ADHD Paralysis: What It Is & Tips For Dealing With It

By Danielle Boland

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make it difficult for a person to concentrate or pay attention to one thing at a time. It can also cause them to be very hyperactive or impulsive in their behavior. 

ADHDADHD can lead someone to become very overwhelmed when making decisions, which can impact their ability to complete tasks. This effect can feel paralyzing, which is why many refer to it as “ADHD paralysis.”

What Is ADHD Paralysis?

ADHD paralysis is not an official medical diagnosis. Rather, it is a term used to describe the issues someone with ADHD may have when they are faced with too much information in a decision-making process. Those with ADHD have reported that it can be very difficult to make decisions due to indecision, inability to concentrate and hyperactivity. This can lead to the feeling of paralysis in regard to decision-making, hence the term “ADHD paralysis.” 

What Does ADHD Paralysis Look Like?

Someone with ADHD paralysis may feel overwhelmed when trying to complete tasks, causing them to:

  • Avoid tasks that require concentration
  • Not actively listen to others
  • Become easily distracted by other things
  • Jump from task to task to avoid what they are doing
  • Lose their train of thought 
  • Have difficulty organizing tasks

Why Does ADHD Paralysis Happen?

ADHD Paralysis can happen when the symptoms of ADHD are not being managed or are interfering with day-to-day decision-making. Many people can experience difficulty in decision-making if they feel overwhelmed, but those with ADHD can easily have problems making decisions. 

ADHD affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the area that affects concentration, attention, decision-making and goal-setting. If a task is not stimulating, a person with ADHD might become bored and unable to focus or make decisions to complete the task. 

ADHD and Executive Function

Executive functions activate, organize, integrate and manage other functions in the brain. These functions work together to make someone aware of the consequences of their actions and help them figure out what good decisions are.  

People with ADHD usually have an impairment with one or more of these functions, which makes it difficult to manage daily tasks and responsibilities effectively. One study found that people with ADHD may struggle with six different clusters of functions, including:

  • Organizing, prioritizing and motivating for tasks
  • Focusing, sustaining and shifting attention to complete tasks
  • Staying alert, maintaining effort and processing speed
  • Managing frustrations and regulating emotions
  • Good memory and recall
  • Monitoring self and self-regulating

Types of ADHD Paralysis

ADHD paralysis can take form in a few different ways. Each person’s executive function limitations can vary, and the way they respond to stressful or demanding situations can dictate how ADHD paralysis shows up.

Mental paralysis 

Mental paralysis can take place when someone is experiencing a lot of thoughts at once but is unable to quiet their mind and make sense of it. When this occurs, someone with ADHD may have trouble expressing or saying what they are thinking and feeling. 

Task paralysis 

Task paralysis can occur when someone has too many things on their to-do list, or when they feel there are too many steps to complete a task. The overwhelming steps needed to do something can cause a person with ADHD to avoid the task or abandon what they are doing. 

Choice paralysis 

Choice paralysis is also referred to as analysis paralysis. This is a phrase used to explain how having too many choices or too much information can cause someone to not make a decision. 

Tips for Dealing With ADHD Paralysis

ADHD paralysis can be frustrating, but the good news is there are tools you can use to help manage the symptoms of ADHD. Working these coping skills into your daily routine can potentially help reduce ADHD paralysis and other ADHD-related symptoms. 

Break Down Tasks

A task can seem impossible when we look at the big picture, and with ADHD, it can be difficult to start or complete tasks that are overwhelming. Breaking down a task into smaller pieces can be a helpful tool in managing ADHD paralysis. 

Using a step-by-step approach is a great way to keep focus and momentum on a task. Start by thinking about what the first step of a task is; once that is completed, think about what would come next. This strategy allows a task to be broken down into smaller steps, and it is also less intimidating than looking at the full scope of the task.

Trust Your Instincts

When a person with ADHD has a lot of information, it can be difficult to make a decision. It can easily cause someone to feel they cannot trust their instincts on what they know is right. Learning to be confident in one’s instincts can help people with ADHD become better at making decisions without feeling paralyzed by too much information. 

Have a Snack

People who have ADHD have lower levels of dopamine, but certain foods can help raise dopamine levels naturally. Including these foods in your diet can help raise your dopamine levels:

  • Kiwi
  • Red bell peppers
  • Cheese
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Salmon
  • Turmeric
  • Oregano
  • Avocado
  • Almonds
  • Quinoa
  • Fermented foods, such as kimchee

Find Movement

Exercise is good for overall health and is shown to increase levels of dopamine, which are often lower in those with ADHD. Studies have found that movement and physical activity help reduce ADHD symptoms like impulsivity, hyperactivity and short attention span. It can also improve executive functioning when it comes to tasks. These effects can all help prevent ADHD paralysis by reducing ADHD symptoms. 

Talk to Your Doctor About ADHD Medication

Medication can be a very helpful tool in managing ADHD and reducing ADHD paralysis. There are several different types of medication, and your doctor can help you decide which medication may be right for you. 

Stimulants are the most widely known and popular medication for ADHD treatment. Stimulants work by increasing the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. These two chemicals are critical in thinking and attention, which are common issues for those with ADHD. 

Some ADHD medications are non-stimulants. Although they may take longer to help, they can be a very effective treatment for ADHD. Non-stimulants have been found to help improve attention span, boost focus and reduce impulsivity in people with ADHD. Non-stimulants can be used on their own or alongside a stimulant to increase effectiveness. They can also be used with other medications, such as antidepressants, when people are struggling with ADHD and conditions like depression. 

Therapy for ADHD

If you or someone you love has ADHD and is looking for additional support, the Nobu app can help. This free and easy-to-use tool offers a wide variety of helpful services, including mindfulness exercises, journaling prompts, guided yoga lessons and more. For an additional fee, you can also connect with a licensed mental health expert to receive professional therapy support. Sign up for Nobu and download the app today, available on Apple and Android devices. 

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum

Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.

Written by – Danielle Boland

Danielle is a licensed clinical social worker, currently living and practicing in central Connecticut. Danielle graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a Masters of Social Work, and always had the goal of opening her own private practice. She specializes in women’s issues, maternal health and postpartum mental health. Danielle is passionate about empowering people of all ages and hopes to use her writing skills to provide more resources for those looking to improve their mental health… Read more.

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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.