Conditions

Task Freeze: Understanding ADHD Paralysis

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your to-do list that you froze and couldn’t do a single task? Or have you woken up and felt “stuck,” like you couldn’t get out of bed, let alone complete tasks in your daily life? If this sounds familiar to you, you may have experienced ADHD paralysis. “ADHD […]

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your to-do list that you froze and couldn’t do a single task? Or have you woken up and felt “stuck,” like you couldn’t get out of bed, let alone complete tasks in your daily life? If this sounds familiar to you, you may have experienced ADHD paralysis.

ADHD task paralysis is when someone with ADHD feels so overwhelmed by something they need to do it leads to avoidance. Some people may describe it as feeling frozen,” says Grow Therapy provider Julia Preamplume, LCSW.

Many people experience task paralysis from time to time. This can look like procrastination on mundane tasks, feeling too overwhelmed to complete tasks, or overthinking a decision so much that you can’t make a choice. For people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), task freeze may directly result from their ADHD symptoms, which can affect their overall functioning. 

ADHD task paralysis is when someone with ADHD feels so overwhelmed by something they need to do it leads to avoidance.

- Julia Preamplume, LCSW

ADHD paralysis can be frustrating, as it can get in the way of your daily life. It can directly impact your ability to be productive and engage in activities that are important to you. The good news is that it’s possible to work on this issue. With the right tools, skills, and support, many people overcome ADHD paralysis.

What Is ADHD Paralysis?

ADHD paralysis is a common experience for people who have ADHD. It’s when you have something you need to do, but instead of taking action, you freeze. It’s also called “ADHD shutdown.” 

People with ADHD often have difficulties with executive functioning, which is a set of skills that you use to do daily tasks and projects. Executive functioning skills include focus, time management, self-regulation, problem-solving, and more. 

Executive dysfunction can make it difficult to initiate tasks or break out of procrastination, leading to task freeze. 

Many people with ADHD may struggle to start tasks because of:

While you may freeze when it comes to difficult or tedious tasks, you may even struggle with projects you like doing or don’t consciously feel anxious about. 

People with ADHD don’t just experience task paralysis when it comes to work and house chores. Sometimes, you may have difficulty talking, thinking, or making choices because you’re overwhelmed or having difficulty thinking it through.

Types of ADHD Paralysis

ADHD shutdown can affect your daily life in a number of different ways. For many people, it can lead to task freeze, where you put off important chores and projects because you feel completely unable to start. However, it can also affect your ability to think, act, and make decisions. Here are a few common types of ADHD paralysis:

Understanding the type of ADHD paralysis you’re experiencing — whether it’s task, choice, or mental paralysis — can help you figure out your triggers and the root cause. This may make it easier for you to address and overcome your ADHD paralysis.

What Are Some Examples of ADHD Paralysis?

ADHD paralysis feels different to different people. While one person might exclusively experience task paralysis, others might experience mental paralysis. Some people experience a combination of the different types of ADHD paralysis. Below are some examples of ADHD paralysis:

It’s not always easy to recognize ADHD paralysis in the moment. At the time, you might simply feel overstimulated, exhausted, or frustrated with yourself. 

Learning to identify task paralysis can help you manage it better. When you notice yourself “freezing,” you can use coping strategies to address it directly. 

What Are the Symptoms of Task Paralysis?

Since task paralysis is not a diagnosis or a clinical term in itself, there are no official symptoms. However, anecdotally, people with ADHD seem to experience a range of symptoms relating to task freeze. Common symptoms associated with ADHD task paralysis include:

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might also experience physical symptoms of stress. This can include headaches, muscle pain, and stomach issues.

It’s important to know that ADHD paralysis isn’t a choice, and it can be very frustrating for the person who is experiencing it.

Different people have different triggers when it comes to ADHD paralysis. Some people might find coping with mundane tasks or complex projects particularly difficult. Others might find themselves putting off tasks that are easy or enjoyable. 

To outsiders, someone with ADHD may appear disorganized or lazy. It’s important to know that ADHD paralysis isn’t a choice, and it can be very frustrating for the person who is experiencing it. 

What Is the Solution for ADHD Paralysis?

Getting treatment for your ADHD might help mitigate the effects of task paralysis. Generally, treatment options for ADHD include therapy and medication. A licensed therapist specializing in ADHD can help you address your ADHD symptoms. Together, you can explore possible solutions. You don’t need an official ADHD diagnosis to make an appointment with a therapist.

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ADHD medication may also help with executive functioning, according to research. Prescription medications for ADHD work by increasing norepinephrine and dopamine levels. These neurotransmitters are involved in important executive functions.

Depending on the cause of your ADHD freeze, certain coping strategies might also help. For example, if you notice you usually avoid tasks when you feel stressed and overwhelmed, you could experiment with different stress-relief techniques and mindfulness exercises

Tips to Help You Overcome ADHD Paralysis

With the right strategy, it’s possible to overcome ADHD paralysis. By working on your executive function skills and learning to identify task paralysis, you can improve your quality of life and boost your overall productivity. While there’s no universal quick fix for ADHD freeze, the following tips might help you:

Lastly, it’s important to give yourself a break. ADHD paralysis can be frustrating. Many people with ADHD blame themselves for their executive dysfunction, which can affect their self-esteem

Don’t beat yourself up over it. Getting stuck in a spiral of self-blame and negative self-talk doesn’t help anyone. Instead, try to practice self-compassion as you find a strategy that works for you. 

Get Support

ADHD paralysis can make your day-to-day life a challenge. For people with ADHD, task paralysis and difficulties with decision-making can be a common and frustrating experience. 

Fortunately, there are many treatment options for ADHD. Therapy and medication might reduce your symptoms, which can improve your functioning. Practicing certain skills and coping methods can also help you cope with — and possibly overcome — ADHD paralysis. 

Not sure where to start with accessing ADHD treatment? You can use our search tool to find a licensed mental health professional specializing in ADHD. Through our filters, you can look for a provider that offers therapy or medication management in your area who accepts your insurance.

FAQs

  • Although anybody can experience choice paralysis occasionally, research suggests that decision-making can be particularly difficult for people with ADHD. A large meta-analysis of studies found that difficulties with decision-making are common in adults with ADHD. Interestingly, another study found that financial decision-making is often difficult for people with ADHD. This difficulty may result in “decision paralysis.” According to the meta-analysis, a number of cognitive (thinking) processes are involved in making decisions, all of which may be affected by ADHD.

  • Yes. Many people struggle with initiating or completing tasks — not just people with ADHD. You may find yourself procrastinating on mundane tasks or “freezing” the second you look at your to-do list. It’s worth noting that other mental health issues may affect your executive functioning, which could result in a kind of “task paralysis.” Aside from ADHD, executive dysfunction can be caused by: - Addiction - Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - Depression - Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) - Schizophrenia - Tourette’s syndrome Issues like traumatic brain injuries and dementia can also impact your executive functioning. However, you can experience task paralysis even if you don’t have a neurological or mental health condition. For example, you may put off tasks because you feel overloaded, exhausted, or burned out. Regardless of why you’re experiencing task paralysis, speaking with a therapist can be helpful.

  • Yes. While many people with ADHD experience “ADHD shutdown,” others don’t experience it or experience it very infrequently. It’s possible that certain treatment options — like medication and therapy — can help you overcome ADHD paralysis. Learning skills and coping techniques can also make task paralysis more manageable.

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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