Understanding ADHD-Related Chronic Fatigue
ADHD and Chronic Fatigue are intertwined, with ADHD symptoms often exacerbating feelings of constant tiredness.
This is due to the persistent neurological effort required to manage ADHD's cognitive demands, leading to overwhelming fatigue.
Tailored management strategies can significantly alleviate these symptoms.
The Secret To Managing ADHD & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
While the idea of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) existing alongside Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) sounds like a paradox, it's more common than you think. And the secret behind getting the balance right? Spoons. 🥄
- The 'spoon theory' is a metaphor for energy management, comparing our daily energy to a finite number of spoons that are used in every activity, big and small.
- People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and ADHD may start with fewer spoons, meaning they exhaust their energy faster on routine tasks, necessitating careful planning to avoid running out.
- Pacing is a strategy to get the most out of the energy we do have by balancing activity and rest.
- On bad days, where ADHD and CFS symptoms surge, simple strategies like using a bed desk, leaning on social support, choosing healthy ready-made meals, and adjusting your sleep routine can make all the difference.
Before receiving my diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I was already wrestling with the ups and downs of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). The moment I got my ADHD diagnosis, I began to ask myself - could my chronic fatigue actually be a symptom of ADHD? 😳Was it just adult ADHD all along, masquerading as CFS?
After some in-depth research, I learned that the overlap between ADHD symptoms and chronic fatigue can make the two difficult to differentiate. They share quite a few symptoms, from difficulty in maintaining focus and irritability to mental fatigue. And let's not forget the daily life struggles of sleep issues, making it hard to discern if it's ADHD-related fatigue or something else entirely. 🤷
Then, a friend of mine with CFS told me about the spoon theory, and it was a lightbulb moment for understanding and managing my symptoms. 💡This simple yet impactful metaphor drastically changed how I approach my routine demands, specifically when coping with the cognitive load that comes from having both ADHD and CFS. The theory has become a pivotal part of how I manage my energy levels and effectively manage my ADHD. 🤩
How ADHD and CFS Interact
It might go without saying, but living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) at the same time is exhausting. 😩
While ADHD symptoms often involve difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, CFS throws in debilitating fatigue, sleep issues, and often, brain fog. 🧠When you have ADHD and CFS, these issues have a terrible habit of stacking up against each other, which quickly leads to burnout. 🔥
For instance, many adults with ADHD struggle with sleep difficulties, thanks to racing thoughts and general inability to switch off. Add CFS to the mix, and you're now dealing with not just a lack of sleep but an elevated risk of sleep deprivation. Medications often prescribed for ADHD can also lead to insomnia, potentially worsening CFS symptoms like exhaustion. Also, the overwhelm of managing both conditions can affect working memory and executive functioning, keeping us stuck in a never-ending loop of brain fog. 🤯
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Introduction to Spoon Theory
As odd as it sounds, the spoon theory is a metaphor that many people with chronic or invisible conditions such as CFS find helpful in understanding, explaining, and managing energy levels.
The 'spoon theory' was first articulated by Christine Miserandino, who lives with lupus. After being asked what life was like with her chronic illness by a friend over some food, Christine ingeniously grabbed a bunch of spoons 🥄 to craft an unforgettable metaphor about the day-to-day struggles she faces.
The gist of the metaphor is this: every morning, we begin the day with a set number of 'spoons' - a certain amount of physical and mental energy. However, people living with certain physical conditions or mental health disorders may begin the day with fewer spoons than most. Each activity costs us a spoon - and most importantly, for those with a chronic illness, seemingly small activities like taking a shower could cost us more than one spoon.
So, not only do we tend to start off the day with less energy compared to most people, but specific tasks can drain us more, too. And unlike those endless cups of coffee we wish we had, spoons are limited and only come back through rest. But how does it work in the context of ADHD and chronic fatigue?
Because of the many symptoms associated with CFS, like brain fog and sleep issues, we often find that we run out of spoons quicker than most. When we consider the mental load of managing ADHD symptoms, it begins to make sense why CFS and ADHD can exacerbate one another.
What do you do if you run out of spoons? You could borrow from tomorrow's stash, but that puts you at a deficit, exacerbating symptoms and making the following day even more challenging to manage. 📉Being aware of this energy allocation helps us be intentional about our activities and the cognitive load we take on, prioritizing what needs to be done today while leaving less crucial tasks for days when we might have a few extra spoons.
This habit is often referred to as ‘pacing’ - which is a common holistic treatment approach used in occupational therapy for many chronic conditions, including CFS. So, how can we utilize pacing when trying to manage CFS alongside ADHD?
Pacing For Managing Chronic Fatigue & ADHD
Think of pacing as your personalized energy-saving mode. 📱Like that handy battery-saving mode on your phone, the goal of pacing is to dodge that ever-so-familiar 'push-and-crash' cycle by helping you retain as much energy as possible between rest periods. An effective pacing strategy allows you to get the most out of the energy and 'good' days while preventing or reducing the intensity of the bad ones.
Pacing is about harmony - mixing activity with rest, setting realistic goals, and sidestepping the exhaustion trap. ⚖️ The tricky part? What feels like 'overexertion' can shift daily, so it's important to reassess as you go.
The Fundamentals of Pacing
Yup, you read that right! This is a moment where you lie still, eyes closed, completely free from distractions like music or your phone. It might sound boring, but the intention is to remove all forms of stimulation. This can be tricky for an overactive ADHD brain - so you might find it helpful to slightly adjust this technique by listening to something like white noise. 🎧
Got a busy week ahead? Schedule preemptive rest, which involves resting before an energy-draining task or day. For example, if I have a party to go to, I'll schedule an hour's power nap before I go out that evening. 😴It prevents me from flagging early and enables me to maintain my social life.
Small Bursts of Activity
Break tasks into bite-sized pieces and start with manageable portions. As you gauge your tolerance, feel free to level up - but keep it gradual. This allows you to 'dip your toe in' and calculate your energy levels for that day accordingly.
No Rush Zone
Where possible, turn your day into a 'no rush zone.' Allow yourself plenty of time to tackle activities without the frantic energy that usually leads to a crash. 📉Some people plan ahead on which days they will allow a 'slow' day, where they're still productive but at a slower pace.
Strategic Rest Stops
Scheduling short breaks between tasks to keep your energy levels in check can help you get more out of life. These could be decided upon as you go, or planned ahead. For example, when I go away on a city break, I plan my itinerary accordingly, ensuring gaps between going to museums, dinner reservations, or tours that allow me to rest both physically and mentally. Before I got into the habit of doing this, a long weekend trip would take my body a week to recover from - but now, I come back feeling like I've actually had some time off. 😂
The power of 'no' is magical. ✨Overcommitting is a one-way ticket to burnout, so be careful with what - and who - you say yes to. If you realistically know that you can't manage to have evening plans two nights in a row, figure out which you can reschedule and who you can say no to. Although it might be frustrating to turn down fun plans, trying to stagger them out where possible is much more sustainable and satisfying.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, it’s common for adults with CFS to get twelve hours of sleep and still struggle with tiredness and fatigue throughout the day. To combat this exhaustion, consider adding an afternoon nap to your routine, either as a bonus or as part of your 8-9 hours of total sleep. This tweak could allow you to healthily add more sleep to your routine and make day-to-day tasks more manageable.
If you find specific activities require a lot of downtime and rest afterward, get curious about why this might be. For example, if catching an early flight can take you a few days to recover, consider the benefits of paying a little extra for a slightly later one.
Got some juice in the tank? Use those high-energy periods to tackle the more demanding tasks. It's all about optimizing your day to play to your strengths. But if you can, resist the urge to hyperfocus - this can lead to burning out without realizing it, which can kick the cycle off all over again. Try setting timers for breaks throughout the day, allowing you to get the most done without falling back into the trap. ⌛
Rule Out Any Underlying Health Conditions
It’s important to check there’s not an underlying medical condition behind your ADHD fatigue - an undiagnosed medical condition such as sleep apnea, anemia, diabetes, hypothyroidism or a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety can mimic the symptoms of CFS. Sometimes, due to poor health monitoring with adult ADHD, these symptoms can get missed. However, when these conditions receive the correct treatment, excessive tiredness might be relieved and make it easier to pace your energy more effectively.
Managing Bad Days
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you might be in a 'flare-up,' when your symptoms temporarily worsen. Whether it's sparked by stress, a sudden illness, or just seems to come out of the blue, these rough days can involve both ADHD and CFS symptoms making a grand entrance all at once. 😬
When this happens, even the most routine demands of daily life can feel incredibly overwhelming and exhausting. So, what's the game plan for such days? Let me share which coping strategies work for me and might help you, too. 🤗
- Consider a 'bed' desk, a collapsible tray designed to fit your laptop, allowing you to work while sitting in bed. It's the perfect solution for those days when the deadlines are looming, and you need to focus, but your body is begging for rest.
- Be proactive about your medication - especially if you've been prescribed stimulants as part of your treatment plan. Skipping these can cause even more of an energy crash and worsen your ADHD symptoms, even in the short term. Use mail-order services or ask a friend to get your prescription.
- While exercise helps prevent fatigue, during a symptom flare-up, we often have an elevated risk of exercise intolerance and something called 'post-exertional malaise.' Instead, light stretching can do wonders for both body aches and mental exhaustion, especially if you have to rest for long periods.
- Enlist friends or family for routine demands and daily tasks like grocery shopping or walking the dog. It can feel hard to ask for help, but social support has a pivotal role in helping us get back on our feet sooner. It can be helpful to agree with specific loved ones about what they can help with during these periods - which may help you feel more comfortable about asking for support. 💕
- Navigating a flare-up with ADHD and fatigue can make fast food tempting, but remember, diet plays a pivotal role in how you feel. Many food delivery services now offer groceries with ready-made healthy options. When possible, stock up on non-perishable meals and nutritional snacks. As diet impacts both energy levels and ADHD symptoms, opting for these can help speed up the recovery process.
- People with ADHD often experience difficulty falling asleep, and poor sleep can exacerbate both ADHD and fatigue symptoms. Having a 'go-to' sleep routine for flare-ups can also be helpful - you might find your body requires a few extra hours of sleep a night, which might mean adjusting the time you begin to wind down for the night during these episodes.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can co-exist and make each other worse. The fatigue and low motivation associated with both conditions can be overwhelming - so be kind to your brain and body!
Spoon Theory is a helpful metaphor for managing energy and focus in ADHD and CFS. Think of your energy as a limited number of 'spoons' you can use throughout the day, and plan accordingly.
Practical tips for pacing to prevent burnout include:
- maintaining a consistent sleep routine
- setting manageable goals
- scheduling rest
- using prescribed stimulants cautiously.
When facing a flare-up of ADHD and fatigue symptoms, consider strategies to quicken your recovery like:
- stocking up on easy meals
- being proactive about medication
- opting for light stretching over intense exercise
- seeking social support
- working from a bed desk
- making smart food choices
- fine-tuning a sleep routine
The brain and body responds to gradual, sustainable change best, so take it slow. Many of us with adult ADHD have a habit of trying to do everything all at once, which can make us vulnerable to fatigue and is a one-way ticket to burnout. Slow and steady wins the race! 😉
Want to dive deeper into the complex relationship between ADHD and issues like fatigue, sleep, and energy levels? We've got you covered!