Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition marked by a lack of concentration and an overabundance of energy. ¹ ADHD symptoms are often overwhelming and sometimes make it impossible to get even simple tasks done. With that, such symptoms may lead someone to experience ADHD paralysis.
The reason for this is a lack of focus makes it difficult to channel your energy. Therefore, you may find yourself in situations where your motivation seem immobilized.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at ADHD paralysis. From there, we’re going to offer a few tips on how you can overcome these feelings. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
So, What is ADHD Paralysis?
Unlike specific types of ADHD, it’s not possible to diagnose ADHD paralysis. Rather, this phrase is used as an expression for those living with ADHD who experience paralysis.
Simply put, ADHD paralysis is when you feel so overwhelmed by ADHD symptoms, that you become frozen. You’re unable to complete even common tasks and therefore, struggle to make progression in your life.
The term may initially appear as though it’s representative of procrastination, which is a common symptom of ADHD. ² However, it’s preferably used to describe an overarching sensation of immobility.
Similarly, ADHD paralysis can inhibit specific functions of daily life, such as decision-making. ³ But the term is only used when ADHD freezes on from all functions of daily life.
With this in mind, if you experience ADHD paralysis, you likely avoid daunting activities altogether and favor activities that provide immediate satisfaction and stimulation.
What are the Types of ADHD Paralysis
When one experiences ADHD paralysis, they’re actually experiencing some level of anxiety. Your brain will perceive daunting tasks as a threat and respond in the same manner as it does to other fears; with fight or flight.
ADHD freeze is ultimately your brain taking the flight method in order to distance yourself from stress. With that said, you may react to an overwhelming situation by:
- Avoiding it
- Ignoring it
Regardless of your reaction, all three can leave you with ADHD freeze and result in the following ADHD paralysis symptoms in adults:
- Choice Paralysis – Feeling an overwhelming sensation to too many choices or necessary decisions.
- Mental Paralysis – Feeling an overwhelming convergence of thoughts and emotions, making it difficult to speak or convey what’s on your mind.
- Task Paralysis – Lack motivation to complete mundane tasks and avoiding these through procrastination.
ADHD Paralysis vs Procrastination
ADHD freeze may be mistaken for procrastination, but the two are quite different.
Simply put, procrastination is putting off tasks until a later time, yet, still completing them. However, ADHD paralysis is putting off tasks altogether and feeling frozen in your life.
ADHD Paralysis vs Depression
ADHD freeze may also feel like (or potentially lead to) depression. The simple reason for this is because you’re not completing larger goals you have. By taking our tips to overcome ADHD paralysis, you’re less likely to experience depression.
What Causes ADHD Paralysis?
In order to experience ADHD freeze, you must also struggle with ADHD. As of this time, researchers aren’t 100% sure what causes ADHD, but believe it has to do with genetics, brain injury and exposure to environmental risks. ⁴ ⁵
However, the cause of ADHD paralysis specifically varies from person to person, namely depending on the type of paralysis they’re experiencing.
For example, one who struggles with task paralysis will only experience ADHD freeze when given an overwhelming job. Whereas someone with choice paralysis will feel this way upon having to make a critical decision.
Why do I have task paralysis?
There is no specific reason you’ve developed task paralysis – over time, you’ve simply become overwhelmed when it comes to completing tasks. Chances are these feelings began in childhood and only further resonated as you became an adult.
Can ADHD cause neurological problems?
Yes! ADHD will affect the development of the brain which appears in both behavioral and psychological issues. Therefore, if a child shows signs of ADHD freeze, they have a higher chance of experiencing it into adulthood.
Can ADHD be seen on a brain scan?
Yes! Through brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), you can identify ADHD.
How to Overcome ADHD Paralysis
While there is no standardized ADHD paralysis treatment, we’ve developed a list of 6 coping techniques. It’s important to keep in mind that these strategies are much more prevalent when you’re also receiving professional treatment for ADHD.
1.) Plan Out Tasks
As one of the most common types of ADHD freeze, task paralysis occurs when we have a large number of objectives to complete. Chances are you’re well aware of these tasks, but due to their disorganization, you feel overwhelmed by each one.
Therefore, planning out your tasks (preferably, through a whiteboard or planner) can help to organize said tasks.
By developing a schedule, you’re giving your brain a chance to comprehend the objectives at hand. At the same time, you can plan ahead for things you may need during these tasks, such as taking a break.
2.) Breaking Down Tasks
Still, even with a solid plan, you may continue feeling overwhelmed by the weight of each task. With that in mind, it can help to divide a large task into smaller tasks.
Through this process, you’re allowing your brain to take steps towards a greater achievement. With each step, it’s likely you’ll feel more accomplishment than you would if you hadn’t broken down these tasks. ⁶
For example, let’s say you have to clean your kitchen. The entirety of that task may be all to much. But if you divide tasks with a timer (i.e. cleaning the oven for 20 minutes, cleaning the countertop for 20 minutes, etc.), these tasks suddenly become more viable.
3.) Keep Designated Times for Task
Chances are you’ll run into a number of projects that can’t be completed in one sitting. Naturally, the larger the project, the more overwhelming it may be.
Through scheduling and breaking down tasks, it can also help to ensure you have a timeslot open regularly for a larger project.
For example, if you’ve been planning on painting your house but have been putting it off, it can help to allocate a few specific hours a week to this task. Or, let’s say you want to clean your home regularly – it’s beneficial to time schedule every other Sunday for this task.
Obviously, there are a number of ways to go about time scheduling tasks. However, the purpose of planning further ahead is to ensure you can make the time for tasks you normally procrastinate.
4.) Forget About Perfection
While this isn’t always the case, one of the biggest reasons people experience ADHD freeze (or task paralysis, specifically) is due to perfectionism. In fact, some research claims that people with ADHD who don’t experience perfectionism are more at risk of suicide, likely due to depression. ⁷
Since perfectionism is such a prominent force among people with ADHD, it can make certain tasks feel overwhelming. Most notably, tasks that need to be completed which you have little to no experience in.
For this reason, it’s important to step into a task without the thought of perfecting what you seek to accomplish. Instead, simply completing the task should be your number one goal.
5.) Reward Yourself
When a task is completed, it’s key to reward yourself. Such rewards are not only a motivation tool, but can help in the completion of future tasks.
How you reward yourself is ultimately up to you. But we recommend allowing bigger rewards for bigger tasks.
For example, cleaning your kitchen won’t take too much time and therefore, requires a small reward. This may include a tasty treat or spending an hour with your favorite video game.
However, larger projects – such as painting your entire house – should be met with larger rewards. This may include purchasing an expensive product you’ve been eyeing or taking yourself out to a pricey dinner.
6.) Make Tasks Fun
People with ADHD are always seeking out stimulation. ⁸ This is one of the reasons many day-to-day tasks feel so mundane – they don’t stimulate the brain enough. However, that’s not to say they can’t.
When you go about completing tasks, you can trick the brain into thinking you’re having a good time. The easiest way to do this is by being playful with each task.
For example, let’s say it takes you about 2 hours to clean your kitchen. The next time you go about this task, you can attempt to beat that record.
Through this playfulness, you’re still fighting an uphill battle. But each step will come with just a little more ease.
ADHD paralysis can be detrimental to day-to-day life. It can prevent your from accomplishing your goals and making you feel stuck in your current life position.
However, no matter how stuck you feel, there are ways out of it. By breaking down tasks and taking everything one step at a time, you’ll eventually come to those larger goals.
Still have questions about ADHD paralysis?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): What is ADHD?
² International Journal Methods in Psychiatric Research: The relation between procrastination and symptoms of attention‐deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in undergraduate students
³ Biological Psychiatry: Frontostriatal Dysfunction During Decision Making in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
⁴ Europe PMC Funders Group: An Overview on the Genetics of ADHD
⁵ Acta Paediatrica: Environmental risk factors for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
⁶ children (MDPI): Strategies for Coping with Time-Related and Productivity Challenges of Young People with Learning Disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
⁷ frontiers in Psychiatry: Low Level of Perfectionism as a Possible Risk Factor for Suicide in Adolescents With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
⁸ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms, Sensation-Seeking, and Sensory Modulation Dysfunction in Substance Use Disorder