You’ve got a pile of dishes in the sink, a missed call from a friend, and a pair of pants that need to be returned draped across your chair. Your incomplete to-do list is making you feel stressed out and bad about yourself, but for some reason you’re not taking any action, which only makes you feel worse. If this sounds like a typical day in your life, you may suffer from ADHD paralysis.
ADHD paralysis is a symptom of ADHD. It happens when you have several tasks to complete, but rather than being able to focus on getting one thing done at a time, your mind fragments in multiple directions simultaneously, making you feel paralyzed and unable to move forward.
Many people come to counseling or coaching for help with managing the impacts of ADHD paralysis. ADHD can create problems in your relationships, problems at work, and it can impact your self-esteem, especially when it’s misunderstood and unmanaged. People with ADHD often feel like there’s something wrong with them, that they’re lazy, or that they lack willpower or self-discipline. Really, their brains just need some extra support in order to focus effectively. The productivity and organization tools that work for others don’t always work when you have ADHD, so it’s important to keep trying new approaches until you find one that works for you.
What Is ADHD Paralysis?
ADHD paralysis is a real struggle for many people with ADHD. It’s like getting stuck in a strange limbo where you can’t seem to move forward, even though you have mountains of stuff to do. You know what needs to happen, but you feel paralyzed, unable to take that first step.
Instead of diving in and getting started, you end up procrastinating or getting sidetracked by a YouTube binge. And trust me, it’s not because you’re lazy or lacking willpower; it’s just one of the many ways ADHD can sabotage your ability to get organized and get things done. But understanding ADHD paralysis can help you stop feeling bad about yourself and start coming up with strategies that work with your brain, rather than against it, to accomplish your goals.
How to Get Out of ADHD Paralysis
So, what can you do when you need to get stuff done but you feel like you’re drowning in quicksand? Here are a few tips for getting out of ADHD paralysis.
- Cut Yourself Some Slack
First, don’t beat yourself up over your ADHD paralysis. ADHD is like having a mischievous monkey living in your brain, and sometimes the monkey entertains itself by messing with your plans. Feeling bad about the way your brain works will only make it harder to accomplish your goals, so resist the temptation to criticize yourself. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that it’s okay to struggle with ADHD, and acknowledge that your first task is getting out of ADHD paralysis.
- Break Large Tasks Into Subtasks
Next, tackle tasks in bite-sized chunks. Trying to take on a colossal project all at once can make it difficult for anyone to focus, and that’s doubly true for those with ADHD. Break complex tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps, and get clear about what exactly each step will entail before you begin moving forward. This will help you envision the entire task from start to finish, giving you a roadmap to follow if your brain wants to shoot off in a new direction once you start moving.
- Set Timers
Now, let’s get strategic. Set a specific time limit for each task, and set a timer for yourself so that you know when it’s time to move on (because pouring too much time and energy into one task is a danger for folks with ADHD, who often struggle with perfectionism as well). If the task will take you more than a few hours, don’t forget to schedule regular breaks. If you’re still struggling to get started, many people find it helpful to set a 10- or 20-minute timer and commit to doing as much as possible in that time frame. This helps you get over the “getting started” hump and build some confidence in your ability to complete the task, which will make finishing it feel less overwhelming.
- Mix Things Up
You would be surprised what a difference a change in surroundings can make. If you’re stuck indoors, try moving to a coffee shop or a park. If you’re sitting at your desk, try moving to the dining room table. Changing scenery can kick your brain out of its funk and bring on a fresh wave of creative inspiration.
- Seek an Accountability Partner
Talking about your experiences with ADHD can help dissolve the shame you feel about it, while also helping you remain accountable to yourself and others. If you are struggling to get started on a project, try talking about it with your partner, a friend, or a family member who understands ADHD. Tell them what you would like to accomplish in a specific timeframe, and then check in with them when that time comes to tell them about your progress.
Many people with ADHD find working with an ADHD coach valuable for this very reason. An ADHD coach is a clinician who specializes in working with people who have ADHD to help them manage their symptoms, increase productivity, achieve important goals, and feel better about themselves. An ADHD coach can empower you with tools, strategies, and guidance for issues like ADHD paralysis so you can stop feeling stuck and begin moving forward.
ADHD Decision Fatigue
ADHD can also lead to decision fatigue . The constant bombardment of thoughts and stimuli can make even simple choices feel overwhelming. Individuals with ADHD often expend significant mental energy on daily decisions, such as what to wear, what to eat, or how to prioritize tasks. This can leave them mentally drained and less able to make well-considered choices as the day progresses. Decision fatigue can exacerbate the challenges already associated with ADHD, affecting their ability to focus, follow through on tasks, and maintain productivity. Strategies like setting routines, minimizing distractions, and breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable decisions can help mitigate ADHD decision fatigue.
ADHD Coaching at Growing Self
I hope you found this article on ADHD paralysis helpful. As someone with ADHD myself, I know the struggle is real — and I also know that it is totally possible to work with the symptoms of ADHD and accomplish your goals in spite of it.
You don’t need to struggle alone. If you would like support from a clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — For more tips on living your best life with ADHD, check out my emotional wellness collection of articles and podcasts. It’s all there for you!
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.