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How to Manage and Reduce Feelings of Overwhelm Due to ADHD

clenched hands writingWhen people think about attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), they typically envision a person who experiences difficulty focusing and sitting still. Other related issues, however, can be even more concerning for those with ADHD. One such issue is the ease with which some people with ADHD can feel overwhelmed.

There are many explanations as to why this may occur. Some individuals with ADHD have co-occurring anxiety, which can contribute to feelings of overwhelm. However, one of the most overlooked reasons many individuals with ADHD experience overwhelm is that it is difficult for them to plan ahead.

If one has five different tasks to complete, not only may the five tasks themselves be overwhelming, but thinking about all the steps involved to complete each one may add to feelings of overwhelm. Difficulties staying focused may make it even harder to get tasks completed or to remember to do them.

What can be done? Physical and mental planning are essential to reducing feelings of overwhelm. The following are some suggestions.

Physical Planning

  1. Use a calendar to keep visual track of appointments.
  2. Use a task list to keep track of tasks that need to be completed. Some people find it helpful to organize tasks into general categories (chores, school work, bill paying, etc.). Using task-list apps can be helpful for this.
  3. Schedule time in your calendar to complete groupings of tasks or specific tasks.
  4. For larger tasks with many parts, break them down into smaller parts and list each part in your to-do list.
  5. Set deadlines for yourself or plan out days when you will complete specific items.
  6. Estimate how long items will take to complete, and factor in travel time as needed.
  7. If you need help from a parent, partner, etc., discuss your needs and find a mutually agreeable system that keeps you in control, progressing toward less need for assistance.

Mental Planning

  1. Review tasks that need to be completed over the course of the day and make sure you run through your mind when you plan to complete them (these should also be written down in your to-do list as well).
  2. If needed, put visual reminders around your living quarters, office, etc.
  3. Keep calm by reminding yourself that you’ve planned out how to complete everything and will be OK as long as you follow your plan. In the moment you can focus on the short term, because the long-term items are planned out.
  4. Think about possible distractions or pitfalls that would impede you from following your plan (playing video games, surfing the web, hanging out with friends, etc.). Write down ways you can minimize these.

Just Relax

Learning coping strategies to help you relax can also be helpful. Such strategies may include:

  1. Engage in physical activity daily. Go for a run, work out, or go for a walk.
  2. If feeling overwhelmed, engage in physical activity as a break to calm down.
  3. Listen to music, soothing sounds, or use guided visual imagery.
  4. Have fun plans scheduled for after you complete tasks (if you have to run errands, for example, set up plans for coffee with a friend afterward).

If you frequently feel overwhelmed, you don’t have to experience those feelings to the extent you currently do. Making a few simple changes in how you stay organized, plan, and carry out tasks can make a big difference. If you feel that you need professional assistance with implementing tools, learning coping strategies, etc., there are many different types of professionals who can assist you. To find one, search for a therapist in your area.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Brandon

    September 19th, 2015 at 8:47 AM

    Having things in writing and right in front of me a go a long way toward keeping me mentally focused and prepared for what is supposed to be coming up next. Never having any real surprises with my schedule works well for me.

  • Calleigh

    September 21st, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    It always helps to have a plan of attack, know how you are going to handle certain things when or if they come up. I think that it is when we are not prepared is when we have the most trouble dealing with it.

  • Lana

    September 21st, 2015 at 8:18 AM

    I had no idea that these feelings would go along with someone struggling with ADHD> you are right- I just thought that it was a matter of feeling fidgety and moving around all the time, and being hyper on top oft hat. So those things alone would be hard enough to manage but i know that then feeling so overwhelmed on top of that can be even more stressful.

  • alicia

    September 22nd, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    Now I can always come up with a fun little reward for myself!

  • Louis

    September 23rd, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    Music and dancing always work pretty well for me. I am a pretty energetic guy anyway so having this kind of outlet goes right along with my natural tendencies and personality. I actually find that if I allow myself a little more time to be active then it becomes easier for me to buckle down and concentrate on something after I have allowed myself that other time first.

  • p gillespie

    September 24th, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    Basically what works for me is to have a one step right after the next sort of listing for how my day is going to go. I don’t like to deviate form that plan too much because that makes me lost focus. But if I am taking things one step at a time and can mark them off one by one then that helps me meet my goals for the day. Plus it feels pretty good to mark each task off the list anytime I finish one.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    September 28th, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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