Feeling overwhelmed is very common for someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Overwhelm often happens when someone has too many tasks to do. This results in sensory overload and creates feelings of being unable to cope or do anything. ADHD overwhelm can be managed by learning to identify your triggers and the situations that may cause this sensation. We have listed a few strategies below that you can apply to avoid overwhelm, or at least greatly lessen the severity.
What Causes ADHD Overwhelm?
Many ADHD adults struggle with emotional dysregulation and sensitivity issues. This means that an ADHD brain doesn’t feel something just a bit, but instead feels flooded and this can create a state of emotional overwhelm. Life can feel very intense for someone with ADHD; your mind can easily become full of too many thoughts and ideas. The effect of this overstimulation can make someone feel incredibly overwhelmed.
In ADHD children, overwhelm can lead to meltdowns or a fight, flight or freeze response. Similarly, in adults overwhelm may lead to a flood of strong emotions that are released in different ways, for example, anger or crying. ADHD overwhelm paralysis or ‘shutdown’ is also a common reaction. This is where someone might struggle to speak or move until they can process their emotions; there is so much happening inside your head that you can’t do anything and internally you freeze.
There are many different situations that could possibly lead to overwhelm for someone with ADHD. A few examples are:
This can happen if you work in a fast-paced or busy environment where you have multiple tasks to do and people keep asking you to do more.
Cooking A Meal
This may not sound like an overwhelming task but when you have to cook for multiple people, with different demands, late in the day or when you’re tired, it can easily trigger feelings of overwhelm.
Organising An Event
Event organisation e.g. for a party can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to organise different details at the same time and trying to keep everyone involved happy.
Checking Your Email Inbox
Organising finances can be a difficult executive functioning task and feel overwhelming for an ADHD adult.
Successful shopping requires working memory, sustained attention and prioritisation. It’s easy to get shopping ‘wrong’ if you struggle with these skills and this can be both frustrating and overwhelming.
Strategies For Managing ADHD Overwhelm
These tips are to support you in managing and reducing sensory overload that leads to feelings of overwhelm. As there are many different situations that lead to overwhelm, not all of these strategies will be applicable but hopefully, they will provide you with some helpful ideas.
Identify your physical responses to overwhelm. You might want to track episodes of overwhelm in a journal to identify any patterns or triggers. The following questions will help you to do this.
Do you have any physical reactions such as a racing heart, crying or a tight chest?
Do you become more easily overwhelmed at certain times of the day or when you’re tired, hungry, or thirsty?
Can you identify any feelings that build up shortly before you feel overwhelmed?
You don’t have to get through this on your own. Practice self-advocacy by learning to speak up about your needs, whether this means talking to your colleagues, your friends or your family members. Explain as clearly as you can what happens when you become overwhelmed. This way other people can understand and where possible, make accommodations for you.
Organisation is not always easy when you have ADHD. However, if you are able to organise yourself in situations that may cause overwhelm this can really help you to feel empowered, confident and in charge of the situation. The following ideas to improve organisation might help:
- Prioritise one thing at a time and do just that task.
- Write a short list of what you need to do to keep yourself focused.
- Do not shift too quickly between different tasks. It might help you to group together similar tasks and complete them in one batch before moving on to something completely different.
- Do not attempt to multitask. It is not ADHD-friendly and may well lead to overwhelm.
Remember that when you are stressed, you will feel everything more intensely and are more likely to feel overwhelmed. There are different triggers of stress with some being more difficult to manage than others. Consider if there is anything you can do to reduce your stress levels. Regular exercise and spending time outdoors in nature are both proven ways of reducing stress levels, as well as directly helping to manage the core symptoms of ADHD itself. This can be as simple as taking a short walk in the park.
If you are feeling overwhelmed due to the number of tasks you have to do, then stopping might not seem like an ideal solution. However, giving yourself the chance to stop, breathe and think is exactly what you need to do. Take a few deep breaths and when you’re ready, choose just one thing to focus on. You may find it helpful to listen to some relaxing or deep-focus music for a few minutes while you regain your composure.
Practising Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for ADHD symptoms. Mindfulness allows the mind to return to the present moment and helps you to refocus. At the ADHD Centre, we have a short six-part mindfulness course. You can access the first lesson for free here.
Seek Professional Help
If you are regularly overwhelmed to the point that it is interfering with your regular life, it’s important to get support from your GP or another healthcare provider.
At The ADHD Centre, our team of consultant psychiatrists, behavioural coaches and therapists are highly experienced in treating ADHD and symptoms of overwhelm. If you’d like to learn more about our ADHD assessments, evidence-based treatments or ADHD coaching, please contact us on 0800 061 4276 or by email at email@example.com