ADHD paralysis: 7 Psychiatrist-backed tips to overcome it

ADHD paralysis: 7 Psychiatrist-backed tips to overcome it

Reviewed by:
Sophia Monsour, DO
Chief Psychiatrist, Pennsylvania
at Talkiatry
March 20, 2024
In this article

We live in a fast-paced, hyper-demanding, always-on-the go world. When you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it can be especially challenging to stay focused. If you’ve ever been so swamped by a task or situation—emotionally, mentally, or physically—to the point that you feel “frozen,” you may have had what some people call “ADHD paralysis.”  

ADHD paralysis is a phrase that has been trending in recent years to describe a phenomena in people with ADHD when they experience the feeling of being stuck and overwhelmed. It is not yet a medically recognized term, but can be a helpful terminology. Here we’ll take a deeper look at ADHD paralysis, explain what it really means, and dispel any myths surrounding it. We’ll also give you strategies on how to overcome ADHD paralysis and become “unstuck” when you do feel overwhelmed and unable to finish the task at hand.  

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What is “ADHD paralysis?”

ADHD paralysis comes from "analysis paralysis", which describes the feeling that many of us experience when we are overwhelmed to the point of freezing up or being unable to focus from time to time. You can experience this choice paralysis and indecision even if you don’t have ADHD.  

Analysis paralysis can happen as a normal experience that doesn’t interfere with your life, but sometimes it might become debilitating and affect your daily living. When this happens, it’s important to recognize the underlying conditions that could cause or worsen it. That might be  ADHD, but it could also be other mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even other things, like using substances, too much screen time, not enough exercise, narcolepsy, and other neurological conditions might also affect analysis paralysis. Some of these things also mimic symptoms of ADHD. That’s why it’s so important to talk to a professional, like a psychiatrist, and get on the proper path to diagnosis to find out if you have ADHD, or something else.  

If you have ADHD paralysis you may feel unable to start a task or project that needs to be completed, unable to organize your thoughts or focus, or be completely unable to decide between two or more choices.  

Common situations when this might happen include:

  • Having to process a lot of or too much information, for instance when getting started with a project for work or school.
  • Excessive environmental stimuli, like when you enter a crowded and chaotic room, or multiple people try to talk to you at once at a party.
  • Experiencing a sudden burst of emotion, like when you receive some very upsetting or exciting news.
  • Struggling to accept that “perfect is the enemy of good.

Related article: Feeling burnout? Learn about the connection between ADHD and fatigue

Symptoms and experiences: What does “ADHD paralysis” feel like?  

ADHD paralysis can be one of the most frustrating symptoms of ADHD. While ADHD is frequently associated with hyperactive behavior, a person experiencing ADHD paralysis becomes so overwhelmed by impulses or stimuli that they are unable to act, even when things are routine or urgent.  

In a demanding, fast-paced workplace, some people may occasionally experience choice paralysis when it comes to decision-making. If you have an ADHD diagnosis, you might feel the impact of this paralysis even more in daily life, which can make it hard to function in high-speed work or social environments. ADHD paralysis can feel like you’re drifting at sea, without any oar—and you’re unable to control the movements of the ocean. The world around you continues to move, but you’re struggling to participate.  

Unlike voluntary procrastination, ADHD impacts your brain’s executive function, making it a challenging task to process information and make choices based on that information when you’re experiencing paralysis. That means it can be exceedingly difficult to manage time effectively, complete tasks, and avoid involuntary procrastination.  

Symptoms of ADHD paralysis can manifest in myriad ways in different people. We’ve covered some of the most common and frustrating above, but other symptoms include:

  • Overthinking or overanalyzing problems
  • Inability to start tasks or projects
  • Rapid mood and emotional changes
  • Inability to listen attentively
  • Lack of focus or clarity

ADHD paralysis can also lead to emotional sensitivity. It’s natural to get frustrated when your brain is working against you. As such, ADHD paralysis can often incite emotional outbursts ranging from rage to despair.

Related article: What to know about ADHD overstimulation

“ADHD paralysis” vs. ADHD

ADHD paralysis and ADHD should not be used interchangeably. ADHD is a neurological disorder; ADHD paralysis refers to analysis paralysis experienced by people who have that disorder.

No two people experience the same disorder in the same way. Some people with ADHD may be less prone to task paralysis, some may be extremely sensitive. Likewise, individuals may experience paralysis in completely different ways. One person may be unable to function in crowds but feel at ease while working independently on a complex project. Another may be unable to so much as put their name on an exam and shut down when considering the daunting task to follow, but feel perfectly comfortable at a nightclub.

Within those examples lie some corrected misconceptions about the ADHD experience. Yes, people with ADHD can be remarkably efficient and productive students or employees. Yes, people with ADHD can be relaxed and at-ease in crowded or noisy environments. There’s no standard example of ADHD or ADHD paralysis because each person, and brain, is different.

7 Psychiatrist-backed tips to overcome "ADHD paralysis”

Mental paralysis can happen to many people, and it can be heightened in people with ADHD. Whether you have ADHD diagnosis or not, if you experience symptoms of analysis paralysis, and these practical tips and coping mechanisms may help.

1. Journaling

Journaling can be a productive way to better understand one’s feelings and navigate complicated emotions. It can be helpful to “brain dump” from time to time into a notebook, purging the ocean of thoughts and ideas in your head onto paper to reduce the mental clutter. Likewise, journaling can help track your progress on certain tasks, cross off to-do lists, and give you a visual representation of what’s taking up your mental stamina.

Keeping a journal will also be useful when seeking support from healthcare professionals as it will give them greater insight into your unique brain.

2. Self-care

One of the best ways you can manage ADHD symptoms is by just taking care of yourself. Getting plenty of exercise, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough rest are all important for everyone, but they’re especially helpful if you have ADHD. For instance, exercise can work off restless or hyperactive energy that can make it difficult to focus.

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Don’t forget to take care of your mind and emotions, too. A meditation or mindfulness routine can really help with your well-being. If you don’t have one you can start by blocking off some time on your calendar to just sit quietly and let go of some of the clutter in your brain. When you find time to meditate and relax, it can help you your focus and anxiety—two things that can have an impact on ADHD paralysis.

Try making time to reward yourself for your accomplishments, whether it’s an extra episode of your favorite show, a scoop of ice cream, or a day off. It’s not all about work. Having something to motivate you can help you stay focused, no matter what you’re doing.

3. Time management

Time management is a valuable skill for anyone, but it’s especially crucial for individuals with ADHD who struggle with inattention. While students have more structure built into their day, adults with ADHD may find it more difficult to allocate time effectively, which can trigger ADHD paralysis. However, time management is an especially good tool for adults with ADHD.

For some people, it may be helpful to think a bit like a student. For instance, setting specific time blocks for specific tasks, like a schedule block in school, can help individuals compartmentalize a task and prioritize it for a set time. You can put these time blocks inside a larger daily schedule that, if followed diligently, can make large, complex projects feel more accessible.

Other good tools include Pomodoro timers and, in a professional setting, task management software.

4. Establishing routines

Routine is a useful productivity strategy for everybody. While developing time management strategies is great, you won’t always be working on the same thing every single day. As such, it’s valuable to build a larger overall routine.

Getting into a routine can help manage ADHD paralysis by managing the expectations of any given day, even if the actual tasks are a little different.  

For instance, you have your morning routine of waking up, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and getting dressed. Getting into a repeatable, familiar routine makes life a bit more habitual and, therefore, easier to manage for those with ADHD paralysis.

5. Prioritization

When facing a multitude of tasks, or a very complex project, prioritization is vital. Fortunately, prioritization is something many people struggle with, not just individuals with ADHD. Fortunately today, there are many prioritization methods and models, and one may be right for you.

For instance, the Eisenhower Matrix (or time management matrix) helps you divide tasks into four categories: tasks you’ll do first, tasks you’ll schedule for later, tasks you’ll delegate, and tasks you’ll delete. This has proven to be an incredibly effective tool in business, but can also be very useful for people experiencing ADHD paralysis.

You can also use priority matrices to organize tasks by effort/impact or cost/value depending on what makes most sense to you.

Other methods include the MoSCoW and ABCDE methods that break down tasks by order of importance to allow you to identify items that may not be worth doing at all.

6. Medication

When prescribed by mental health professionals, ADHD medication can be very impactful for young people and adults. No ADHD medication is a cure-all, but when properly taken, medication can help manage symptoms of ADHD, including paralysis.  

If medication is part of your treatment plan, your healthcare provider may elect to adjust dosages based on the positive or neutral impacts that medication appears to be having on managing symptoms.

7. Seeking support

Finally, acknowledging the need for support is an important step in managing ADHD paralysis. Yes, ADHD paralysis looks like ordinary struggles that everyone deals with, but it’s significantly more difficult to navigate for individuals with ADHD.

We’ve included some coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with ADHD paralysis here, but if nothing works, it’s crucial to seek assistance from healthcare professionals, therapists, or support groups. A blog post is not a treatment.

Talkiatry, however, can help treat ADHD. If you want to learn more about our treatment process and are considering seeking care with one of our psychiatrists, you can read more here. We’ll also go into the broad strokes in the next section.

ADHD treatment at Talkiatry

At Talkiatry, you’ll collaborate with your psychiatrist on the best ADHD treatment plan for you. A treatment plan may include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and working directly with a Talkiatry therapist. Each person has unique needs and goals, and Talkiatry will help develop a treatment plan that reflects that.

Whether you already have an ADHD diagnosis or have questions about potential symptoms you’re experiencing, including “ADHD paralysis,” you take our free online assessment to schedule your first visit from the comfort of your home. You’ll answer questions about your current symptoms, personal history, and mental health goals, so your psychiatrist can assess what’s best for you.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Dr. Sophia Monsour holds the position of Chief Psychiatrist for Pennsylvania at Talkiatry. After completing residency in 2013 at Albany Medical Center, she has spent the past 9 years fulfilling her passion for integrated and specialty care for adults suffering from mental illness. Her years of experience has included working as an integrated care Psychiatrist at a community health center, a medical director of a Partial Hospital and Intensive Outpatient Program (PHP/IOP), and also working for an Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACT) specializing in the Serious Mentally Ill (SMI) population.

Most recently, she has been serving our veterans as the Outpatient Section Chief, Primary/Mental Health Integration Medical Director and Resident/Medical Student Coordinator at VA Pittsburgh. Dr. Monsour has an approachable style when treating individuals who suffer from various diagnoses, especially those with prior trauma. She provides supportive psychotherapy and at times uses psychodynamic therapy skills to address her patient’s current stressors and to identify the root cause of their ailment. She believes in a holistic approach and utilizes mindfulness as a technique along with medication management.

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