Masked Fatigue

How Frequent Stimulant Use Increase Burnout Risk


CEOs often find themselves running on a tight schedule, juggling numerous responsibilities, and making critical decisions day in and day out. To cope with the constant demands, many of them turn to stimulants like coffee or energy drinks for that much-needed boost of energy. It doesn’t stop there, drugs like adderal have been quite popular, and so has cocaine. While these pick-me-ups might seem like the perfect solution to keep you going, they often mask the deeper signs of fatigue that can eventually lead to burnout.

The Energy Rollercoaster

Stimulants work by stimulating the central nervous system, temporarily increasing alertness and reducing the sensation of fatigue. However, this artificial energy comes at a cost. By masking the true extent of our tiredness, stimulants create an energy rollercoaster, leading us to push ourselves beyond our natural limits without addressing the root cause of our fatigue.

One of these cues is Adenosine. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates sleep and wakefulness by promoting relaxation and drowsiness. Let’s take coffee as an example. Caffeine, the primary stimulant found in coffee, closely resembles adenosine in its chemical structure. Because of this structural similarity, caffeine can bind to the adenosine receptors in the brain. However, unlike adenosine, caffeine does not induce relaxation or drowsiness. Instead, it blocks adenosine from binding to its receptors, effectively inhibiting its calming effects.

By blocking adenosine’s action, caffeine creates the opposite effect. It leads to increased neuronal firing and the release of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote alertness and wakefulness. This is why coffee is commonly used as a pick-me-up to combat feelings of tiredness and increase focus.

Ignoring the Body’s Warning Signals

Our bodies are sophisticated machines with built-in warning signals. Fatigue is one of these signals, alerting us that we need rest and recovery. When we rely on stimulants to override this signal, we risk neglecting our body’s needs and perpetuating a harmful cycle. Over time, this can result in physical and mental exhaustion, which significantly increases the likelihood of burnout.

Coffee for instance makes us unable to sense our adenosine levels. Which sets us up to go over limits. Because if you don’t feel it, how are you supposed to know when to rest or stop? The more stimulants we use, and especially in combination, the more this interception (ability to feel biofeedback) is hidden from us, and for some even completely cut off.

The Stress Hormone Connection

Stress is an inevitable part of being a CEO, but excessive stress can wreak havoc on our well-being. When we consume stimulants, it triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can further mask the body’s natural fatigue response. This suppression of fatigue not only hinders our ability to recognize when we need a break, but it also puts us at risk of chronic stress and the detrimental effects it can have on our health and decision-making abilities.

If you add more stimulus on top of this like media, which stimulates the visual cortex and the sympathetic nervous system it pushes fatigue cues even further back. Most people know this from their experience with binge-watching a show or movies, that not until they stop they notice how tired they really are. Have enough of this stimulation and you habitually push beyond your fatigue point, never allowing the system to fully recover.

The Illusion of Productivity

Stimulants might create a temporary illusion of increased productivity, but it’s often short-lived and unsustainable. As CEOs, you must be cautious not to mistake hyperactivity for true productivity. While stimulants might help you power through tasks in the short term, they can lead to a crash later on, leaving you even more fatigued and less productive in the long run.

Finding a Sustainable Solution

It’s time to take a more holistic approach to your well-being as CEOs. Instead of relying solely on stimulants to get you through challenging days, you should prioritize self-care, rest, and stress management. It starts with honoring your fatigue cues, knowing full well there will be times when the needs of your position and the company will supersede these cues. However, this superseding can’t be the common/normal or chronic state of being and acting. 

Cycling off your stimulants is a good place to start to reconnect to your biofeedback. Especially if you’ve become so used to them you’ve created a serious tolerance, which speaks exactly of how much you’ve been used to masking your fatigue signals.


As CEOs, your well-being is vital not only for your success but also for the health of your organization(s). While stimulants may provide temporary relief, they are not a sustainable solution to combat fatigue. Let’s break free from the cycle of masking our exhaustion and instead embrace a healthier approach that includes rest, recovery, and a balanced lifestyle. By doing so, you can lead your companies with clarity, resilience, and long-term success.

Interested in learning more about how such an approach would apply to you? This is exactly why I spend a big chunk of my service on adapting this approach to the individual. Get in contact to see how we can apply it to you and your circumstances.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *