ADHD Paralysis: Scientific Explanation on Memes

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 21, 2024

hat is ADHD paralysis, anyway? A new, superior form of our favorite condition? 

Not really! ADHD paralysis is not a separate diagnosis but a sensation, a V I B E that we frequently experience when faced with…things.

But what things, exactly? Vsauce music intensifies.

Fret not! That’s precisely what we are going to cover in this article today. 

Today, we will discuss all these things:

  • What is ADHD paralysis? 
  • Different types of paralysis
  • Causes and symptoms 
  • Is it paralysis, depression, or something else?
  • How do we prevent/combat it?

So strap in, and let’s get crankin’. There’s gonna be a quiz at the end, so you better take notes.

(✿ ͡◕ ᴗ◕)つ━━✫・*。

[Definition]ADHD paralysis definition (the fun way)

Do you know that feeling? Yeah, that one. When your mind races through infinite thoughts per second, you feel overwhelmed with chores, tasks, and things you need to do, but you don’t want to do them, but you also want to do them.

Still, you realize you were just staring at your phone for 2 hours, and then more time passes. With each minute, those tasks feel even more overwhelming, so you feel even more pressure. Still, also this pressure makes you want to do them even less than before, so you just asdhgjsajdglhsldgsdg…

But to others, you just look like this 😐📱?

Yeah, that’s the one you know, but maybe you didn’t have a proper 🤓 term to describe it. 

So now that we’ve locked in on our target, let’s take a closer look at its specifics and causes.

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[Symptoms]ADHD Paralysis Symptoms

Just like ADHD burnout that we’ve discussed, paralysis is not a new diagnosis by itself. 

So, the symptoms will look the same as your good ol’ ADHD, only ramped up to eleven. 

These include 

  • Exhaustion, both of body and mind. Where all the thoughts overwhelm you to the point that you feel drained
  • Mood swings as we ping-pong between apathy, feelings of guilt, and anger at ourselves
  • Time paralysis or “Time blindness” 6 is kinda like meditation but in reverse…and worse. As we try to shuffle through the mess of thoughts in our heads, we become oblivious to the hours ticking…and that’s how we end up watching reels for 2 hours when it felt like 2 minutes.
  • Social isolation because ever tried explaining that “no, I’m not lazy, I’m just…” to others? It rarely goes well, unfortunately.

Yep, if you feel like these are just ADHD symptoms, it’s because they are. Still, this particular state of mind makes these specific ones much more prominent, while others take a backseat. 

[Types of ADHD paralysis]Types of ADHD paralysis or when it occurs

So if we already know that it’s more of an immediate state of being rather than something persistent, we can probably figure out what particular scenarios can make us freeze. 

And, just like symptoms, these might not map to what you’re feeling 100%, but these should give you a general idea. 

ADHD task paralysis: tasks, oh so many tasks!

So imagine you wake up in the morning and think a simple thing: “I need to clean today,”

But then it unfurls into 

  1. Oh, right, I’ll just do the dishes
  2. Wait, but there’s also laundry?
  3. AND the floors are dirty?
  5. Okay, I’ll take it one step at a time and do the dishes first…
  6. Oh hey, wait, this dish sponge is old. How often should I swap those? Let me just google it real quick.
  7. 30 minutes later
  8. So that’s how Carthaginians won that battle…wait where I was? 

Note: for best results, repeat steps 1-8 ad infinitum while ramping up feelings of guilt and anxiety with each cycle. 🤗 ✨

Unfortunately, ADHD brains aren’t keen on things they don’t want to do 5, which steers us from adulting. 

But here’s the rub! ADHD isn’t the captain but a nasty co-pilot, so your other half understands that you need to do these things. But yes…no? Maybe? 

So, as this internal battle of wits unfurls, what ends up happening is that you don’t get anything done. Still, you also cannot enjoy just chilling and vibing because you feel guilty about not doing things

You end up doing nothing to distract yourself from the fact that you’re doing nothing that you used to distract yourself from doing everything…or something like that; I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. 

ADHD decision paralysis: too many choices lead to analysis paralysis

Okay, let’s say you somehow conquered the chores, and now you have a license to have fun, and all you need to do is to pick a fun activity. Sounds simple?

No! 😀

Let’s say you want to watch a movie. But there are so many options! We obviously need to maximize the footage-to-fun ratio here by choosing the optimal kino. So we’ll dive deep into reviews for each candidate (but we also need to take social media takes into account, so let’s also explore that). Then we will also need to check out trailers and then…and then…

We still cannot decide. Because what if we make a wrong decision and regret it? 4 And, after spending an hour looking at trailers and hot takes, your eyes are kinda tired, and you don’t really want to watch anything.

You just spent 4 hours deciding which 90-minute movie to watch. 

While there are plenty of other more niche examples I can scribble down, you get the gist by now. The paralysis, regardless of the specific circumstances, happens when there’s so much to do and consider that we end up doing nothing or falling back into the comfort routines where the uncertainty doesn’t exist

In other words, we’re back to binging Office. 😎

[Causes]Why, WHY does ADHD paralysis happen? 

Okay, get ready for some scientific mambo-jambo, which I cannot avoid here. 

Introducing delay aversion. Wot’s that? 

Delay aversion means that ADHDers are…well…averse to activities that don’t have immediate gratification, with a delay between doing something and receiving the good chemicals. 

That’s why those reels, and social media in general, are so alluring. Each video is a 15-second burst of something fun and exciting, so even fully-fledged movies can’t compete with that! Let alone chores

Okay, but why? 

Well, there are a few theories explaining delay aversion.

The first one has to do with dopamine deficit. This theory suggests that people with ADHD have lower dopamine levels on average 1, so they need a bigger or more frequent hit to feel as much gratification as others. 

This sounds like a sound theory. However, it may not fully explain paralysis thoroughly. Because paralysis isn’t pleasant after all. It’s more like a vicious loop where we don’t even get those dopiminis. 

But science isn’t letting us down here, either, as it also suggests that ADHD makes people have reduced prefrontal cortex activity 2.  And that cortex thing is the one responsible for impulse control. So, with more impulse-driven behavior, it explains why ADHDers are oh so eager to hop from one thing to another, as we may find it difficult to stop and think for a moment. 

It may sound confusing for some as it is easy to think: “Well, if that’s what ADHD is, then why don’t we just do all impulsive stuff all the time without feeling bad?”

As I’ve mentioned, ADHD is not you but a part of you

Just like with depression or anxiety, knowing that you have weird brain chemistry that makes you act in a particular way doesn’t mean you always know or can stop that behavior. 

And when these opposites clash, we get guilty, anxious, and upset when we struggle to do things that we want to do and those that we should do.

Brains are kinda weird things, aren’t they? 

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[ADHD paralysis vs. depression]ADHD paralysis vs. depression: is it one or the other? 

A-a-and since we have touched on this topic, let’s address a few other behaviors that may feel like paralysis but are their things. 

First of all, procrastination. Yes, people with ADHD probably know this fella on a first-name basis, but does that mean that all procrastination = ADHD paralysis? 

Short answer: no. 

The long answer is that it’s fine and not a concerning sign if you feel like doing nothing sometimes. ADHD or not, chores aren’t really fun, you know.

But it’s one thing if you’re delaying it by a few hours without a care in the world, and another when you feel like you need to do it but can’t, and then you feel bad about it. 

As for depression, the difference is that you don’t want to do anything. With ADHD, even if you ditch the not-fun things, you do so because you are doing a fun thing (even if you feel bad and guilty about it). With depression, however, it’s like nothing matters whatsoever. 

Of course, if you feel you may have depression or some other diagnosis, don’t take these words as gospel. This is just a fun little blog for a fun little app, so it cannot be a substitute for a proper diagnosis by a professional. 

[Strategies]How to overcome ADHD paralysis? 

Let’s get down to business to defeat… ADHD Paralysis

Right now that we know a lot about it, let’s discuss how to get out of ADHD paralysis. 

1. Make a plan and stick to it

Our mind is an endless labyrinth of chaotic thoughts and firing synapses which is why we have invented paper and pencils, a move that ancient Greeks thought was certainly not cool.

But we aren’t them, so use the magic of writing to organize yourself and create a plan. Once you do, you no longer have to contend with chaos in your head and can just look at the to-do list and deal with tasks one by one. 

Granularity is key here. The further you can break down tasks into smaller segments, the faster you will be striking each one as done, and hey, what is a done task if not a mini dopamine hit? 

2. Create a routine

Remember how I’ve said that we retreat to our comfort zone when faced with paralysis because there is no pressure to make choices there? 

Do that but with chores! 

Slowly incorporating small adulting tasks into your routine will soon become second nature and something you do without thinking. 

You can start with something small, like picking up dirty mugs or wrappers each time you go to the bathroom or grabbing a glass of water. Once that’s locked in, you can scale up by doing the same thing with dirty laundry. 

3. Take breaks

So you want to do happy things, but there are sad things along the way. What if I told you that you can both? Dun-dun-dun!

You can get the best of both worlds by setting up small windows of relaxation in-between mundane chores.

The important thing here is not to forget that you were doing chores as you take your break. 

The good ol’ Pomodoro technique will do wonders here, creating a clear separation between the two periods. 

4. Just do it

It sounds simple…but it also isn’t. 

The basic principle here is that the less time you spend preparing for a task, the fewer opportunities for overthinking you will have, and by the time you realize that you are doing things, you can be halfway done!

Of course, theory and practice are different things, so it’s not like you can rewire your behavior overnight. We’re trying to nurture the ability to be in the moment, in the now-now, rather than letting your mind wander into an escapade of endless possibilities. 

In other words, we’re talking about mindfulness. And John Science seems to agree with us here, as data suggest that mindfulness-based interventions positively impact ADHD symptoms. 3

The most traditional and straightforward way of practicing mindfulness is by using guided meditation, where you close your eyes, focus on the present moment, and breathe rather than think all the thoughts simultaneously. 

5. Seek support and encouragement from like-minded folks

Articles are nice and give you a general idea, a primer of things to do and look out for. But we can’t account for everyone’s symptoms and peculiarities unless discussing a specific case study. Otherwise, these things would be like 10,000 words long, and who wants to read that? 🧐

Some of the best advice on coping and treating symptoms come from people going through the same thing, who won’t judge you or think that your concerns are absurd or inconsequential.

And that’s why Numo exists so that we can be stronger together. Almost like Avengers, but less spandex…well, maybe the same amount of spandex, you do you. 💃

So, what’s in store? 

  • Learn and develop new coping skills through short stories and hand-picked hacks 🔥
  • A to-do list to rule them all with points to gain and quests to complete. 
  • Squads and tribes to connect with like-minded people to share your struggles, victories, ✨ memes ✨ …or anything really.

It’s a one-way stop for all your ADHD and ADHD-related needs; all the cool cats are already there. 🐈🐈🐈🐈🐈 

[Summing up]Summing it up

Is ADHD paralysis real, like at all? Yes.

Let’s sum up what we have learned today.

So, what have we learned today? 

  • ADHD paralysis happens when our minds become so overwhelmed with thoughts that we freeze. Torn between an overwhelming list of things to do, we shut down and don’t do anything at all.
  • It amplifies certain ADHD symptoms, mainly time blindness, exhaustion, mood swings, and social isolation.
  • Two main causes of ADHD paralysis are the inability to choose between multiple (analysis paralysis) and the overwhelming number of tasks and chores that we don’t want to do but know that we should
  • Science explains ADHD paralysis through multiple theories related to delay aversion. 

The first theory suggests that people with ADHD need more dopamine more frequently, which causes friction when the activity doesn’t give you immediate gratification

ADHD people tend to have reduced impulse control which makes us bounce between all the things while doing none of the things

  • While it shares symptoms with depression and simple procrastination, ADHD paralysis is neither. Depressed people do nothing out of lack of interest and desire, while ADHD paralysis freezes us up as we struggle to lock in one thing we want to do. 

That’s a lot of things! And, probably, some that you have known already. But the important thing to remember is that knowing is half the battle. So, the more you know about the problem, to its tiniest little detail, the better equipped you are to recognize, prepare, and combat these tendencies. 

Whether through mindfulness techniques, planning, or finding support among fellow ADHDers, the important thing is to stick to your method. 

The results might not be perfect and not always be there, but hey, 1% is always bigger than 0, you feel me? And that’s the last piece of advice for today: you don’t have to be perfect; you just need to be better than you were yesterday

P.S. I lied about the quiz. I’m sorry (I am not).


1 Evaluating Dopamine Reward Pathway in ADHD

2 Reduced Prefrontal Cortex Activation in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder during Go/No-Go Task: A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study

3 Behavioral and Cognitive Impacts of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review

4 Frontostriatal Dysfunction During Decision Making in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

5 Understanding Attentional Functioning in Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder—Could This Improve Diagnostic Specificity?

6 Clinical Implications of the Perception of Time in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Review

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