Do you often struggle to get yourself up and moving?
If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may find yourself procrastinating or feeling overwhelmed pretty often.
Even with looming deadlines and a long to-do list, you can't get the ball rolling, and you just feel physically and mentally stuck.
This experience, also called ADHD paralysis, affects many adults with the condition.
It's not something they choose to do on purpose or an excuse to be lazy. Instead, it is a response to being overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions.
If you experience ADHD paralysis yourself, you might be feeling frustrated—and understandably so.
But the good news is this: With the right tricks and strategies, you can learn to tackle the ADHD freeze and accomplish your daily goals!
In this article, we'll discuss what ADHD paralysis looks like, what causes it, and what you can do to overcome it.
What is ADHD Paralysis?
ADHD paralysis, also known as ADHD shutdown, occurs when a person with the condition becomes overwhelmed by information, emotions, or their environment .
This causes them to shut down or freeze, making it harder to work on tasks and function as they normally would.
ADHD Paralysis Symptoms Include:
- Struggling to start or complete important tasks
- Lack of focus and high distractibility
- Having trouble making timely decisions
- Poor time management
- Inability to take in new information and instructions
- Feelings of anxiety, worry, or guilt
Is ADHD Paralysis Real?
ADHD paralysis is a very real challenge.
Many ADHDers who experience this react by shutting down, and this response may feel out of their control. To those around them, it might seem like they're being lazy or shirking responsibility.
If you experience ADHD paralysis, the important thing to keep in mind is that it is not your fault. Because of how the ADHD brain is wired, it is much easier for people with this condition to become overwhelmed by everything going on, causing them to freeze.
Types of ADHD Paralysis
ADHD shutdown may manifest differently for different people. In general, there are three main types as follows:
- ADHD mental paralysis: This form of paralysis happens when you experience a "brain shutdown" or "brain fog." This hinders your ability to process information, sustain your focus, or communicate your thoughts and ideas.
- ADHD choice paralysis: When you have to make an important or urgent decision, your brain may suddenly crash. Also known as analysis paralysis or decision paralysis, this can occur when you're overwhelmed by too many choices or the stress of making a significant and quick decision.
- ADHD task paralysis: This type of paralysis involves procrastination and avoiding a task for as long as you can. This might happen when you're overwhelmed by a long to-do list or complicated projects or are understimulated by a mundane task .
ADHD paralysis might seem similar to procrastination, but they're not entirely the same. Procrastination can affect anyone, and this involves deliberately putting off or avoiding tasks.
On the other hand, ADHD paralysis happens when an ADHDer wants to finish a task. However, they cannot physically or mentally bring themselves to do so due to their ADHD.
Why Do I Struggle with ADHD Paralysis?
If you have ADHD, there are several reasons why paralysis may be something you wrestle with.
Having an awareness of which factors contribute to your ADHD paralysis gives you the upper hand. You can then build targeted strategies to help you mitigate these factors and achieve your goals!
Let's explore the possible causes and triggers of ADHD paralysis.
Executive Dysfunction and Low Dopamine
Scientists have found that executive dysfunction is linked to ADHD. Thus, people with the condition may face memory, focus, or planning challenges due to how their brain works .
Research also shows that there is a dysfunction in the dopamine pathway. This leads to low dopamine levels in the ADHD brain and, thus, reduced motivation .
Because of all these factors, it can be harder for ADHDers to start and complete tasks.
Studies have found that ADHD is associated with emotional dysregulation . This could make it harder for ADHDers to process, control, and manage emotions, including fear and anxiety.
These negative feelings may leave them demotivated or too anxious to work on their tasks.
Being Overstimulated or Overwhelmed
Stress, tight deadlines, or a large and complex project are all examples of triggers for an ADHD shutdown.
ADHDers may also be overstimulated by things in the environment, like noises from a crowd or a flickering and bright light. These stimuli can take their focus away from the task.
On this note, understimulation can also cause ADHD paralysis. When the ADHD brain is not engaged or stimulated by a task, it can be easily distracted.
Time Blindness and Hyperfixation
ADHDers may get distracted by unrelated activities or thoughts. When they become hyperfixated on such distractions, they may be so engrossed in the activity that they tune out everything else . This can cause them to lose track of time.
When this kicks in, removing themselves from the activity and getting started on necessary tasks can also be challenging.
Fear of Failure and Criticism
Research suggests that adult ADHDers are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem, negative thoughts, and feelings of failure .
People with ADHD may also be more likely to experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria. This may mean that criticism from other people and themselves affects them more significantly .
Because of this fear of failure and criticism, ADHDers might avoid tasks that they aren't confident in doing.
How to Break Out of ADHD Paralysis When It Strikes
ADHD does not have to define what you're capable of.
Of course, this condition can make it harder to be productive. But with the right strategies in place, you can tilt the scale in your favor and achieve what you put your mind to.
Consider applying these tips to get yourself into motion.
Seek Accountability through Body Doubling
Text or call a friend to be your body double. Body doubling is the idea of having people around you who are also focusing on their own tasks to cultivate a sense of accountability. This can help to pull you away from your own thoughts and emotions and draw you into the tasks at hand.
Ask your body double to hop on a video call with you to co-work together. Make sure to set some ground rules to ensure you do not distract each other. For example, you can start a timer for 50 minutes and set a rule that no talking is allowed until it goes off.
If that's not an option, Flow Club can help. Through Flow Club, you can join body doubling sessions with other people who are also looking to break out of their ADHD paralysis. Through these sessions, you can support and cheer each other on.
Eat the Frog First… or Snowball Instead
The "eat the frog first" technique involves working on the hardest task or what you dread the most. To increase stimulation while you do that, you can also listen to music or play a podcast in the background, as long as it doesn't distract you.
Of course, this method might not work for everyone. If you find this ineffective, you can try something else called the snowball method. Start with the easiest or most interesting tasks first. As you tick them off, you can build momentum to work on other less exciting tasks.
Switch to Time-Based Goals
Some people find that outcome-based goals, like "reply to ten emails" or "finish the first page of the report," are more effective. If this applies to you, you can add your own deadlines to the goals to create a sense of urgency.
But if you don't find this effective, try switching to time-based goals. For example, your goal may look like "spend 10 minutes replying to emails" or " spend 30 minutes writing the report."
No matter the outcome, this can help give you a sense of accomplishment and prevent you from being caught up in the stress of failing your goals.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
This technique involves breaking down your time into smaller blocks. You'll then alternate between time blocks of focused work and shorter breaks. If you'd like, you can include movement, like doing simple stretches, into these breaks.
It's also best to set a timer for each block to prevent losing track of time.
Flow Club incorporates the Pomodoro Technique into each body doubling session to help boost your focus and productivity.
Strategies to Prevent ADHD Paralysis from Striking
The following tips can help you prevent or reduce the risk of ADHD paralysis.
Break Down Big Goals
A large, complex project may be daunting to take on. To overcome this, you can plan ahead and break down big tasks into smaller goals. Make sure these subgoals are realistic and achievable.
A tool like Goblin Tools can help you do this automatically, so you don't have to spend too much time and effort doing it yourself.
If looking at the entire list of smaller tasks makes you anxious, try to focus on one task at a time. You can also cover the rest of your list with a piece of paper to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed by a long to-do list.
Find an Accountability Buddy
Schedule body doubling sessions with someone productive and focused. Add these meetings to your calendar and set a reminder for them so you don't forget.
You can schedule these sessions in advance with your friends or with a program like Flow Club.
Seek Professional Help and Treatment
ADHD treatment and therapy can help reduce ADHD symptoms, helping you improve your focus and productivity. It's always best to seek professional advice, especially if you've tried all kinds of strategies without much success.
The Flow Club Fix for ADHD Paralysis
If you want to get out of the ADHD paralysis cycle, finding accountability can be one important key.
Flow Club brings friendly accountability to the table through the body doubling technique, which you can implement with the help of fellow adult ADHDers.
The Flow Club system also incorporates techniques like using the Pomodoro Timer, time blocking, breaking down big goals into smaller steps, and other features to help stimulate the release of dopamine and motivate you to get the ball rolling.
ADHD paralysis is a real challenge, and finding productivity techniques that work for you may take some experimentation.
With a mix of personalized strategies, therapy, and treatment, you're in the best position to overcome ADHD paralysis and regain control over your daily life!
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