The ADHD Shutdown in Adults: The Real Reason You Freeze When You’re Overwhelmed

A man sits in front of a laptop while resting his head on his hand. Learn how an adult ADHD specialist in Columbus, OH can offer support in addressing overwhelm by searching for adult ADHD therapy in Columbus, OH. Learn more about adult ADHD treatment in Columbus, OH today.

When the to-do list piles up, many adult ADHDers start to power down. Big or small, complicated or straightforward, even the simplest tasks can cause an ADHD person to freeze. Sending an email or making a phone call can cause an adult ADHDer to feel paralyzed. What follows is usually negative self-talk, guilt, and anger toward oneself at not being able to do the things that seem to be so easy for other people. However, this cycle has nothing to do with an ADHDer’s personality, willpower, or character. Instead, it has more to do with dopamine and the ADHD brain itself.

The Science Behind the ADHD Shutdown

Executive Functioning

If you have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), your brain’s executive functions work differently than someone without ADHD. The brain’s executive functions include some of the following:

  • Planning
  • Working memory
  • Prioritizing tasks (and sorting them into the right order)
  • Filtering distractions
  • Organizing thoughts and ideas
  • Sustaining effort toward goals
  • Intrinsic motivation to get started on a task
  • Self-regulation

With ADHD, these functions struggle to come online consistently. For example, if an individual is not intrinsically motivated to perform a task, they may have difficulty even getting started. The struggles of executive functioning mean task management is extremely challenging if an ADHDer hasn’t found the right skills that work for them. When faced with too much to do, it can be genuinely difficult to break things down in a manageable way.

Emotional RegulationA man sits in front of an open book with a hand over his face. This could symbolize the overwhelm that an adult ADHD specialist in Columbus, OH can help you overcome. Learn more about ADHD in adults Ohio and the help adult ADHD treatment in Columbus, OH can offer.

ADHD people tend to feel emotions more deeply than others and struggle to identify and regulate those emotions. Without the ability to regulate how one feels, avoidance can feel like the best (if not only) option. Simply put, shutting down can feel like the most sensible way to stop big emotions. If a person shuts down, they never have to interact with the anxiety, guilt, or shame that is centered around the task at hand.


One result of struggling with emotional regulation is rumination. This is because the brain is having a hard time compartmentalizing feelings, so those feelings tend to reinforce prolonged thought processes. It can feel almost impossible for many ADHD people to stop reviewing the past.

Choice Paralysis

A 2008 study indicates that choice paralysis was more common for ADHD people. What is choice paralysis? It’s a person’s struggle with making a choice. Instead of making one, they’ll go over the options so many times, the clock often runs out and they don’t make any choice at all.

A man smiles while talking on the phone and gesturing with their hand. Search for an adult ADHD specialist in Columbus, OH for support with overcoming an ADHD shutdown. Learn more about adult ADHD treatment in Columbus, OH and the help an adult ADHD specialist in Ohio can offer.The Shame Cycle

If you know about the ADHD shutdown, you know about feeling upset with yourself that it’s happening in the first place. Often those around an ADHDer even notice this, as they might spend hours speaking with their partners about how they feel frustration regarding their partner’s apparent inability to get started. Over a prolonged period of time, this cycle of shame and self-doubt tends to generally erode confidence in oneself.

Start Changing the Cycle

Get the Right Diagnosis

ADHD treatment starts with ADHD testing. Many folks with ADHD haven’t been diagnosed, which can easily make getting more accurate treatments a challenge. The better a person understands ADHD, the better they understand their own ADHD shutdown.

Find Dopamine

ADHD brains are dopamine-seeking. This means that adding creativity or newness to a task can often help with motivation to get started.

It’s Not Your Fault (No…Seriously)A smiling woman types on a desktop. This could represent the benefits of working with an adult ADHD specialist in Columbus, OH and overcoming ADHD overwhelm. Search for adult ADHD therapy in Columbus, OH and the help that ADHD testing for adults in Columbus, OH can offer today.

It’s not easy, but finding a way to reduce the negative self-talk after the to-do list piles up is key to managing ADHD. Without effective tools to untangle the negativity, it’s easy to fall further down the pit of despair when tasks aren’t getting completed.

Find New Patterns

One way therapy for ADHD is helpful is to find new patterns. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that is adapted for the ADHD mind can help individuals find new ways of responding to overwhelm instead of the ADHD shutdown.

Begin Adult ADHD Treatment in Columbus, Ohio

Looking for more individualized support? You don’t have to live your life feeling like you’re frozen. ADHD-focused therapy can help you change the cycle. Our counseling practice in Columbus, Ohio has caring therapists who specialize in ADHD Treatment. To start your counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  • Fill out the contact form to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.
  • Meet with one of our caring therapists.
  • Stop feeling overwhelmed. Start finding your calm.

Other ADHD Services Offered at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling

Adult ADHD treatment is not the only service we offer at our Columbus, OH counseling practice. At Focused Mind ADHD Counseling, we offer a variety of mental health services including ADHD testing. As an adult with ADHD, we know you may also benefit from anxiety treatment for ADHD, counseling for men with ADHD, or depression counseling for ADHD. You can also view our blog for more resources and helpful info!