ADHD Overwhelm: Why It Happens & How to Control It


Life can be stressful and hectic, which is why it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed every once in a while. When your expenses are piling up too high or you have too many deadlines on your work calendar, it can put a heavy weight on your thoughts and emotions, especially if you have ADHD.

While everyone gets overwhelmed from time to time, ADHD overwhelm is a bit different. By understanding the ins and outs of this feeling, and how it stems from ADHD, you can learn the best ways to control it in your day-to-day life.

We’ll discuss the connection between ADHD and feeling overwhelmed. Then we’ll dive into the specific types of scenarios and circumstances that can lead to ADHD overwhelm as well as strategies for controlling it. 


What to know about ADHD overwhelm

While overwhelmed is an adjective, ADHD overwhelm is often used to refer to a symptom of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. For adults with the disorder, it means feeling like your brain is flooded by excessive emotions, information or stimulants that are unable to be properly sorted or prioritized. ADHD overwhelm can essentially lead to you feeling frustrated and upset with yourself, causing you to shut down completely, both mentally and emotionally.

Adults with ADHD are more sensitive to feeling overwhelmed than neurotypical adults. For those with ADHD, there is a difference or disruption of neurotransmitters in the brain that are required to carry out Executive Functions needed to handle tasks. These affected transmitters are needed to stay focused on completing one specific task or initiating a plan of action.

Without the ability to carry out the required functions to handle a situation or task, an adult can experience ADHD overwhelm, causing them to feel stuck.


Scenarios and circumstances that could lead to ADHD overwhelm

There are many different types of ADHD overwhelm that you can experience, and they can all fall under categories of scenarios or circumstances that you will likely come across at one time or another. Due to the way that ADHD impacts the Executive Functions needed for these situations, you may feel overwhelmed and unable to make progress.


Cognitive overwhelm

Cognitive overwhelm essentially means that you’re having too many thoughts at once. When you’re having an excessive number of thoughts, you can feel overwhelmed when you’re unsure about which ones are worth remembering or developing. Cognitive overwhelm can occur when you’re trying to:

  • Brainstorm ideas for a project at work
  • Educate yourself on an important topic to form an opinion
  • Weigh the options for a financial decision, such as buying a new car


Emotional overwhelm

Emotional overwhelm boils down to having too many feelings. While your feelings are always important, ADHD can cause you to feel flooded by them. When you experience intense negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, you can feel overwhelmed and go into “fight-or-flight” mode, making it difficult to rationalize the emotions. Emotional overwhelm can occur when you’re:

  • In a disagreement with a loved one
  • Anticipating an important event or change, such as a job offer
  • Feeling burnt out professionally or socially


Task overwhelm

Task overwhelm means that your to-do list is too long or intimidating. ADHD can make it difficult for you to prioritize your tasks based on importance, focus on completing one task at a time or initiate action at all. Task overwhelm can occur in several different instances, including:

  • Multiple deadlines at work
  • Cleaning every room in your home in preparation for company
  • Running errands on a time constraint


Logistic overwhelm

Logistic overwhelm means that there are too many decisions that need to be made about particular details. ADHD impacts the Executive Functions required to navigate the logistics of a decision, making it difficult to plan and organize the details, leading to feeling overwhelmed and shutting down. Logistic overwhelm can occur when you’re trying to:

  • Schedule the stops during a road trip
  • Budget for a busy month
  • Plan an event for a loved one


Overwhelm from overstimulation

Overwhelm from overstimulation means that there’s too much going on around you, or excessive sensory input. Overstimulation means that you’re having trouble processing your surroundings due to intense sounds, smells, lights and feelings. ADHD overwhelm can occur from overstimulation in situations like:

  • Loud social gatherings
  • Busy perfume or candle stores
  • Work meetings with multiple people talking at once


Free resource: ADHD Success Kit


How to control ADHD overwhelm

When you experience ADHD overwhelm, you can go into shutdown mode, making you feel stuck in place. Since it’s a common occurrence for adults with ADHD, there have been plenty of strategies shared throughout the mental health space that can help when you’re experiencing overwhelm. You can work with your mental health care provider to determine which ones will work best for you. 

Here are some ways to help control your ADHD overwhelm:

  • Give yourself space — ADHD overwhelm can often happen over a short time frame. When you’re feeling overwhelmed in the moment, step away from that moment. Give yourself space away from the confusing plans, long to-do lists and loud environments. You can give your mind a “reset,” allowing you to look at the situation with a fresh mindset.
  • Use breathing techniques — While it can seem cliche, controlling your breaths can help calm your mind and break up the tangle of thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing. Breathing techniques like belly breathing, box breathing and the 4-7-8 technique can make a difference in ADHD overwhelm.
  • Reframe your thoughts — Unhelpful negative thoughts are often at the center of ADHD overwhelm. If you’re able to identify the thinking patterns that are interfering with logic and rationality, you can adjust them. For example, catastrophizing can make you jump to the worst potential conclusions. Instead, you can ask yourself, “What’s the most likely outcome?” It can break the cycle of thoughts that are contributing to your overwhelm.
  • Practice mindfulness — Grounding yourself in the moment can reduce ADHD overwhelm by alleviating the stress that’s overtaking your body. When you can’t process your emotions and thoughts, try to focus on being present in the moment using mindfulness techniques and concentrate on what’s important. 


Beyond BookSmart can help you learn how to control ADHD overwhelm

When there are so many situations that can cause ADHD overwhelm on a day-to-day basis, it can be tempting to just accept it as a part of your life. But it’s important to identify scenarios that can trigger your ADHD overwhelm so that you can gain control over the situation and determine the most effective ways to control it.

When you experience ADHD overwhelm, it can lead to you shutting down and completely disregarding the responsibilities, situations and people connected to the scenario. But with the right tools, such as stress management techniques and coping strategies, you can gain control over your ADHD overwhelm.

Beyond BookSmart can help you control your ADHD overwhelm by improving the Executive Functions required to work through the triggering scenario. Executive Function skills are life management skills that we all need in order to be effective in planning, initiating and achieving goals at home, in school and in the workplace.

Executive Dysfunction refers to cognitive, emotional and behavioral difficulties that can interfere with every facet of someone’s life, including their academic, professional and personal lives. While Executive Dysfunction can affect everyone, it impacts up to 90% of those with ADHD. 

Executive Function skills are coachable, trainable and can be applied for success. Whether you have a learning difference, such as ADHD, an emotional challenge, such as anxiety, or you’re just struggling to reach your Executive Function potential, Beyond BookSmart services can help you see what you’re capable of.

Contact our team today for ADHD support.

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