You really need to get things done, but just can’t seem to get the ball rolling. You’re overwhelmed, frozen in place, and can’t even think about what to do first. That’s exactly what ADHD paralysis feels like.
ADHD paralysis happens when a person with ADHD is overwhelmed by their environment or the amount of information given. As a result, they freeze and aren’t able to think or function effectively. This makes it challenging for the individual to focus and complete their tasks—including urgent ones.
Also known as analysis paralysis, ADHD paralysis is a symptom of ADHD. Adults who experience this issue find it much harder to keep up with their commitments and complete necessary tasks at work, school, or home.
ADHD paralysis is frustratingly real. But you can get yourself back in motion by understanding and addressing its causes.
Read on if you’d like to find out what it feels like when the symptoms of ADHD paralysis set in. Then, we’ll explore some effective strategies to get unstuck.
ADHD Paralysis Symptoms in Adults
ADHD affects the brain’s executive function. That means it’s harder for individuals to process information and make choices based on that information. This is how ADHD paralysis occurs – when you can’t decide what to do or where to start, you can’t take action.
Though ADHD paralysis manifests differently in different people, it’s generally associated with the following symptoms:
- Overthinking or overanalyzing problems
- Unable to start a project, even when high-priority
- Unable to prioritize and manage tasks
- Unable to maintain focus and easily distracted
- Poor time management
- Time blindness (unaware of ticking time)
- Rapid mood and emotional changes
- Difficulty making decisions
- Unable to listen actively
- Jumping from one task to another
- Losing train of thoughts
- Lack of focus
- Lack of clarity (brain fog)
- Avoiding tasks requiring sustained focus
ADHD paralysis may seem similar to procrastination, but the two aren’t the same. We’ve all procrastinated at one point or another, putting off tasks when we’re tired or demotivated.
On the other hand, ADHD paralysis occurs when a person is overloaded with information, tasks, or instructions. They begin to shut down and freeze, and this response is typically out of their control.
Types of ADHD Paralysis: Brain Crash, Overthinking, and Procrastination
There are three main types of ADHD paralysis: mental, choice, and task.
It may be helpful to understand which type of ADHD paralysis affects you at any given moment. You’ll then be able to figure out the root cause and find the best solution to unfreeze yourself.
- ADHD mental paralysis: This form of ADHD paralysis occurs when a person is overwhelmed with thoughts, emotions, or information, or experiences sensory overload. It feels like a “brain crash,” which makes it difficult to figure out what to do or say next.
- ADHD choice paralysis: Also known as “analysis paralysis,” happens when someone is faced with too many choices and has to make a decision. They may overthink or overanalyze the situation, becoming overwhelmed and struggling to pick an option or implement a solution.
- ADHD task paralysis: When a person with ADHD feels hesitant, scared, or unmotivated to begin a task, they may experience task paralysis. As a result, they tend to procrastinate and avoid it as much as possible by doing other activities or zoning out.
8 Strategies to Get Back In Motion
Ready to stop feeling paralyzed by ADHD – and start getting things done?
Proper diagnosis and treatment by a specialist are the best ways to get a handle on your ADHD symptoms.
But you can also build strategies into your routine to help you organize and prioritize your responsibilities at work, school, or home.
These simple tools and strategies can help you get unstuck.
1. The Daily Brain Dump
Staying organized can be one of the biggest challenges for someone with ADHD.
Being bombarded with too many thoughts at once may also cause you to feel overwhelmed, especially when you try to organize them all in your head.
So, what you can do instead is an ADHD “brain dump.” Here’s how it works:
- Write down your thoughts on a digital document, paper, or Post-It note.
- Review and eliminate those that you don’t really need.
- Prioritize and organize the thoughts and tasks left on the list, then split them into different categories or deadlines.
- Add them to your Google Calendar to track and receive automated reminders of your due dates and events.
A written list of the tasks and projects you need to complete makes it easier to organize them.
2. Make Tasks Achievable (Easy Wins)
Navigating a large, complex project can be intimidating. But instead of trying to take everything on at once, break the project into smaller, more achievable sub-tasks.
This can be as simple as replying to an email or assigning a role to a team member.
Keep each sub-task small enough to be completed within an hour or so. And, of course, it’s good to make time for short breaks in between.
Keep track of your sub-tasks in a to-do list and cross off each item as you complete them. Every item counts on the way to completing the bigger project – even if it’s an easy win!
Every item you get done helps build motivation and foster a sense of accomplishment. This is a great way to keep the ball rolling.
3. Keep Your Work Schedule Simple
Planning your work schedule for an entire day can sometimes feel like too much information to process at once.
So instead of scheduling and planning a specific duration of time for every task on your to-do list, try this instead: Designate time for just one task.
This means that you’d only plan the time needed to complete one task at a time. Once you’ve completed that first task, plan time for the next one, and so on.
This can be especially helpful if you’re tackling a new project or responsibility you need to familiarize yourself with, since you might not be able to gauge the amount of time you’ll need to complete it.
4. Focus on Completion, Not Perfection
It’s best to leave perfection at the door while doing your work. That’s because processing too many details at once may leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Instead, focus on completing the task. After finishing each sub-task or small milestone, you may quickly refer back to the instructions to ensure you’re on track.
Also, try to be realistic about how much you can accomplish. For instance, taking on more work than you can manage or designating too little time for each task will only lead to excess stress and pressure.
5. Make Room for Rewards
One fantastic way to boost your ADHD motivation is by intentionally creating space to celebrate your achievements and reward yourself.
The reward doesn’t have to be extravagant; you can simply treat yourself to something that helps you relax or brings you joy after completing a tedious or mundane chore.
This can be as simple as enjoying your favorite chocolate, listening to your favorite music, or having a nice meal at a quiet restaurant.
6. Get up and Move
Repetitive or routine tasks can quickly become boring to the brain. At the same time, working on a complex or new project can lead to mental exhaustion and information overload.
In either case, you can take a quick movement break between tasks to give your brain time to rest. Taking a break is, in fact, productive. It can help you feel more alert, composed, and mentally stimulated when you get back to work.
This movement break can be quick and convenient, like taking a walk around the block or doing a few stretches. Scheduling an exercise session into your daily routine can also be beneficial.
After all, research shows that exercise can improve ADHD symptoms, memory, attention, and academic performance.
7. Keep Things Interesting
Staying focused on mundane and repetitive work can be challenging. So, to keep yourself productive, you can incorporate novelty into bits of your daily routine.
Try changing things up a little. For instance, you could redecorate your office cubicle, work from a nice café, or try out a new tool or app.
You could also find a buddy to complete mundane tasks with. Also known as body doubling, this productivity strategy works by having you finish boring tasks with another person beside you to keep you accountable.
8. Do Things You Love
All work and no play can lead to mental exhaustion, burnout, and increased stress, which may contribute to ADHD paralysis.
So, it’s best to make time for the personal interests and activities you enjoy. And remember, don’t be afraid to explore new creative pursuits, recreational activities, and hobbies whenever possible.
Doing what you love can help relieve tension, clear your mind, and introduce novelty into your day-to-day routines.
Bonus Tip: Seek Support for ADHD Paralysis
Dealing with adult ADHD symptoms may leave you feeling overwhelmed. But that’s not your fault. No matter your situation, you’re not alone.
The ADHD community includes people from all walks of life, many of whom take an active role in sharing experiences and supporting each other. Connecting with a support group is a great way to access advice and moral support from those who have walked in your shoes.
If you’d like to understand more about adult ADHD, ADDA+ offers 200+ webinars, peer support groups, work groups, and much more.
You may also seek personalized advice from an ADHD coach. They’ll work with you on customized strategies for your unique challenges, whether it’s time management, organization, or task prioritization.
Additionally, ADDA’s directory of therapists and coaches can point you toward the right professional.
ADHD paralysis doesn’t have to get in the way of pursuing your academic, career, or personal goals. With the proper strategies, treatment, and support, you can overcome it and accomplish what you put your mind to.
Learning how to modify and implement these strategies to fit your routine and lifestyle will take time. So don’t forget to be patient and kind to yourself along the way!
 Volkow, N. D., & Swanson, J. M. (2013). Clinical practice: Adult attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. The New England journal of medicine, 369(20), 1935–1944. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcp1212625
 Mehren, A., Reichert, M., Coghill, D., Müller, H. H. O., Braun, N., & Philipsen, A. (2020). Physical exercise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – evidence and implications for the treatment of borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder and emotion dysregulation, 7, 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-019-0115-2