ADHD Paralysis: Why You May ‘‘Freeze’’ and How to Manage It

Medically Reviewed By Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
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You may feel overwhelmed and unable to take action if you have too much to do. However, creating a coping plan may help you manage ADHD paralysis. People often associate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with high energy and action. However, the condition can sometimes make a person unable to take action.

“ADHD paralysis” or “ADHD freeze” describe feeling overwhelmed and unable to focus on the tasks triggering the overwhelm.

Keep reading to learn more about this common experience for people with ADHD. This article also discusses the types of ADHD paralysis and their causes. Finally, tips for how to manage this paralysis are detailed.

What is ADHD paralysis?

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ADHD paralysis is a shared experience for people with ADHD. It’s not a diagnosis but describes a common experience surrounding the disorder. ADHD paralysis occurs when having an excess of something triggers a freezing response. For example, having too much information to process, choices to make, or things to do can influence this feeling. 

Anyone can feel overwhelmed and unmotivated in these conditions, so experiencing this phenomenon occasionally does not mean you have ADHD. 

Researchers have studied how motivation deficits impact people with the condition. For example, a 2020 study indicates that students with ADHD have less academic motivation than students without the condition.

What are the types of ADHD paralysis?

The three types of ADHD paralysis are mental paralysis, task paralysis, and choice paralysis. 

Task paralysis

Task paralysis is feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating on a long to-do list. People experiencing task paralysis often spend too much time deciding on what task to accomplish first. This often stems from not knowing what to prioritize and causes them to avoid taking action altogether. 

Mental paralysis

People experiencing mental paralysis have difficulty processing a lot of information, emotions, or thoughts at once. People experiencing mental paralysis may feel unable to explain how they feel in a moment. Mental paralysis can also make you feel overwhelmed when presented with a lot of new information at once and unable to retain some of it. 

Choice paralysis

This type of paralysis may occur when you have too many options or if you must make an important decision. You may spend a lot of time thinking about all the potential outcomes of each choice, which prevents you from actually making a choice. 

What are the symptoms of ADHD paralysis?

Some hallmark symptoms of ADHD paralysis include: 

  • avoiding looming tasks that feel mundane
  • not knowing where to begin when starting a big project
  • feeling overwhelmed when making everyday choices, like decisions on what to eat or wear
  • overanalyzing potential decisions
  • the general feeling of being unable to speak or take action
  • feeling unable to process emotions after a difficult experience
  • becoming overstimulated when too many things are happening at once

What causes ADHD paralysis? 

“Executive functioning” is the self-regulating skills for planning, focusing on tasks, and achieving goals. According to the Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (CHADD), some experts believe that the inability to self-regulate causes the symptoms people with ADHD experience, like ADHD paralysis. 

Self-regulating executive functions include: 

  • being able to prioritize, organize, and begin tasks 
  • the ability to stay focused on one task or shift between tasks
  • controlling your alertness and information processing seed
  • managing and processing your emotions
  • being able to recall past information
  • regulating your actions

Research also indicates that executive functioning is more of a challenge for people with ADHD. As such, they have a harder time focusing on these skills. This means the inability to focus on decision making and prioritizing tasks sometimes leads to freezing. 

What are some tips for managing ADHD paralysis?

If you are frequently experiencing symptoms of ADHD paralysis that interfere with your daily life, a licensed professional can help you form a coping plan. Here are some steps you can also take to manage the symptoms of ADHD paralysis yourself.  

Limit your daily choices

  • Consider eating similar meals for breakfast and lunch daily and focus on getting a variety of foods into your diet at dinner time. 
  • Reduce the amount of clothing in your wardrobe, so you have a smaller selection.
  • Follow a similar routine each day. Doing so will prevent you from constantly deciding on your current task. 

Divide projects into small tasks

  • Use pen and paper to list every task you need to complete to accomplish an overarching goal. Assign days and times to complete each task and delegate as needed. 
  • Use time blocking to complete your workday. This involves planning out what task you will be working on for every hour of the day. 

Use tools to process hard emotions

  • Start journaling about how you feel. 
  • Engage in talk therapy with a licensed professional. 
  • Take your ADHD medications and other mental health medications as prescribed.

Learn more about ADHD treatments.

Other frequently asked questions

These are a few other common questions about ADHD. Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D, M.S.N, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, C.H.T, has reviewed the answers.

What is ADHD time blindness?

ADHD time blindness refers to being unable to process the concept of time or losing track of time. This impacts your ability to plan for how long a task will take. 

What does ADHD burnout feel like?

ADHD burnout is similar to ADHD paralysis. It causes you to feel tired, unmotivated, and unable to concentrate. It may occur after you have taken on too many responsibilities. 

What is ADHD shutdown?

ADHD shutdown is another term for ADHD paralysis or ADHD freeze. It refers to the inability to take action when you are feeling overwhelmed. 

Summary

ADHD paralysis describes a common experience for people with ADHD. People with ADHD paralysis feel unable to take action when processing their emotions, starting a project, or making a decision. Forming awareness and using coping skills may help you start managing ADHD paralysis. 

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Elosúa, M. R., et al. (2017). Differences in executive functioning in children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476919/
  2. Executive function skills. (n.d.). https://chadd.org/about-adhd/executive-function-skills/
  3. Smith, Z. R., et al. (2020). Academic motivation deficits in adolescents with ADHD and associations with academic functioning. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED602569