Feeling overwhelmed with ADHD? Here’s your guide to finding balance

adhd overwhelmed shut down

Living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) can often feel like an uphill battle. The constant whirlwind of thoughts, the struggle to focus, and the overwhelming feeling that life is slipping through your fingers can be exhausting. But you're not alone. This article is here to offer understanding, practical tips, and a ray of hope for everyone who is struggling with overwhelm.

Understanding ADHD: You're not alone

ADHD and ADD are neurodevelopmental disorders that affect millions of people worldwide. They impact your ability to pay attention, control impulses, and regulate your behavior. It's essential to know that these conditions are real, and you are not alone in your struggles. Overwhelm is a common symptom of ADHD.

The overwhelming reality

People with ADHD/ADD often experience an overwhelming sense of being unable to keep up with the demands of daily life. This feeling can manifest in various ways, from missed deadlines at work to messy living spaces. It's okay to acknowledge that you sometimes feel overwhelmed.

ADHD overwhelmed

Overwhelm: this is what it feels like

Overwhelm is like standing in the middle of a bustling intersection during rush hour, but your internal traffic lights are all on the fritz. It's as if you're juggling a dozen spinning plates, each representing a different task or responsibility, and you can't stop any from crashing to the ground. The sensation is a complex, multisensory experience that can be challenging to put into words, but here's a glimpse of how it might feel:

  • Mental chaos: It's like having a hundred browser tabs open in your mind all at once. Thoughts, worries, and to-dos are racing through your head, colliding with one another, making it difficult to focus on any one thing.
  • Physical tension: Overwhelm often comes with a physical response. You might feel a tight knot in your chest, tension in your shoulders, or a heavy feeling in your gut, as if an invisible weight is bearing down on you.
  • Sensory overload: Everyday sensory input – lights, sounds, smells – can be overwhelming. It's as if your senses are dialed up to the max, and you're bombarded from all directions.
  • Emotional turmoil: Overwhelm often stirs up a cocktail of emotions, from frustration and anxiety to helplessness and sadness. It's like being on a roller coaster without a seatbelt.

Running around or shutting down, in a world that seems crazy

When overwhelm sets in, it's as if time plays tricks on you. The clock seems to have its own agenda, either racing ahead, making you feel like you're running out of time, or slowing down, stretching each minute into an eternity. In a seemingly quiet room, the world transforms into a noisy, crowded marketplace. External sounds become magnified, making it incredibly challenging to tune them out. Forgetfulness creeps in, causing you to misplace your keys, forget about your freshly brewed coffee, or even momentarily blank on your own name.

You feel like you're losing control

Your memory feels like a leaky bucket, unable to hold onto vital information. Paralysis takes hold, making it seem as if you're standing helplessly in the path of an oncoming freight train. The to-do list keeps growing, yet you find yourself unable to move or react. In response to this overwhelming chaos, isolation can become a refuge. You might withdraw from social interactions, seeking solitude as a means to escape the ever-mounting clamor. In the midst of this tumult, tunnel vision often sets in, making it nearly impossible to focus on anything other than the immediate crisis while neglecting all other aspects of life.

Varying ways and degrees of overwhelm

It's important to understand that overwhelm is not the same for everyone. Different people experience it in varying ways and to varying degrees. Some may feel it occasionally, while others may grapple with it daily. But regardless of how it presents itself, overwhelm is a very real and challenging experience that affects countless individuals. The good news is that by recognizing and acknowledging these feelings, it's possible to start finding strategies to cope and regain a sense of balance.

overwhelmed with adhd shut down

Shutting down when overwhelmed

In the world of ADHD/ADD, the feeling of overwhelm is a common adversary that can lead to what's often termed “shutting down.” Understanding why this happens is a crucial aspect of coping with these conditions.

Sensory overload: A flood of information

People with ADHD/ADD often have brains that process information differently. When confronted with an overwhelming amount of stimuli, the brain can struggle to filter and manage it all. This overload of sensory input can lead to a shutdown.

Hyperfocus vs. overwhelm

Interestingly, those with ADHD/ADD can sometimes hyperfocus, devoting intense attention to a single task of interest. However, when faced with multiple competing demands or complex tasks, the brain can't decide where to allocate its limited resources. This indecision can result in a shutdown.

Executive function impairment

The executive functions of the brain, responsible for tasks such as planning, organizing, and decision-making, can be impaired in individuals with ADHD/ADD. When overwhelmed, these functions may falter, making it even harder to cope with demands. So we shut down.

Emotional impact

Overwhelm is not just a cognitive experience; it's deeply emotional. The feeling of not being able to keep up or meet expectations can be discouraging, leading to frustration, anxiety, and self-doubt. This emotional burden can contribute to the urge to shut down.

The shutdown response

When faced with sensory overload, indecision, and emotional turmoil, the brain's response is often to shut down. It's like an emergency circuit breaker tripping to prevent a system overload. The shutdown may manifest as a loss of focus, inability to complete tasks, or withdrawal from social interactions.

By understanding why people with ADHD/ADD may shut down when overwhelmed, we can develop strategies to mitigate this response. Remember that shutting down doesn't define your abilities or potential. It's a challenge you can learn to manage, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

what to do when overwhelmed with adhd

What to do when overwhelmed?

One of the first steps in coping with ADHD/ADD and overwhelm, is to practice self-compassion. Understand that you have a unique brain that processes information differently. Accepting your condition is the first step towards finding balance.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I use a variation of tools techniques like mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises. I love lying on my acupressure shakti mat for 10-20 minutes, use Loop Earplugs to avoid more stimuli getting in. Also a calming supplement like Ashwagandha can help.

– José, founder of Wandering Minds

Tips for Managing Overwhelm

  • Recognize Early Signs: Learn to recognize the early signs of overwhelm, such as racing thoughts, increased anxiety, or irritability. This awareness can help you take action before a full shutdown.
  • Take Breaks: When you sense overwhelm creeping in, step away from the situation briefly. A short break can help you reset your focus.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Create a to-do list and prioritize tasks. This will help you focus on what's most important and avoid feeling swamped.
  • Break Tasks into Smaller Steps: Overwhelm often stems from looking at the big picture. Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps to make them feel less daunting.
  • Use Timers and Alarms: Set alarms or timers to help you stay on track and remind you to shift your attention when needed.

Other ways to manage overwhelm are:

  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help you regain focus and reduce anxiety.
  • Create a Routine: Establishing a daily routine can provide structure and make it easier to stay on top of your tasks.
  • Get Organized: Invest in organizational tools like planners, calendars, or digital apps to keep track of appointments and deadlines.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups for understanding and encouragement. Sharing your feelings can be therapeutic.
  • Professional Help: If your ADHD/ADD is severely impacting your life, consult a healthcare professional or therapist for guidance and treatment options.

ADHD and overwhelm: books, websites and other resources

When researching ADHD/ADD and the experience of feeling overwhelmed, it's essential to consult reliable sources. Think of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), that provides comprehensive information on ADHD and offers research-based insights into the condition, its symptoms, and coping strategies. Other great websites are ADDitude Magazine, that wrote an article on ADHD and overwhelm, as you find on Psychology Today.

If you really want to dive deep, consider reading books by respected authors in the field, such as Driven to Distraction” by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, or Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley.

Hope and future possibilities

Living with ADHD/ADD can be challenging, but it's not a life sentence to constant overwhelm. Many successful people, from entrepreneurs to artists, have harnessed their unique abilities. The key is to accept your condition, develop coping strategies, and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem.

You are strong

Remember, ADHD/ADD might make life challenging, but it doesn't define you. You are strong, resilient, and capable of achieving your goals. By understanding your condition and implementing practical strategies, you can find balance, embrace your uniqueness, and thrive in a world that may not always understand but can certainly appreciate your incredible journey.

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