One side effect of this wonky working memory is a tendency toward “counterproductive excessive thinking” — revisiting the same ideas over and over again. If this happens for you, you know it may occur at the most inconvenient times. And make it difficult to focus and attend to what is most important to you.
This overthinking could be about:
- emotionally charged thoughts, such as personal or professional relationship issues.
- a mission-critical work project.
- a more mundane task, such as the need to plan a vacation.
Whatever the thoughts are you may find yourself in an endless loop, unable to turn it off. Does this ever happen to you?
ADHD and Counterproductive Thinking
Just to clarify, I’m not referring to the type of overthinking that may come with OCD or anxiety, common comorbid conditions for adults with ADHD.
I am referring to what Dr. Charles Parker calls unmanageable cognitive abundance associated with ADHD. These are situations where you are stuck in thinking to the degree you are unable to focus and attend to your intentions.
Dr. Parker notes this “…can result directly from problems with working memory — the prefrontal cortex becomes relatively frozen in time.” This stuck thinking, according to Dr. Parker, can present itself in one of three ways:
- Frozen Thinking Without Worry: In these instances, you worry too much about the little stuff. Ultimately becoming exhausted. In addition to the overthinking, you may try to micromanage in an effort to minimize the thinking.
- Frozen Thinking with Indecision and Worry: If this is true for you, you may get stuck, unable to make decisions.
- Frozen Thinking with the Feeling of Anxiety: This starts by thinking too much. And then it becomes indecision or worry you can feel in your body.
Do any of the above sound familiar to you?
Whether or not you choose to use medication to manage this overthinking, you can also use the strategies below
Why Do You Want to Manage Your Overthinking?
The most obvious reason you want to stop the endless loop of thoughts is to reduce the anxiety, right? But there are a few other good reasons you might want to work on this.
You may want to manage your ruminating so you can make room for more creative thinking. Think about a recent time when you kept thinking endlessly about a particularly problematic relationship issue, for example. I bet this thinking crowded out other work you could be doing?
In addition, if you are worried about something, it would be more helpful if you engage in solution-focused thinking, of course. But typically ruminating does not lend itself to this type of thinking, as it is just an endless loop.
Also, you eventually want to take action. But, if you are caught up in this type of frozen thinking, you may not act. Because, well, you are just thinking…
I’m sure there are other reasons you may want to use the solutions below to manage your overthinking.
Using a calendar to visualize your time
Not having a clear sense of how you are going to use your time can contribute to overthinking. As you might wonder:
- “When am I going to do…?”
- “When is that meeting, party, Dr.’s appointment, etc.?”
- “When do I need to have XYZ done?”
If you try to keep this information in your head, these questions will keep popping up. But capturing and mapping out your time on a calendar can help to short-circuit this loop. Because when you are confident you can access this information, you won’t try to keep this information in your head.
And, as you learn to schedule realistically, you can minimize the overthinking associated with wondering, “How will I get this all done!?” Then you will also feel more in control of your time.
Using a task manager to see your task
Another endless loop that may be playing in your head is your list of to do’s. It may sound something like:
- “I can’t forget…”
- “Oh, right, Terry asked me to…”
- “I need to…”
And these thoughts keep playing in your head like a popcorn maker, right? But, when you stop trying to remember your task and use a task manager instead, you can stop this loop. Because, whatever type of task manager you decide to use, you will be confident you will not forget your tasks.
Just a side note. If your tasks are related to a project, you might want to start by brainstorming using a mind map.
Journaling to work through your thoughts and feelings
In addition to tempering the cacophony of thoughts in your head, journaling can also offer many other benefits. Some of which are noted below.
As Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal, notes, stress often comes from emotional blockages and overthinking hypotheticals. He suggests that “by writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings.” And this can help to reduce your stress.
In addition, journaling can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings. Think of a recent time when your thoughts felt all jumbled up. Writing them down can help you make sense of them and get in touch with how you’re feeling.
Also, journaling can help you solve problems more effectively. You may often try to solve problems using your left brain analytic capabilities. Writing engages your right brain. And by using your right brain capabilities as you write, you can be more creative and intuitive in problem-solving.
Talking aloud to organize your thoughts
Many Adults with ADHD are external processors. That is, they do their best thinking when they can talk aloud. Whether that’s true for you or not, talking is another way to get out of your head.
By externalizing your thoughts, not only will you see some of the same benefits as you receive from journaling (see above), you may also:
- strengthen your connection with others
- receive valuable feedback, if that is what you want.
- feel heard and validated.
Yet, I know, if you’ve been told you talk too much, you may balk at this suggestion. The key is to make sure you are selective in who you choose to talk to. That is, make sure the person — partner, friend, colleague, therapist — feels safe.
Taking time and space to think deeply every week
You may suffer from Frozen Thinking because you just don’t feel in control. It can feel like you’re flitting from one activity to another at the mercy of whichever way the winds blow.
One way to feel more grounded and in control is to do more upfront thinking by engaging in a process of Weekly Review. Adopting such a process will help remind you of your priorities, intentions and best practices.
As you do this, you will become more confident you know what is on your plate and what you need to do going forward. And, when you inevitably forget, you will know to look at your task manager and your calendar to remind you.
How Are You Going to Stop ADHD Overthinking?
What sort of thoughts are running around your head right now? Whether one of the suggestions above or something else, what are you going to do to get out of your head?