Understanding ADHD Paralysis

Jake Newby

| 5 min read

Have you ever had so many tasks pile up in a day that instead of tackling them, you just kind of froze up and did nothing? Maybe you were set to present or speak at work, and despite rehearsing what you planned to say, you completely drew a blank when it came time to talk. ADHD paralysis can feel like this. 
These examples of stressful situations can happen to anyone, but for people diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, they occur more often and can feel much more intense. 
It’s important to identify ADHD paralysis symptoms – as well as the three types of ADHD paralysis – so preventative steps can be taken to dial back the intensity of a bout with ADHD paralysis the next time it starts to develop. 

What is ADHD paralysis?

ADHD is a behavioral disorder characterized by inattention and impulsivity. It’s a condition that affects executive functioning in the brain. Executive functioning refers to the set of skills that allow us to focus, plan, exert effort, show self-control, follow directions, retain information and more. This function helps our brain filter out distractions and control impulses. ADHD paralysis occurs because of executive function impairment. Instead of processing the information and making decisions based on that information, a person may “freeze up” and experience ADHD paralysis.

ADHD paralysis symptoms in adults

ADHD paralysis looks different for different people. But generally, these are the symptoms:
  • Avoiding tasks that require sustained focus.
  • Difficulty or inability to make decisions.
  • Displaying poor time management skills.
  • A lack of focus.
  • An inability to start a task or project, even when it’s a high priority.
  • An uncertainty about how to start a task or project.
  • Moving from one task to the next without accomplishing anything
  • Overthinking or overanalyzing problems

What are the three types of ADHD paralysis

Choice paralysis: Also known as “analysis paralysis,” choice paralysis hinders a person’s decision-making ability. It can occur when someone with ADHD is overwhelmed by the number of choices they have to make, leading to overthinking and overanalyzing.
Mental paralysis occurs when someone is overwhelmed by their thoughts and emotions – or by too much information – and they experience a sensory overload. This might lead to a “freeze” that makes it difficult to react or even speak.
Task paralysis is characterized by hesitancy, fear or a lack of motivation to get going on a task. The person experiencing task paralysis may procrastinate and go to great lengths to avoid the task, by either working on new activities or zoning out.

Strategies to help you get into gear 

The best way to protect against ADHD paralysis is to put yourself in a position to stop it before it starts. Here are five strategies to try:
The ADHD “brain dump:” This method is about extricating all the tasks and thoughts from your head and listing them on a piece of paper. Then, look at the list and scratch off the ones you don’t really need. Prioritize and organize the remaining tasks and thoughts by splitting them into categories, or by order of importance. Finally, add them in that order to a digital calendar so you can track them and receive reminders and due date alerts.
Break down tasks: Make tasks achievable by splitting them into smaller chunks. Here are examples: At the end of your workday, dedicate 10 minutes of work to an assignment that is due the following day. Or, if you have chores hanging over your head, such as cleaning your entire house, get ahead by cleaning one room and leaving the rest for tomorrow. These tips can help you breathe knowing you got a head start on tomorrow’s task. Knowing what to expect when you pick it back up the following day can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
Prioritize completion over perfection: Do your best, but don’t stress over perfection. Processing too many details at once can lead to a sensory overload. Just focus on reaching the finish line.
Reward yourself: One way adults with ADHD can manufacture some motivation is by intentionally making time or space for a reward. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but perhaps after completing a task, you take a break to have a snack. Or once the day is finished, you treat yourself to a coffee from your favorite café.
Break up the monotony by moving around: Getting up periodically to clear your head – especially if you have a desk job – can be beneficial to your work. Taking breaks can go a long way in helping people with ADHD sidestep tension. Short walks or even designated time to meditate in another room can increase dopamine levels and decrease stress, which can in turn keep a shutdown or “freeze” at bay and allow you to get back to your tasks with a refreshed state of mind.
Support is out there for individuals who struggle with ADHD. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has behavioral health options available for members, including phone and online support, online therapy through Blue Cross Online Visits℠, in-person support, self-guided care and much more. Click here to learn more.
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