learn new strategies and tools, they increased their self-acceptance, they found a community, and felt free to “let your hair down”.

For me, as a spouse, I began to better understand what it was like for Duane to have ADHD and learned how I could partner with him (instead of act like his mommy) to create a life that we both can enjoy.

Both Duane and I came back with a much better understanding of the impact of ADHD, a large number of strategies – many of which I still use in my day to day coaching – and a commitment to return to every ADDA national conferences.

I was especially touched when one young woman who had written a song but struggled to get up and sing it. I wasn’t sure if it was a problem with her guitar or just her profound shyness. But with the help of some of the participants and the encouragement of all, she finally got up and sang during the ADDA Talent show. Her song spoke of the challenges of ADHD but also of the hope that resided in her and it moved many of us in the room. The talent show reminded us to pay attention to our strengths, a key to having a wonderful life with ADHD.

Each Conference Better Than the Last

My first experience of ADDA’s conferences was great but each year, each conference was better, so I can only imagine what lies ahead for us.

Given the quality and variety of subjects of importance to ADHDers, the conference is relatively inexpensive, especially if you become a member of ADDA. And why wouldn’t you, for as little as $45, you gain access to regular webinars, access to a large number of free resources and deep discounts on conferences. For many of you, the central location of this conference provides many travel options, such as car pooling.

Early-Bird Special in Effect

You can probably tell that I’m going and I hope you’ll join us. The early-bird registration discount ends on May 10th but don’t wait. Commit now before you forget, sign up now.

14th International Adult AD/HD Conference

Reach Out for Connection, Hope and Empowerment

July 18-21, 2013 – Detroit, Michigan

Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center

Conference on ADHD Coaching at Montreal Support Group

Montreal Adult ADHD Support Group will be hosting a conference on ADHD Coaching

Given by ADHD Coach Linda Walker (aka me)
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7 pm
Royal Victoria Hospital at Peel and Pine Street
at the Allan Memorial Institute (2nd building from Pine and Peel entrance).

All are welcomed

Routines and Habits: Yes You Can

Baby Steps and ADHDIn my article, “Decisions, One of the Hardest Things You Do,” I described the amazing power of routines, habits and systems to reduce the decisions you make.  Making decisions is hard work, and adults with ADHD struggle to make decisions more than most.  Replacing decisions with routines gives you more energy.  But, I often hear new clients (or people who’d love to be my clients, if they only believed it would work for them) say they can’t develop routines, systems or habits.

If You Think You Can’t

I choose my clients carefully.  If you can’t imagine at least a tiny light at the end of a long tunnel, even the best coach in the world can’t help.  You don’t need to believe in your unfailing ability to make your dreams come true.  As an adult with ADHD, you’ve faced too many setbacks and fruitless struggles to have absolute faith, either in yourself, or in anyone who says they can help you achieve what you haven’t been able to on your own.

When I first meet a client, I often hear a familiar story.  Imagine Stan calls to inquire about coaching for his ADHD.  Even though he’s not happy, Stan works in the same job he’s had for years (or if he’s lost his job, probably not for the first time, he works in the same career) and he doesn’t like it.  It takes all his time and energy.  He leaves the office late, so tired he can only collapse in front of the TV, lacking energy to engage with friends or family, and he crawls out of bed the next morning to do it again.

When I tell Stan I work with Creative Geniuses, adults with ADHD who are bright, creative and ambitious, I hear Stan snort and I know he’s checking if he dialed the right number.  Stan remembers being like that, but no longer.  I want to encourage Stan, but encouragement isn’t enough unless he can find at least a nugget of self-confidence, a belief in the possibility that things could get better.

What does this have to do with routines, habits and systems?

Duane, my husband, an adult with ADHD (and my guinea pig), felt trapped in his life too.  He believed he couldn’t develop routines or change his habits.  But our lives are controlled almost entirely by routines and habits.  Duane wanted to be an artist, but he didn’t have time to draw or paint.  His job took all his time and energy, condemning him to an unfulfilling life.

And although Stan is unhappy, he’ll stick to his routine.  If he loses his job, he’ll find a similar job.  He watches TV out of habit.  Though he’s convinced he cannot develop routines and habits, routines and habits (that he created!) gave him the life he wants to escape!

Ironically, routines and habits provide the fastest route to create the life you want.  Duane’s poor impulse control and attempts to self-medicate (common in ADHD adults) led to an unhealthy lifestyle.  Duane was more than 100 lbs. overweight, smoked two packs a day and never exercised on purpose!  Every attempt to change his life (quitting smoking, crash diets, joining a gym) ended in failure.

You create your new life, whether you change your health, your career, your relationships, or all of the above, by developing routines and habits that guide you gently in a new direction.  When you give your life a drastic makeover, you lose your existing routines and habits.  But since you actually do want to get rid of them, who’d suspect there’s anything wrong with that?  The problem is that without existing routine and habits, you have nowhere to anchor new ones.

Baby Steps Will Get You There

Rather than changing his lifestyle all at once, Duane took baby steps, anchoring new routines and habits to the existing ones.  True story; to begin exercising, Duane decided to walk around the block each time he went outside for a cigarette!  It’s far easier to develop a new habit by anchoring it to an existing one, even if you know the anchor habit will eventually disappear.  Today, Duane no longer smokes; he exercises regularly, and has lost over 100 lbs. (and has kept it off for more than 10 years.)

This approach is guaranteed to work, but when Duane goes from morbidly obese and smoking two packs a day to a healthy lifestyle within one paragraph, you might think the changes took as long to make as they do to describe.  It didn’t, and you can’t instantaneously duplicate those results in your own life.

You can take the first step, but it’s the beginning.  Beginning is fantastic, amazing, beautiful, even magical, but no matter how your beginning turns out, you need courage to take the next step once that first step works (or doesn’t.)  Some steps will fail.  Perseverance matters more than any one event.

I am picky choosing my clients because beginning is not a magic ticket to freedom.  That first step is the tip of the iceberg.  And unless you can imagine that light at the end of the tunnel, you probably won’t try.  And if you do try and it doesn’t work (and by “work,” I mean getting you 100% of the way there) you’ll quit.

Instead, you’ll keep your job (until you can’t anymore), you won’t have time and you won’t enjoy your life… but you’ll accept it because you everyone says you should be grateful for what you have.  You fall for, “You need to face reality.”  But “reality” is a lie.  If you don’t get what you want, it’s because you believe it’s impossible, and if you get what you want, it’s because you start, even though you know it’s impossible, and you keep at it even though you know it won’t work, until one day you look around and realize, you did it.  When I choose a client, it’s someone who’s ready to start even knowing it’s impossible.  When we work together, you’ll be surprised just how far we can get.

New Book for Adults with ADHD Now Available!

“With Time to Spare”

By Linda Walker

With Time to Spare: the Ultimate Guide to Peak Performance for Entrepreneurs, Adults with ADHD and other Creative GeniusesYes, you heard that right! There’s a new book out for adults with ADHD, and it’s been getting rave reviews! Linda Anderson, a Master Certified ADHD Coach and the Past-President of ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association) loved it! David Giwerc, President of ADDCA (ADD Coach Academy), an ADHDer himself, and a leader in the field of adults with ADHD and one of the founders of ADHD Awareness Week in the U.S. raves about it! Why, even Canadians like it! 😉

Our own Rick Green, writer, comedian, actor and star of the hit documentary, “ADHD and Loving It!?” liked it so much, he’s enrolled in the The Maximum Productivity Makeover for Creative Geniuses Group Coaching program that the book is based on. Dr. Annick Vincent, one of the foremost recognized ADHD experts in Quebec, who appeared with me last week on the Montreal television talk show, “Les Kiwis et les Hommes” told me she couldn’t stop talking about it at last month’s CHADD (Children with Attention Deficit Disorders) conference (because, of course, children with ADHD have parents with ADHD!)

This new book, With Time to Spare: the Ultimate Guide to Peak Performance for Entrepreneurs, Adults with ADHD and other Creative Geniuses, is now available on Amazon.com.

Oh, did you notice something else? Did you notice the author’s name? That’s right! I wrote this! I sat down in January 2010 and began to write the book that had been waiting to be written. I’ve been working on it for over a year, and I packed it full of valuable, practical, difference-making advice for adults with ADHD taken right from the trenches of my own life with a husband and adult daughter with ADHD, and proven time after time in real life with my ADHD clients.

I was committed to writing a book that would both inspire and guide my readers, and after months of writing and countless edits, I had it tested by several readers with ADHD or entrepreneurial ADD. I was thrilled when the verdict came back with a resounding “YES!”

So I am proud to announce that With Time to Spare is now available in paperback at Amazon.com and in Kindle version at Amazon.com, Amazon France, Amazon UK, and even in Italy and in Spain. (Sorry Canada! We’re struggling to make it available in my home country).

To your Focus, Action, Success,

Linda Walker