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Key Takeaways:

  • ADHD paralysis is a symptom of ADHD that is characterized by impaired functioning due to feelings of being overwhelmed physically, emotionally, or mentally.
  • There are three types of ADHD paralysis: mental paralysis, choice paralysis, and task paralysis.
  • ADHD paralysis is an involuntary response while procrastination is a deliberate choice.

Most people look forward to having a productive day. However, while some can get the ball rolling quite easily, others seem to struggle. Even if there’s an urgent need to get things done, you may have experienced simply being unable to start your tasks. It’s almost as if you’re paralyzed. This is what ADHD paralysis feels like. Here, we’ll talk about what it is, the symptoms, and how to overcome it.

What is ADHD Paralysis?

ADHD paralysis, also known as analysis paralysis or ADHD freeze is a state of being overwhelmed by one’s environment, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. As a result, people with ADHD paralysis freeze and are unable to think or function normally. People who experience this have difficulty focusing and completing tasks or fulfilling their commitments.

Why Does ADHD Paralysis Happen?

ADHD paralysis may sometimes be mistaken for laziness or a symptom of procrastination, and adults who experience this often struggle with negative stigma associated with their symptoms. In reality, a person with ADHD simply reacts to stress differently than neurotypical individuals. Therefore, stressful or high-pressure situations can seriously affect a person’s ability to focus and complete tasks.

People with ADHD have impaired executive functioning, a necessary skill for the brain’s ability to perform everyday operations. The effects of impaired executive functioning may vary among individuals, but the typical characteristics of this impediment are one’s inability to focus, retain information, exert effort, organize tasks, regulate emotions, and self-monitor actions [*].

ADHD paralysis can also be attributed to a lack of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps with motivation and reward. It plays a significant role in regulating motivation, attention, and memory. When dopamine levels are lacking, people with ADHD may find it harder to get that “push” from their brain to pay attention or get going [*].

This doesn’t mean that people with ADHD are completely incapable of getting things done or motivating themselves. They just have to go through a few more obstacles to get there.

Symptoms of ADHD Paralysis

ADHD paralysis can manifest differently in each individual, but several common symptoms and patterns characterize the condition. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Tendency to get distracted
  • Irritability
  • Time blindness (not being able to notice the passage of time)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Poor time management
  • Brain fog or inability to concentrate
  • Brain pauses or “freezes”
  • Exhaustion
  • Instability in mood
  • Social isolation

Normal people may experience these occasionally, but people with ADHD deal with multiple symptoms on a regular basis. Someone may appear emotional or disorganized, which is really pointing to a sign that they are overwhelmed and struggling to regulate conflicting emotions.

Types of ADHD Paralysis

There are three different types of ADHD paralysis:

  • Mental Paralysis: This type of ADHD paralysis can affect one’s ability to quiet their mind. An overstimulation of thoughts can lead to “shutting down.” This can also cause brain fog, which makes it difficult to decide on what you want and discern how you feel.
  • Choice Paralysis: ADHD paralysis can also show up as difficulty with decision-making (choice paralysis). In this case, a person might not be unable to stop overthinking due to the number of options or the stress associated with making the decision.
  • Task Paralysis:Task paralysis refers to the struggle an individual may have in starting or finishing tasks. It may seem like the effort required to do the task is more overwhelming than it really is, causing the person to abandon it. This can lead to behaviors such as prioritizing unnecessary tasks and zoning out for minutes or hours at a time to avoid the actual task at hand.

People with ADHD can experience more than one type of ADHD paralysis at a time.

ADHD Paralysis vs. Procrastination

ADHD paralysis is commonly compared to procrastination. However, these are two very different things.

Procrastination refers to one’s intentional decision to ignore or delay responsibilities until the very last minute. This conscious postponement of obligations can affect anyone to a certain degree, whether they are doing tasks at work, at home, or elsewhere.

ADHD paralysis, on the other hand, results from cognitive overload and executive dysfunction. Being overloaded with tasks and jobs can result in experiencing several mental interruptions, frustration, and even shutting down altogether. The environment can also influence the frequency and occurrence of ADHD paralysis. For instance, someone with ADHD can be negatively affected by inflexibility or rigidity which are often found in many office structures [*].

Simply put, ADHD paralysis is an involuntary response to stress, not a choice.

How to Overcome ADHD Paralysis

As challenging as ADHD paralysis is, it is not impossible to overcome. Aside from seeking help from a licensed professional, here’s how to overcome ADHD paralysis.

Breaking down tasks

Tasks often seem too big and daunting for a person with ADHD. To make it more manageable, isolate one small job from the bunch that feels the easiest. Then, break down that task into even smaller steps. For instance, you might find cleaning your room too overwhelming, so you can try focusing on one thing (like organizing your desk) for 10 minutes. Then, move on to the next task.

Write Everything Down

For people with ADHD, staying on top of important duties, events, and other responsibilities can be really overwhelming. Writing all of these down in one place can make it much easier to revisit and organize later on. Having important things written down in your planner or even just a blank sheet of paper can ease the burden of having to keep track of everything mentally. People with ADHD can also try journaling to further organize their thoughts throughout the day.

Designated project time

Having a designated time to do projects and tasks can be a good way to get started and make progress. Set aside the same time every day to work on a few of the tasks on your list. Try not to focus too much on finishing them; it is more important that you get started. This way, you won’t feel pressured to complete the whole task in the allotted time.

Avoid perfectionism

People with ADHD can sometimes fixate on getting things done in a particular manner, which leads to perfectionism. According to the American Psychological Association, perfectionism is “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation [*].” Finding a balance between having standards and knowing when to let go can allow you to find peace with the output that you give.

Incorporate movement into your day

Moving your body is an excellent way to reduce any overwhelming feelings that contribute to ADHD paralysis. When you take breaks, try going for a short walk or even just doing things around the house to increase dopamine levels, lower stress, and signal to the brain that you are breaking free from a “freeze” state.

Schedule rewards

ADHD paralysis is often accompanied by guilt, so another good way to combat it is to reward yourself whenever you accomplish small goals. Scheduling rewards may include activities such as eating your favorite snack or buying a small trinket you have been wanting. These can be great motivators to complete more tasks in the future. It can also help transform thoughts about tasks or responsibilities from dread to excitement, which can make them easier to get started on.

Make activities fun

It is possible to trick your brain into thinking certain activities are fun. Use strategies such as turning the task into a game. You can work to a beat or see how quickly you can get things done and then compare it to the pace of a family member or friend. This helps make tasks more palatable and manageable.

When to Seek Professional Help for ADHD Paralysis?

If ADHD paralysis is severely interfering with your everyday life despite trying the tips mentioned above, then it may be time to seek professional help.

Discussing your issues with ADHD with a licensed therapist can help you discover stressors and triggers, understand which symptoms you are more susceptible to, and find healthy coping mechanisms.

The Bottom Line

Dealing with ADHD paralysis daily can be frustrating, but it is crucial to be kind to yourself as you go through the process of managing its symptoms. Tools like ADHD worksheets can help as well. Be patient as you learn which solutions work for you, and remember that it is a process that might take time.

References:

  1. Biederman J, Monuteaux M. C., Doyle A. E., et al. Impact of Executive Function Deficits and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) on Academic Outcomes in Children. 2004.
  2. Volkow N, Wang G, Kollins S, et al. Evaluating Dopamine Reward Pathway in ADHD. 21 October 2010.
  3. Brown T. ADD/ADHD and Impaired Executive Function in Clinical Practice. October 2008.
  4. American Psychological Association. APA Dictionary of Psychology.