The Link Between Masking and Burnout for Neurodivergent Professionals

Veronica Yao

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by Veronica Yao

It’s no secret that neurodivergent professionals often face a heightened risk of burnout, particularly within their careers. This heightened risk is closely tied to the considerable effort required to mask their neurodivergent traits in order to align with their employer’s expectations.

In the workplace, ‘masking’ refers to the practice of concealing or suppressing neurodivergent traits that might not conform to societal norms. While most professionals adapt their behavior to some extent, neurodivergent individuals often find themselves having to mask more extensively. This constant effort can significantly impact their mental well-being.

The pressure to mirror neurotypical behaviors, hide sensory sensitivities, and restrain stimming behaviors often places immense strain on neurodivergent individuals. This expectation to perform at the same level as their neurotypical peers can lead to overwhelming feelings of exhaustion and burnout.

So, why does excessive masking lead to burnout?

  • Increased Cognitive Load: Juggling the maintenance of a ‘work persona’ alongside assigned tasks requires substantial mental energy.
  • Emotional Strain and Exhaustion: Suppressing natural responses and emotions can create a sense of disconnection and discomfort.
  • Fear of Judgement and Consequences: The fear of negative repercussions or being misunderstood due to disclosing neurodivergent identity results in chronic stress and anxiety.
  • Reduced Productivity and Performance: The energy spent on masking can distract from daily tasks, impacting productivity. Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria may also make it challenging to handle feedback or criticism.

Does this mean neurodivergent professionals are doomed to a life of masking and pretending to be someone they’re not? While employers still have a lot of work to do when it comes to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, there are ways you can bring your authentic self to work and minimize your need to mask, giving you a better chance at achieving a sustainable career.

If burnout is a recurring theme in your career, you can learn how to break the cycle and build a work life that you can be content with.

Are you neurodivergent and burnt out at work?

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