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  • Aviva Nirenberg

Overwhelm: The Invisible ADHD Symptom and What to Do about It.


Do you feel swamped, frenzied, drowning under a tsunami of to dos? You’re not alone if you feel overwhelmed. In fact, nobody has cornered the market on overwhelm, but those with ADHD feel overwhelm more frequently and more strongly than their neurotypical peers. Why are ADHD brains more prone to overwhelm? Folks with ADHD are challenged by planning, prioritizing, time-management and sustaining focus. If we add the ADHD propensity to feel emotions with extra intensity into this brew and you have the perfectly toxic recipe for overwhelm. However, there is an antidote!


First, if you’re currently in a state of overwhelm, pause and pay attention to what you’re feeling in your body. Alternatively, think back to the last time you felt overwhelmed and recall how it felt physically. Where do you feel it in your body? Some typical signals are queasy stomach, a pounding headache, an aching back, fuzzy thinking, fear and a strong desire to run and hide under the safety of your blanket. What are your body’s personal red flags? When you’re in tune with your body’s distress signals, you can stop overwhelm in its tracks before it paralyzes you.



Then, take a break. Yes, you heard me correctly. Take a Break. I know you want to argue with me on this one and I completely understand that it seems counter intuitive but it’s critical. Please, let me explain. When we become overwhelmed, the emotional part of our brain, the amygdala hijacks our logical, thinking brain, otherwise known as the Prefrontal Cortex or PFC. So, unless we can redeem our captive PFC, chances of productivity or making informed decisions are slim. So, breath slowly and deeply, allowing the oxygen to flow and naturally calm your body and brain. Then, choose an activity to help you relax. Here are some examples: read an engrossing book, take a walk, exercise, enjoy a bubble bath, listen to music, get outside in nature, whether for a few minutes or longer, your choice.

After, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to reset and recover, do a brain dump. Take everything you have ricocheting around your brain and let them go. Capture them either on paper or electronically, whichever you prefer. By removing them from your head alone will lower your stress level. The next step is to prioritize with the Four Ds method. The four Ds or Delete, Delay, Delegate, an Do. Look at your list.

  1. Delete any task that’s unimportant or unnecessary. Be ruthless, I’m promise the results are worth it. Hopefully your list has been reduced at least somewhat in size as has your anxiety.

  2. Are there any items in your list that someone else can do or can do with me? – a family member, coworker, friend, or professional? If so, delegate those.

  3. Delay any task that isn’t currently time sensitive. Set a reminder for yourself to revisit those later.

  4. Finally, Do the remaining items on your list. For each of those remaining priorities, break them down into smaller manageable steps and get started.

Another vital weapon to add to your arsenal to beat ADHD overwhelm and actually ADHD management in general, is what I refer to as the "Big Three" - diet, exercise, and sleep. If each of these three components are in a healthy place in your life, they'll serve as the best preventative medicine against overwhelm striking in the first