Don't Let ADHD Burn You Out: Six Powerful Ways to Unmask Your Full Potential

Denny is a top-performing sales rep. She’s worked at her company for 20+ years. Denny gets along with everyone, including her boss; in fact, they’ve known each other for so long that they’ve become friends.  Denny looks like she has it all together, but she is miserable. Denny is stressed out managing her multiple plates between home and work, exhausted from trying to keep it all together, and ready to quit. She’d like to ask for more flexible hours but is afraid this would look as if she’s not capable or grateful for her job. 

Bob is a happy, optimistic guy, who on the outside seems as if he manages his ADHD well. Despite that, internally Bob struggles, especially now, with two kids, a wife, and a more demanding job now that he transitioned to working for himself. He used to be able to “cope,” but he’s burned out and overwhelmed. 

Anne is a sought-after creator for her company. Anne was recently promoted, for her artistry and expertise. Anne is afraid to make mistakes and avoids getting started on projects. Anne ruminates on thoughts such as, “What if my best work doesn’t meet expectations? “What if they find out I’m not who they think I am?” The constant effort to meet expectations and maintain a façade within her role has begun to erode her sense of self.
The above are real situations (true names not used) where everyone is masking.


Masking involves the prolonged effort, consciously or subconsciously, of altering one's behavior, appearance, or personality to fit societal norms and expectations. 


Masking -- or camouflaging your ADHD symptoms — is a coping mechanism that exerts a significant toll on mental health, self-esteem, and social relationships.

ADHD and Masking


Adults with ADHD may feel driven to mask their symptoms to avoid judgment, criticism, or social exclusion. They may suppress impulsivity, hyperactivity, or difficulty with sustained attention, which can lead to the development of coping mechanisms that conceal their true struggles. While this adaptive strategy may provide temporary relief, it often comes at a cost.


Masking in this article should not be confused with “compensating strategies” used to work with and manage your ADHD, which is not to be considered as “masking.” For example, timers, organizational methods, and emotional regulation strategies are mindful and intentional actions you’re putting in place to increase your well-being. 

Masking, on the other hand, is the constant, prolonged effort, intentional or not, to suppress your true self which can lead to emotional exhaustion, increased stress levels, and reduced well-being. 

There are limited studies on masking because it is difficult to understand, give credence to, and measure. One study by Kooij et al (2008) explored the diagnosis of ADHD between adults and children. The findings revealed that adults are the best informants about their symptoms but tend to underreport the severity of their symptoms. This could be an example of subconscious masking. 

Nevertheless, when you subconsciously or consciously mask your symptoms over a prolonged period, you can have higher levels of burnout, reduced life satisfaction, lower self-esteem, increased emotional distress, and reduced overall quality of life.


Here are six powerful ways to overcome burnout so you can unmask your full potential, enhance your well-being, and live a more satisfying life.   


Become Aware of Your Own Masking 


Masking can be used as a coping mechanism, but over time can be stressful and difficult to manage.


Quick Tips:

Hiding clutter. You keep your house clean from the outside, but keep your clutter hidden, stuffing everything you can into your closets. You can’t find anything, and you know you need to go through your closets, but it’s overwhelming. 
Problem-solve by: working to declutter one step at a time. Start with one section; sort int: Keep, Donate, Trash, and Not Sure yet.

•  Hiding hyperactivity. On the inside, your mind is playing ping pong with everything you have to do, but on the outside, you appear calm, as if you’ve got everything together. 
Problem-solve by: pressing pause, and giving yourself permission to have some downtime. Share your thoughts in a safe space with a trusted friend or professional.

Perfectionism. As an adult with ADHD, you received a lot of feedback that you may have internalized as criticism, even if well intended, as negative feedback, and now you carry that message with you. As an adult, it’s almost physically painful if you’re not meeting opportunities and expectations. You strive for excellence and set high standards. At the same time, it’s tough to meet your expectations and get things accomplished to your satisfaction. 
Problem-solve by: Wanting things to be perfect prolongs finishing and moving forward. Ask yourself: What does good enough look like? What if there is no perfect, what would that mean? Letting go of “perfect” frees up time and mental energy. 


Educate Yourself About ADHD


Understanding the nature of ADHD, and how it shows up for you is empowering. Although there are similar challenges that show up for many individuals with ADHD, no individual with ADHD is the same. Developing insights into your own brain wiring can be life-changing.


Quick Tips:

• Recognize that your challenges are not your personal shortcomings. 
• Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
• Deepen your self-awareness of the impact of your ADHD.
• Acknowledge your strengths.


Build Your Network


Masking is like a tug of war between the desire to remain hidden, and an ongoing battle to fit in and conform.


When you put your energy toward masking your ADHD symptoms, you’re choosing to show up based on what you think others find acceptable. Your true self is determined by what you think others are thinking of you.

When you view your true self as flawed or inadequate, you may experience feelings of shame, loneliness, and feeling misunderstood. As you try to keep up with a “neurotypical” image, your sense of identity can erode, and you can feel even more disconnected and isolated, which hinders your overall well-being. 

Friends, family members, and colleagues may fail to understand the challenges you may face as an individual with ADHD, assuming you have everything under control. As a result, support networks may be undermined, and you may find it difficult to seek the understanding and strategies necessary to meet your needs.  


Quick Tips:

• Surround yourself with supportive individuals who can provide a safe space for open discussions about challenges and triumphs. 
Connect with others who share similar experiences to promote a sense of belonging and validation. Examples are volunteering in an organization that is meaningful to you, join community groups, and reach out to others with similar interests. 
• Reach out to support groups that specialize in ADHD. This will help you normalize your lived experiences.


Expand Your Mental Capacity for Performance

As you know, ADHD is a challenge of performance. You know what you need to do but you have challenges doing what you know.


Masking requires constant effort to suppress ADHD symptoms.  When you spend a considerable amount of mental energy trying to be someone you are not, you leave less brain power available for executive functioning. Masking makes it difficult to create structured routines, prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and maintain a constant workflow. 


Masking can disrupt impulse control when the mental effort to mask becomes overwhelming or when you feel exhausted from suppressing your true self. Masking can also take a toll on emotional regulation and well-being. The strain of constantly hiding who you are can lead to heightened stress levels, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion.

Quick Tips:

Slow down. This will build your capacity to increase your energy reserves so you can reduce errors, make decisions, lessen impulsivity, and decrease stress.
Add downtime into your day. You may crave that late-night quiet downtime, but finding ways to add some space into your day for a break will revitalize your brain and physical well-being.  
Manage your sleep with good sleep hygiene. This means no work, TV, screens, or difficult conversations in your bedroom!
• Rather than relying on your memory to plan and organize your tasks, declutter your brain by capturing ideas, tasks, and to-do’s into electronic notebooks, voice recordings, calendars, or journals.
Focus on one task at a time. Avoid task switching which tends to sap your mental energy and take you off task. Resist the email notifications (turn them off!). Shut down the voices going round and round in your head about everything you could be doing and repeat to yourself: “Do this, not that.” 


Advocate For Yourself

Give yourself permission to advocate for yourself and to ask for what you need in various domains of life, such as the workplace or educational settings. 


By seeking reasonable accommodations, you can reduce the burden of masking and create an environment that supports your needs. 


Quick Tips:

Reasonable accommodations in the workplace can look like flexible schedules, visual aids, noise-canceling headphones, and a quiet cubicle or workspace. These accommodations are meant to increase your productivity and contributions to your workplace. 
Reasonable accommodations in an educational setting can look like visual aids, a note taker, permission to use electronic aids in the lecture setting, extended time on tests, and testing in a private setting. These accommodations are meant to remove obstacles or distractions, so you can perform at your best.
Open and honest communication with employers, educators, and colleagues is essential to ensure proper understanding and support.


Develop Coping Strategies


Develop healthy coping strategies to manage ADHD symptoms effectively. A healthy overall lifestyle can contribute to improved focus and overall well-being.


Quick Tips:

• Work with time management techniques, such as creating schedules, using reminders, and breaking tasks into smaller, manageable parts, to help you stay organized and reduce feelings of overwhelm. 
• Create self-care routines for exercise, intentional eating, and sleep
• Seek out support for developing self-acceptance, and learning practical strategies to navigate challenges with ADHD.


To wrap up, masking can exert a significant toll on adults with ADHD, impacting your mental health, self-esteem, and social relationships. To overcome burnout so you can unmask your full potential, enhance your well-being, and live a more satisfying life:


Become Aware of Your Own Masking

Educate Yourself About ADHD

Build Your Network

Expand Your Mental Capacity for Performance

Advocate for Yourself

Develop Coping Strategies





PS. Need support unmasking your full potential? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we’ll set up a game plan so you can get started on living a more satisfying life!


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