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ADHD

19 min read

How to get out of ADHD paralysis: 12 ways to take control

Written by Saya Des Marais

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Geralyn Dexter

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One of the most frustrating aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for many people is not knowing how to get out of ADHD paralysis. It can make you feel frozen — you know what you need to do, and you fully understand the importance of doing it, but you just can’t seem to get unstuck. Whether it’s a task to complete or a decision to make, ADHD paralysis can become a wall that feels impossible to climb over.

In this guide, we go over 12 strategies you can use to break ADHD paralysis now, as well as options for treatment.

If you’re dealing with ADHD paralysis, make life better. Find an ADHD provider on Klarity to get an online diagnosis and treatment in as little as 24 hours. 

Treatment for ADHD symptoms is a click away.
Find a provider and have an appointment in as little as 24 hours.

Understanding ADHD paralysis

ADHD paralysis is a term used to describe a common phenomenon for people who live with ADHD. ADHD paralysis is caused by executive dysfunction. The way ADHD affects the brain causes certain deficits in cognitive functions, like regulating focus and attention, controlling impulses, and processing information. ADHD paralysis is not a sign of laziness or lack of motivation. It’s simply one of the features of living with ADHD. 

If you face ADHD paralysis, you can become so overwhelmed by all the information in front of you that you feel frozen. You may not know where to start because ADHD makes it difficult to organize tasks and time. Or, you may know what you need to do, but can’t get motivated. At other times, you may get stuck on one task and can’t move to the next. 

People with ADHD struggle with dopamine. Their brains don’t respond to it in the same way as non-ADHD brains. This means that they’re more likely to seek a “dopamine hit” from wherever they can get it. It may also explain why people with ADHD are more likely to experience phone addiction and other addictive behaviors related to dopamine (like substance use). If you live with ADHD, you may often find yourself “frozen” scrolling on social media or playing video games.

Types of ADHD paralysis

There are 3 types of ADHD paralysis. These aren’t officially recognized symptoms of ADHD, but it’s helpful to be aware of what you’re experiencing so you can choose the strategy that’s most helpful to you.

  • Mental paralysis is when coping with ADHD overstimulation becomes impossible. You become overstimulated by information or sensory input and your brain shuts down.
  • Task paralysis is when you have so much to do, that you don’t know where to begin.
  • Choice paralysis, or analysis paralysis, is when you have so many options that the pressure to choose makes you freeze.

How to get out of ADHD paralysis — 12 things to try now

Any of the following 12 strategies can help you get out of ADHD paralysis and start getting things done. The strategies you choose may differ based on the type of paralysis you’re facing.

1) Plan out tasks

A long to-do list can cause ADHD paralysis (specifically, task paralysis) because the symptoms of ADHD make it difficult to organize and prioritize. To combat this, make detailed plans for your day ahead of time so you don’t need to think about where to start in the morning.

For example, instead of planning to simply “work” for 8 hours a day, assign specific tasks to yourself for different times. Set aside the first 15 minutes of your day for settling in and cleaning up visual clutter on your desk. Set aside the next 30 minutes for checking and responding to urgent emails, the following 30 minutes for finishing up a report that you didn’t finish yesterday, and so on.

In other words, think in terms of time, not just deliverables. This helps you understand how to spend each minute of your day instead of being confronted with a seemingly never-ending list of tasks, which can help prevent ADHD paralysis.

2) Don’t get trapped by digital overstimulation

The link between ADHD and screen time is supported by research; one study found that adolescents who used their digital devices more were more likely to have ADHD.  This doesn’t mean that screen time causes ADHD symptoms, or vice versa, but they feed into each other in ways that make both worse. 

If you have ADHD, then it’s easy to fall victim to digital overstimulation. Screen time can lead to ADHD paralysis, causing you to feel “trapped” on your phone, unable to put it down and move on to other tasks. The easiest way to deal with ADHD paralysis related to your phone is to prevent it from happening to begin with — set strict limits around screen time, and consider using apps and other tools that help with digital addictions.

If you find yourself trapped by your digital device, put it away. Closing your eyes to force yourself to take a break can help. You can also use apps and digital tools that are designed to limit the time you spend on your devices.

3) Break big tasks into smaller tasks

ADHD paralysis often happens because the task in front of you feels too big to tackle. If this happens to you, break each larger task into smaller steps. If you still feel overwhelmed, break them down even more. Continue breaking your tasks down until each step feels manageable and paralysis is broken.

For example, maybe one of your tasks is to clean your house. One tip for cleaning with ADHD is to break tasks down into smaller steps if they feel overwhelming. Break cleaning down by room or by task (do all the vacuuming, then dusting, etc.). If this still feels too overwhelming, break it down into smaller and smaller steps until it feels realistic. For example, cleaning the house today could look like completing just one task: scrubbing the shower, folding the laundry, or taking one plate out of the dishwasher.

Starting even the smallest task can give you the momentum you need to get out of ADHD paralysis and get things done.

4) Practice self-compassion to get out of ADHD paralysis

It’s easy to judge yourself when ADHD causes symptoms like paralysis. Research shows that ADHD affects the brain on a physiological level, yet many people with ADHD blame themselves for their symptoms. You may ask yourself if it’s ADHD or just laziness and continued societal stigma against ADHD can make you feel worse.

Self-judgment is one of the main reasons people with ADHD suffer from low self-esteem. Even if you know how ADHD affects your brain, it’s still difficult not to compare yourself to your neurotypical peers. You might wonder, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

When you’re feeling stuck in ADHD paralysis, practice self-compassion. Millions of adults in the U.S. have ADHD, so let go of the negative labels you put on yourself. 

5) Get up and move

Getting yourself to exercise when in ADHD paralysis may feel impossible. Research shows that just 1 session of aerobic activity can reduce ADHD symptoms. You don’t need to commit to a daily gym schedule. Just try to get up and move in some way.

You could do 10 jumping jacks. Close your laptop and take a jog around the block. Put on your favorite upbeat song and dance along. Even if you don’t do a whole workout, just getting your body moving can help break ADHD paralysis.

6) Do a brain dump

While not an officially recognized symptom of ADHD, racing thoughts are one way that ADHD-related hyperactivity manifests. Not only do people with ADHD feel restless in their bodies, they can also feel restless in their minds. ADHD also makes it difficult to organize your thoughts — you feel like there’s a lot to do and plan for and you can’t keep things straight in your mind. These thoughts can become overwhelming, leading to paralysis.

A brain dump is a writing technique when you free-write all of your thoughts and ideas onto a page. Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning helps turn your thoughts and plans into actionable steps. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. Some people write everything on their mind in a stream-of-consciousness style. Others focus their brain dumps solely on upcoming tasks. 

Make a habit of doing a brain dump every morning to start your day with an actionable step. This helps prevent you from getting stuck in ADHD paralysis. 

7) Keep tasks interesting

People who experience ADHD have a difficult time focusing on tasks that are repetitive or boring. This includes many of the necessary tasks of day-to-day life — things like washing dishes, commuting to work, or taking a shower. Because of this, people with ADHD can get locked in paralysis when it comes to completing these tasks.

To keep everyday tasks interesting, try turning them into a game. For example, when brushing your teeth, set a timer for 2 minutes and see if you can finish humming your favorite song before the timer runs out. Or break each task into steps, assign points to each step, and try to earn a certain amount of points within 1 hour.

8) Get an accountability partner to get out of ADHD paralysis

Sometimes it’s too big of a challenge to get out of ADHD paralysis on your own. Getting an accountability partner makes it easier to get things done because someone besides yourself is tracking your progress. 

A good accountability partner is someone you trust and who understands the struggles of living with ADHD. It’s important to choose someone who is firm but understanding. When you can’t meet your goals, feeling judged by your accountability partner can make you feel worse and push you further into paralysis. 

Be consistent about connecting with your accountability partner. Tell them each time you’re stuck in ADHD paralysis so they know to check in with you regularly.

9) Celebrate imperfection

You may get locked in ADHD paralysis if you’re attached to perfection. A common ADHD misconception is that it’s the opposite of perfectionism. Yet research shows many people with ADHD also have some traits of perfectionism. Both people with ADHD and perfectionists struggle with procrastination and paralysis.

If you’re dealing with ADHD paralysis, let go of perfectionism and celebrate small wins. Reframe imperfection as tiny successes. For example, if you didn’t go to the gym when you planned to, but you did put workout clothes on, that’s a small win, not a failure.

When perfection is the goal, you set yourself up for failure. Celebrating wins, even when they’re imperfect, is rewarding because it gives you a dopamine boost and makes it easier to break out of ADHD paralysis in the future. 

10) Practice mindfulness to get out of ADHD paralysis

Research shows that mindfulness meditation can be an effective technique to help improve cognitive functioning in people with ADHD. If you’re facing ADHD paralysis, try pausing and practicing mindfulness for a few minutes. Mindful moments give your brain the opportunity to take in new information and think in a different way. Mindfulness can also reduce anxiety, which often comes along with ADHD paralysis.

You don’t need to start an entire guided meditation. Stop whatever you’re doing. Connect to your body and the world around you. Feel your feet on the ground and focus on your breath. Look around and notice where you are. Try to focus on the sights, sounds, and smells around you.

A mindfulness-based cognitive therapist can also help you learn these techniques and apply them to your life.

11) Make decisions ahead of time

Choice paralysis often happens when making on-the-spot decisions. People with ADHD have a difficult time organizing their thoughts and making decisions under pressure. Try giving yourself ample time to think things through and make decisions ahead of time.

Let’s say you struggle to decide what to wear each morning. This causes you stress and delays as you try to choose an outfit. To prevent this, dedicate some time over the weekend to plan your outfits for the week. When Monday morning rolls around, you’ve already made your outfit decision, which reduces the pressure of analysis paralysis. 

This strategy can be applied to other areas of your life, such as meal planning, scheduling appointments, or prioritizing tasks. When you make decisions ahead of time, you have the space and clarity to make thoughtful choices without feeling overwhelmed.

12) Get ADHD treatment to get out of ADHD paralysis

Self-help techniques can make you more productive, but they can’t replace professional ADHD treatment. Treating ADHD symptoms with ADHD medication and therapy is the best way to combat paralysis and other ADHD-related struggles. 

Medications for ADHD paralysis

Medications are a common treatment for ADHD, with stimulants being the most effective. Some non-stimulant medications have also been approved for ADHD.

The most effective FDA-approved medications are stimulant or non-stimulant ADHD medications and  include:

Therapy for ADHD

Therapy is an effective tool for learning to manage ADHD symptoms, like ADHD paralysis, especially when combined with medication. It helps deal with feelings of shame or low self-esteem related to ADHD. An ADHD therapist can teach you new skills to combat ADHD paralysis, including time management and organization.

Key takeaway

ADHD paralysis causes people with ADHD to be unable to complete, or even start, everyday tasks. It can have a detrimental effect on your life, but there are ways to take action and get out of it. Use these 12 strategies to combat ADHD paralysis, get unstuck, and start taking steps toward your goals:

  1. Plan out tasks
  2. Don’t get trapped by digital overstimulation
  3. Break up big tasks
  4. Practice self-compassion
  5. Get up and move
  6. Do a brain dump
  7. Keep tasks interesting
  8. Get an accountability partner
  9. Celebrate imperfection
  10. Practice mindfulness
  11. Make decisions ahead of time
  12. Get ADHD treatment

These techniques don’t replace professional advice or treatment. Getting treatment for ADHD is the best thing you can do to make sure that ADHD paralysis doesn’t get in the way of your life. Medication and therapy are the best available treatments to keep paralysis and other ADHD symptoms from affecting your life.

Treatment to get out of ADHD  paralysis is a click away

Don’t wait to break ADHD paralysis with quality treatment. On Klarity, you can have an appointment with an ADHD provider in 24 hours or less. Your provider will determine whether you need medication, therapy, or both. Find an ADHD provider on Klarity today to get started.

Sources

Frontiers in Psychiatry, Low Level of Perfectionism as a Possible Risk Factor for Suicide in Adolescents With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Luca Katzenmajer-Pump et. al, Sept. 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8473605/ 

Frontiers in Psychiatry, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and the Adult ADHD Brain: A Neuropsychotherapeutic Perspective, Katharina Bachmann et. al, Jun. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4921925/ 

JAMA, Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents, Chaelin Ra et. al, Jul. 2018, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2687861

Journal of Attention Disorders, Single Exercise for Core Symptoms and Executive Functions in ADHD: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Ji-Wei Chen et. al, Feb. 2024, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38156611/

Journal of Neurophysiology, The role of dopamine in reward-related behavior: shining new light on an old debate, Allan Wang et. al, Jul 2020, https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jn.00323.2020

PLOS ONE, Childhood ADHD and Risk for Substance Dependence in Adulthood: A Longitudinal, Population-Based Study, Sharon Levy et. al, Aug. 2014, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0105640 

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you have regarding your health.

If you’re having a mental health crisis or experiencing a psychiatric emergency, it’s crucial to seek immediate help from a mental healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. You can also call your local emergency services, visit your nearest emergency room, or contact a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, by calling or texting 988 or dialing the Lifeline’s previous phone number, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) in the U.S.

How we reviewed this article: This article goes through rigorous fact-checking by a team of medical reviewers. Reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the author.

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All professional services are provided by independent private practices via the Klarity technology platform. Klarity Health, Inc. does not provide any medical services.
If you’re having an emergency or in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help: Emergency: Call 911. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 988. Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741-741
Fax:
(855) 975-3008

PO Box 5098 Redwood City, CA 94063

100 Broadway Street, Redwood City CA, 94063

If you’re having an emergency or in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help: Emergency: Call 911. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 988. Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741-741
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