Burnout Is Tough—When You’re Dealing with Intersectional Burnout, It Can Be Even Tougher
Amid the pandemic, TikTok became a fountain of information for, well, just about anything you might be even a little bit curious about. This has brought about a need for social media users to vet their sources, so as to not fall victim to believing and perpetuating the often dangerous misinformation that can go viral. But, thanks to credentialed professionals who have taken to the app, it’s also provided a sense of community, awareness, and access to information about various health-related issues and conditions.
In 2020, Sasha Hamdani, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) specialist based in Kansas City, Missouri, joined TikTok after noticing a need for more evidence-based information about the neurodevelopmental chronic condition on the app. As both a provider and person who has ADHD, Dr. Hamdani is uniquely suited to help others manage their ADHD and understand the way their brain works; she’s also passionate about helping folks with ADHD best care for themselves and prevent burnout.
Posting under the handle @thepsychdoctormd on Instagram and TikTok, Dr. Hamdani’s feed often recounts what living with and treating ADHD is like for her—the ups, the downs, the funny, the wrenching, the frustrating, and all the in-betweens. But the idea that she’d one day share her personal experiences to help so many others manage their ADHD once felt unthinkable.
Dr. Hamdani was diagnosed with ADHD in fourth grade, but didn’t understand what exactly that meant for her until she was in college because her parents had managed her medications and routines—they also hadn’t actually told her what she had.
“[College was] when I really started struggling with the ADHD stuff, because I didn't truly know about my diagnosis or what it meant, or medication, or anything,” says Dr. Hamdani. “I was trying to figure that out while also trying to figure out all these normal developmental stages as well, like ‘How do I eat?’ and ‘How do I show up to class on time?’” The mental load was a lot to broach, and without the understanding of how her brain works, she wasn’t equipped to notice mental and behavioral patterns that could help set her up for success. She was burning out.
Learning more about ADHD and realizing that she’d have to follow a different playbook than her neurotypical peers helped. Alongside medication, and with support from her family and academic team, Dr. Hamdani learned how to shape her routines to counteract the behaviors that contributed to the burnout she was experiencing. This included creating set routines around specific habits that in sum would keep her focused and motivated rather than depleted, discouraged, or burnt out. “I learned how I should be eating, drinking, sleeping, exercising, organizing—all the basics that I didn't think could become routines in an ADHD brain,” she says.
"It [FocusGenie] teaches you about your brain, then it also gives you the tools to implement change, build habits, and continue this momentum"
-Sasha Hamdani, MD, psychiatrist
Now, she’s made finding personal and professional success as someone with ADHD her life’s work: She’s a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD and anxiety; the author of Self-Care for People with ADHD: 100+ Ways to Recharge, De-Stress, and Prioritize You; and most recently launched FocusGenie, a comprehensive ADHD management app meant to help neurodivergent folks manage, understand, and calm their brains. “It teaches you about your brain, then it also gives you the tools to implement change, build habits, and continue this momentum,” she says of the app.
I recently spoke with Dr. Hamdani about how she uses various platforms to share accurate, helpful ways to thrive with ADHD, access effective self care, and prevent burnout.
Dr. Sasha Hamdani: I started using TikTok in late 2020 when I was only doing telehealth appointments amid the pandemic. I feel like there was a huge increase in ADHD diagnoses during the pandemic because people were talking about it more, and patients would hold their phones up to the camera and be like, “I think I have ADHD because of this [TikTok] video.” But the video would often be so stupid, and not evidence-based. One of my patients held up a video that said you’re neurodivergent if you sneeze multiple times in a row. I was like, “That’s so ridiculous,” but then I realized I do sneeze multiple times in a row, and I am neurodivergent. Even so, that still doesn’t make the claim true. But that’s the problem right?
What originally prompted me to join TikTok is learning it’s a place where there's terrible information and it's being circulated to a very young and vulnerable population. But when I got online, I found there’s actually really good information, too. I originally started posting to add more good information.
SH: From a patient-only perspective, it's hard to understand all the decision-making a doctor has to go through. As a provider who’s been a patient, I think it strongly roots you in this empathy and this standpoint that is first and foremost about patient advocacy. You want patients to feel autonomous and comfortable enough to vocalize their needs, and to understand that they're the expert on their internal experience. You don't want to gaslight them thinking that you know better—because they do know best what’s going on. They might not know everything about the nuances of treatment or diagnosis, but they know what's happening [inside of] them. So I think it’s cool.
SH: FocusGenie is a behavioral management app for ADHD and neurodivergent brains in general. It’s really for any brain that needs help with productivity and focus, so you don't need a diagnosis [to use it].
What I love most about it is that it has everything I want in one place. I previously had six or seven apps that were doing all the things I wanted [to help me manage my ADHD]—a Pomodoro app to break down tasks, the Notes app to keep track of tasks, and a music player for focus-boosting audio—but I would honestly lose steam with all of them because it’s too hard to maintain if the information is not in the same place. I’d download everything, it would last three days then I’d move on.
[FocusGenie has] very practical, useful, educational modules and as you progress through the app, new ones get released every month. Each lesson takes about a minute, and they’re fun social media-like swipe-throughs. There’s stuff on the fundamentals of ADHD and how your brain works. But then it also talks about stuff like “How do I take care of my finances?” “How do I keep my house clean?” “How should I be eating?” “How do I deal with a toxic relationship?”
The app breaks down tasks very visually, and you can also use focus-enhancing audio. You can work with a body double, and you can even work with me by cueing up a pre-recorded video of me, and I’ll work alongside you while you're doing a task. There’s a mindfulness area, too.
My favorite part of the app, though, is the focus tracker, which talks about your focus, your impulsivity, your fidgetiness, your eating, your drinking, and your sleeping. You get to see your habits graphically over time. I've been beta testing [the app] for about eight months, and I noticed that my impulsivity is through the roof for four days every month, and that’s right before my period. I went back over the past two years in my credit card statements, and there is a $600 bump in that four day period. I cannot be trusted with my phone on the couch during those four days, and I [learned that] from just looking and tracking over those eight months.
It was important for me to create FocusGenie because I have seen firsthand how limiting ADHD can be. I want to provide an accessible solution so people can start learning about their brain and potentially avoid years of self-doubt and judgment. I just want FocusGenie to be the source of good information and tools people can use to transform their lives.
SH: Burnout is really an interesting phenomenon because it's so multifaceted. That intersection of all those things compounds and it makes me more likely [to be burned out], but that's why self care is so important, and so is having a realistic viewpoint.
This reality of intersectionality compounding burnout highlights why finding self care that is effective for you is so crucial. It took me about two years into practice to realize I can't do it all. In my first year of practice, I went in and I was like, “I am the first female that has joined in a really long time—there was one other female but she’d been a partner forever—and I am going to show them that I really deserve to be here.” But I was working on the weekends, and I wasn’t sleeping for two days at a time and, for what? I was putting all this internal pressure on myself.
After identifying effective self care, it’s important to respect and exercise the self care practices that you need, but also have a realistic view about what the “results” may look like. For me, [avoiding burnout] is now a matter of understanding that I don't need to prove myself to anybody else. I just need to find a way to make myself happy—and learning that has been life-changing.
SH: Self care is helpful for preventing burnout and preventing yourself from getting into a stage where you need that prolonged recuperation time. But I don't think practicing self care will pull you out of burnout once you're in it. One of the most important things, even far beyond self care, is understanding your patterns so you can be mindful of preventing it from taking hold.
With ADHD and burnout, or if you have depression and anxiety, by the time you're approaching burnout, you’re physically and emotionally tapped out, so trying to pull yourself out of the hole feels like such a big ask.
And if you are in the throes of burnout, wait it out, understand what your body needs, and focus on your base units. Eat, drink water, and don’t try to stimulate your brain into working better; what your brain needs is rest. Rest is going to make you feel better.
SH: It depends on the situation, because I have a different toolkit based on what's going on. There are times when I feel kind of disconnected, for example if work is getting excessive and I’m taking it home with me, or if I’m having negative interactions at work. The answer for that is to pull away from work for a short period of time. I can’t take care of patients if I'm [not taking care of myself].
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.