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Home arrow Health arrow Mental Health arrow ADHD Paralysis: What Is It and How to Break the Cycle

ADHD Paralysis: What Is It and How to Break the Cycle

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: July 26, 2023
6 min read 1212 Views 0 Comments
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ADHD paralysis can have a negative effect on your personal and professional life. Are there any ways to overcome it?

Adhd paralysis

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) paralysis is a common experience for people who have ADHD. It can happen in many situations and can have a tremendous impact on people’s professional and personal lives. But why does ADHD paralysis happen, and how can you avoid it?

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at ADHD paralysis and explore ways you can cope with it. Take a look to learn more.

What Is ADHD Paralysis?

ADHD paralysis is one of many ADHD symptoms. It refers to a period of mental paralysis in which a person cannot focus on or perform tasks. ADHD often causes issues to the sufferers’ mental health, leading them to become overwhelmed physically, emotionally, and mentally.

ADHD paralysis is linked to what is known as executive dysfunction. In most people, executive functioning is the action of the brain that allows them to carry out many necessary day-to-day tasks. In people with ADHD, executive functioning does not work the same way, causing problems with their ability to perform regular tasks.

ADHD paralysis may happen for many reasons, but there are a few key factors that commonly cause it. Most of the time, people experiencing ADHD paralysis feel overwhelmed, and, as their executive function doesn’t work how it should, small and menial tasks become difficult.

What does ADHD paralysis feel like?

Experiencing ADHD paralysis feels like the brain has stopped working and cannot function on any given task. It can interfere with a person’s professional and personal life, stopping them from being able to carry out tasks that others may find easy.

ADHD paralysis is sometimes referred to as “overwhelm” or “freeze.” For people with ADHD, this paralysis can feel like a total shutdown. It is related to the fight-or-flight response, as freezing is a biological response to fear. The overwhelming nature of the tasks can feel so difficult that the brain essentially just freezes.

ADHD Paralysis Symptoms

There are a few different kinds of ADHD paralysis, so symptoms may differ. Symptoms of ADHD paralysis may include the following:

  • Lack of mental clarity sometimes referred to as brain fog
  • Mental or physical exhaustion
  • Brain “freezes” (which is limited functionally caused by executive dysfunction)
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Poor time management
  • An inability to sense time passing
  • Easily distracted
  • Rapid changes in mood and emotions
  • Inability to make decisions

Is ADHD paralysis the same as procrastination?

ADHD paralysis and procrastination are two different things. Many people assume that people with ADHD are natural procrastinators and use their condition as an excuse, but ADHD paralysis is not the same thing as procrastination, and this stereotype is damaging.

Procrastination is when someone purposely ignores their responsibility and delays until the last minute. They may choose to do other menial tasks first to avoid doing something that needs to be done. It is self-destructive behavior.

ADHD paralysis, on the other hand, cannot be controlled. It comes from an inability to function due to a sense of overwhelming fear and executive dysfunction.

Treating ADHD paralysis is about learning to manage ADHD symptoms. Being able to regulate the aspects of the situation that you find overwhelming (stressors) will help you to manage symptoms of ADHD paralysis.

Types of ADHD Paralysis

There are a few different kinds of ADHD paralysis. These are as follows:

  • Mental paralysis refers to when the brain shuts down. It may become foggy, and you cannot tolerate any more stimulation.
  • Task paralysis refers to the inability to start or complete tasks. It can lead to repeating already completed tasks or zoning out. A person experiencing this kind of paralysis can spend hours on a simple job.
  • Choice paralysis is the type of paralysis sometimes referred to as analysis paralysis. It is caused by overthinking and leads to someone with ADHD failing to make a decision. Analysis paralysis commonly occurs when someone with ADHD feels like they have too many options.

Taking Control: 5 Ways to Break Out of ADHD Paralysis

If you’re looking for ways to avoid ADHD paralysis or to break out of it once it has started, we’ve summarized our top tips below.

#1 Break tasks down

Breaking down your tasks is a really easy way to break out of ADHD paralysis. Taking the time to break each step down can help you to see each task as a separate thing on your to-do list. Doing this makes decision-making easier, making each task seem smaller and more manageable.

Creating a to-do list of smaller tasks can help you to overcome the fear and overwhelming nature of one big task, which can help you to stop ADHD analysis paralysis.

#2 Do not try to be the best

Perfection shouldn’t be the aim, as you can become focused on the little details rather than the whole picture. Aiming for absolute perfection at every turn can lead to feeling overwhelmed, which can, in turn, trigger ADHD paralysis.

Rather than aiming for perfection, you should instead aim for completion. This means that you switch your values from getting everything absolutely perfect to getting things completed. By doing this, you give yourself a chance to complete the task without getting hung up on every minor detail.

Making this switch will also help you not to try to take on too much. As many people with ADHD are assumed to be “lazy,” there can be a tendency for people with the condition to take on more than they can handle to prove this stereotype wrong. It is important to disregard this stereotype and remember that you are not lazy.

#3 Reward yourself

Rewarding yourself is an incredibly important part of overcoming ADHD paralysis. Scheduling rewards at regular intervals will help keep you motivated and on task, and having motivation is key to overcoming ADHD paralysis.

Part of rewarding yourself is about giving yourself a focus. If you spend lots of time thinking of the things you haven’t yet achieved, then you will become stressed and anxious. If you have small rewards set up already, then you will feel a sense of accomplishment at each milestone, keeping you on track.

Try to avoid rewarding yourself with food or drinks, as it might become a problem later. What is more, caffeinated beverages, for example, might have a negative impact on those with ADHD.

#4 Take notes of your accomplishments

On the topic of accomplishments, it is important that you make a note of them to remind yourself of what you can achieve. By consistently reminding yourself of what you can achieve, you will be more motivated to get things done because you know that you can.

There are a few ways that you can note down your accomplishments, including journaling using a mental health app.

#5 Talk with a therapist

One of the main reasons for ADHD paralysis is that executive function does not work in the same way for people with ADHD. Treatment for ADHD often includes speaking with a therapist, and this can really help to tackle issues with executive functions.

Speaking with someone about your condition can help you to see that a million tasks you have to do are actually manageable. They can help you break things down and refocus your energy on completing small tasks rather than being overwhelmed by everything at once.

A licensed therapist can help you implement coping strategies and ensure that you overcome ADHD paralysis.

A Word From a Psychologist

ADHD paralysis happens due to executive dysfunction. Unlike people who do not have ADHD, people with the condition do not have proper executive functioning, meaning that they become overwhelmed more easily. ADHD paralysis feels like you have a million tasks to complete, which essentially results in your brain freezing.

The symptoms of ADHD paralysis can differ depending on the kind you have, but the feeling is triggered by the body’s fear response. The fight-or-flight response can cause people to freeze if they feel fear, too, which is what happens when you get ADHD paralysis.

As paralysis is caused by fear and feeling overwhelmed by what you need to do, the main way you overcome it is by making the tasks in front of you less scary. This means breaking them down, rewarding yourself for small victories, and reminding yourself of all you have achieved before to motivate yourself.

You could also consider downloading a mental health app to give you a space to journal triggers and note down accomplishments.


ADHD paralysis is a common occurrence for people with the condition. It can feel like the brain has frozen or is stuck and may have a significant impact on a person’s professional and personal life. There are many ways to overcome the feeling and get back on track.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: July 26, 2023
6 min read 1212 Views 0 Comments

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