When you are overwhelmed you may feel as though an electrical overload has short circuited your brain, and caused it to shut-down, leaving you feeling paralyzed. You can’t figure out where to focus your attention.
As you become overwhelmed your ADHD symptoms are also exacerbated. You can’t work effectively.
Then you may think you are, “…lazy, stupid or crazy.”
And there are steps you can take to counter the overwhelm.
Your Brain And Overwhelm
First, I think it helps to know a little bit about the part your brain plays in this.
In Understanding Your Brain I focused on the impaired functioning of the pre-frontal cortex where executive function skills are coordinated.
The ineffective performance of the Reticular Activating System also contributes to your ADHD symptoms, as well as leading you to feel overwhelmed.
The RAS is a complex collection of neurons where sensory information from the “outside” is passed along to the rest of the brain system to be processed and acted upon. It is the key to turning on our brain.
As information enters, it needs to be sorted and processed so that attention can be given to the most important information.
But current research suggest that in the ADHD brain there is a deficiency in the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. The result is that the RAS becomes overwhelmed and is not able to filter and process incoming information effectively.
So, the information from the outside floods your mind, and you are not able to focus your attention.
This contributes to the overwhelm that you may often feel.
Here is how it happens.
At any one moment there is so much that you could focus on, such as:
- the email notifications that keep popping up
- the phone calls you need to return
- the new computer you want to research
- the leak in the kitchen sink
- planning for the conference that is next month
- thinking about the email from your boss requesting that you see her today
- summer vacation plans…
Overwhelmed by all of these thoughts you may become unable to act, paralyzed by the seeming tsunami of options of where to focus.
Alternatively, you may jump to act just to avoid the discomfort of not being able to make a decision. But you have no plan or sense of priorities.
And it is agonizing!
What Other People See
Because of your overwhelm, you procrastinate and avoid tasks. And feel incredibly distressed because of this.
But the outside world often does not see the immense angst you are experiencing. After all, you may have reached a certain level of success because of your ability to hide how you are feeling.
What others see is that:
- you are late to meetings
- not returning calls or emails
- not completing task on time
- not focused in meetings
And it may seem as though you:
- are lazy
- don’t care
- are incompetent
You are none of these!!
Your brain has simply been hijacked.
Circuit Breaker – Reclaiming Your Brain
It may take you longer to process information because of your faulty RAS. So take your time. But you can break the cycle of overwhelm by following these steps.
Step 1 – Notice Sensations in Your Body
First, when you start to feel overwhelmed, notice the feeling in your body. It may be a tight stomach, fuzzy feeling in your head or some other sensation. This is your cue that the overwhelm cycle is beginning.
Step 2 – Breathe
Then, when you notice this feeling, stop and do some deep breathing to help you get grounded and bring you to the present.
Step 3 – Notice Negative Self- Talk
Once you have slowed down, notice your negative self-talk that arises from your beliefs. For example when you look at all of your overdue tasks you may engage in:
Black and White Thinking: You hold yourself to an impossible standard, and when you fall short you conclude, “I am a failure because I do not have everything done.”
Catastrophic Thinking: You believe the worst is going to happen, and when it does you will not be able to handle it. You might say something like, “If I don’t get this report done, I am out of a job. This will never get better… “
Overgeneralizing: You decide that because you are having a bad experience this describes your whole life and determine that, “I can never plan to get anything done.”
Personalizing: You see yourself as more responsible or involved in negative events even when they are not entirely or, perhaps, at all within your control. “My boss did not reply to my email because he is mad that I did not turn in my report.”
These examples of beliefs and resulting self talk are contributing to your overwhelm.
The good news is that you can change this.
Step 4 – Positive Self-Talk
Experiment with more positive self-talk.
“I have a lot of overdue tasks that I need to figure out how to get done. Figuring out how to get them done is a challenge for me. Maybe someone could help me figure out what to do. When I get help I’ll get better at planning. And, as for my boss, maybe he is busy and had not gotten around to replying to my email.”
Engaging in more positive self-talk will help you adopt perspectives that will make it easier for you take the steps you need to move forward.
Step 5 – Create a Plan
Once you feel more grounded the next step is to set aside time to plan. Consider this time as critical to your success as time spent on the task itself.
For strategies on how to create a plan take a look at Work With Your ADHD and Complete Your Projects.
If you adopt a habit of daily and weekly review, this process will become easier.
ADDed Perspectives Bottom Line
Becoming overwhelmed may be a result of your ADHD. It can also exacerbate your ADHD symptoms.
And it can be painful.
By taking your time and following the steps above you can become more grounded and minimize your sense of overwhelm.
Not sure if you can do this on your on? Maybe you just have a question? Feel free to contact me for a complementary Strategy Session.