Breakthrough Solutions

for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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Overwhelm is number one problem with ADD / ADHD Adults
What the results really say about ADHD roadblocks


Every few years, I survey my adult ADD / ADHD readers to ask them what their biggest challenges are in getting started.  I find it very interesting to see how the results have changed over time.

I ran my first survey in 2012.  At that time, the primary problem for ADD adults was thought to be procrastination.  But I believed more people couldn’t start because they were mentally paralyzed – unable to start – rather than simply unwilling.

It turned out I was right.  And I’ve been coaching and training people with traits of ADD / ADHD on many different kinds of mental paralysis ever since.

By 2016, the biggest buzzword was “overwhelm” rather than procrastination.  It seemed everyone claimed to be overwhelmed wherever they turned.  My “Procrastination Survey” that year showed overwhelm as the top contender for keeping people from starting things, followed by distraction issues and an inability to plan.

This month, December 2018, I ran the Can't Get Started Blues” Survey.  Respondents were asked to check all of the options they considered to be BIG PROBLEMS in getting started.  Overwhelm was still the overwhelming culprit, but problems with decisions or prioritizing gained second place.  Procrastination (“unmotivated” to start) popped up as third.  Disorganization and inability to plan shared fourth place.

Here are the full results:

What do the results mean?

In its purest sense, the word “overwhelmed” refers to someone having too much of something.  And that may be the case for many people, especially when juggling work, family, household and other obligations.

But people also use the word to describe the way they feel, rather than purely as a reflection of the reality of their lives.

Because overwhelm was cited as so significantly larger a problem than everything else, I believe many ADD / ADHD respondents felt overwhelmed as a result of a number of other challenges.

  • When they felt paralyzed at having to decide what to work on first, they felt overwhelmed.
  • When disorganization kept them from finding what they needed, or in ordering their thoughts, they felt overwhelmed.
  • When they couldn’t plan how to proceed in a project, or how to juggle multiple responsibilities, they felt overwhelmed.

In cases like this, overwhelm is really a symptom, an indication of a different problem that triggered the brain into feeling flooded or frozen.

The implications for you

If overwhelm isn’t the underlying problem, but merely the knee-jerk response, that means the way to stop being paralyzed by overwhelm is to address the challenge that triggered it. 

The solution may require learning to organize, to prioritize, or to plan.  Once you’re confident you have those skills, you gain control of your situation and no longer have to feel helpless and overwhelmed.

Other common paralyzing roadblocks are emotions such as shame or fear that keep you from taking the next step.  Or you might be having difficulty focusing your mind on the project (pretty common for us with ADHD!)

Next time you feel stuck, take the word “overwhelm” off the table.  Instead, ask yourself WHY you’re experiencing that feeling, or WHAT exactly is stopping you.  That will get you closer to the real issue. 

Then you’ll know what kinds of solutions you need, rather than simply searching for an answer to overwhelm.

CLICK HERE for an Info-graphic to identify your roadblocks,
and a step-by-step “ADHD Know Yourself” strategy.

Is Overwhelm the real problem that paralyzes you, or is feeling overwhelmed an automatic response to a different problem?


Please comment and share!


Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.



    Comment when I say I’m overwhelmed with a situation, it is usually because I don’t have proper tools or help to do what needs done.

    Robin, you’ve identified exactly what I’m talking about: your overwhelm is actually a secondary reaction to the REAL problem, which is the need for tools or help. Knowing what you really need is half the battle.


    Truly, my response of overwhelm was, and is, spot on. As I anticipate knee replacement in late January, I feel obligated to move more swiftly on areas of our house requiring downsizing and maintenance. Oh, but what intercedes? A fall backwards fromabout 3ft striking the back of my head on my computer table and a Lincoln era chaser (both are “solid as Sears” used to be). And then I am referred to an endocrinologist surgeon for hyperparathyroidism. Sheesh…Calhoun take me away! This final week of 2019 is being spent on the low down addressing all of these factors contributing to my sense of overwhelm as well as mindful use of my Calm app.

    I get excited about dropping into Pathfinders to spur my brain synapses to spark on something other than drama. Would you say, overwhelm in this case?

    Ann… OUCH! I’m sorry you had to go through that during holiday week! I think Overwhelm is definitely the right response in this case. Maybe there needed to be an option on the survey called “Just Shoot Me Now!”

    tim flynn

    Commenting think you’re spot on about overwhelm. But it’s not me. I’m a 56 year old artist with ADD and medicated, and have absolutely no problem being motivated or inspired with my work, and never have. I know more people with the overwhelmed problem that aren’t diagnosed with ADHD.

    Tim, you’re lucky you don’t have the Overwhelm issue. If you can spend the bulk of your time in your zone with art, you may never feel stressed or overwhelmed. (I know when I can spend my time painting, I’m blissful!)

    It may be those who dwell in the land of time clocks and deadlines who feel overwhelm more. Or perhaps the tendency towards overwhelm is part of one’s personality make-up and not necessarily a function of environment.

    As is true with all of the “getting started” challenges, you don’t have to be ADD / ADHD to have them, and you don’t have to have them to be ADHD!


    I do feel like the word overwhelmed does suit me best. I suffer from severe depression with a late add diagnosis living in a house that looks like a tornado went through it. I have isolated myself to the point of extreme loneliness and rarely leave my house. I’m awake and asleep during extremely odd hours and often feel like all I want to do is sleep. Things are piled so deep in my house it’s insane. For years I have been putting important papers in a box or bag which then gets put somewhere else until I feel like it could take me years to even go through them and find the important papers.

    I made up a word petralized— petrified and paralyzed. Petrified by such strong emotion as I am one of those extremely sensitive people that cries and falls apart at almost anything. Piles of paper, clothing, and everything else falls on the floor, gets lost… I find myself immobilized and definitely have no idea where to begin so I spend a lot of time escaping in my house, sleeping and as an artist and collector it’s not just papers but everything else you can imagine. I feel so overwhelmed it does paralyze me with a feeling of extreme helplessness inactivity and ability to act. Must say it hasn’t helped that I can’t find a therapist that will take Medicare and is educated about ADD issues. Also medication for ADD and depression do not provide any help.

    Caren, it certainly makes sense that you’re overwhelmed at this point, simply because the isolation, clutter and disorganization has gone so far. I would imagine anyone looking at your house would feel that getting through it is overwhelming. (Though a Professional Organizer with experience in extreme ADD clutter should be able to manage it.) I appreciate your creativity in coining the word PETRALIZED to describe your situation!

    You need to see some immediate small “wins” in order to take action. Here are some pointers from my Clear Clutter System.

    I suggest you pick one “container” area in a room to work on. By container area, I mean a closet, bookcase or dresser — something where you’ll store things. Make a small checklist of just that area. For example, the closet might have areas of:

      hanging bars

    Address just one piece or area at a time, removing everything from it, wiping it clean and then putting back only what belongs there. When that one place looks neat, that’s a victory to check off on the list. Then go on to the next, etc.

    Keep yourself planted in one spot until you finish each piece.

    Have a big trash container next to you while you work, because you should try to get rid of as many things as possible. And beware of the “I might need this someday” syndrome that’s so common for people with ADD. If you don’t have an immediate need for something, chances are you will NOT ever get back to it.

    At the end of each little clutter-clearing session, you should see a visible difference in the small section you worked on. As you continue to clear adjacent areas, that visible difference will grow larger and larger. And you might give yourself a small reward at the end of each container. For example, put aside $5 in a drawer for each area or container that you clear. As your reward fund grows, you’ll be able to give yourself a real treat.

    randy cole

    I agree with your comments on overwhelm; it is easy to simply categorize everything we are anxious about because we feel overwhelmed. Personally, I can identify with this and after reading your comments I can see that the root of most of my overwhelm stems from a lack of planning and trying to decide what to work on first when juggling multiple responsibilities; everything seems like a high priority!! I am learning to break down projects into much smaller chunks and staying focused on making progress without hyper-focusing on something related that catches my attention!

    Randy, that makes a lot of sense. So now your know that becoming comfortable with planning, and learning how to choose the best priorities will help cut out a lot of your overwhelmed paralysis. The next blog post gives you a quick-start formula for planning. Since you’re a member of Productivity Pathfinder, I suggest you check out the webinar on Prioritizing which gives a system for choosing what to work on first. (Hint: It’s NOT the usual A, B & C tasks!)


    Comment I can easily identify with Caren. I do still feel, however, that my best word is “paralysis.” I participated in your first survey, Bonnie. I remember when the results pointed to paralysis and one woman commenting that she had been searching for a word to describe how she felt and paralysis was that word. That is how I feel. I get up every morning and think of all the things I would finally get done that day and never do. One day I actually stood in the middle of my very messed up and cluttered computer/craft room (rest of house looks the same way). I finally said to myself, “You must MOVE just one thing — just one but you can’t leave this room until YOU MOVE ONE THING.” Can’t remember what I did. Not much! Well, on and on and on. I am 75 years old, but I intend to try again.

    I like Caren’s word “petralized.” I understand the petrified feelings. I understand all of her feelings. I feel the same way. Well, enough of this!

    “Paralyzed” is the best word to describe ALL of the problems getting started. To pick a solution, the problem needs to be narrowed down more: WHY are we paralyzed? The reasons differ by person and by situation. That’s what the survey is trying to get at: what are the biggest reasons for this paralysis. Unfortunately, “Overwhelm” is now being used by many in the same way that “paralysis” is. Unless someone can narrow things down as to what about a situation feels overwhelming — or what set off that overwhelmed feeling — they won’t have a strategy to pull out of it.

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Bonnie, there are no words to express how deeply I’ve been affected by your blog! I’ve only read a few things, but they have created such a complete mind shift that the tears shed have washed away my struggles forever!

For the first time in my life I feel understood and hopeful that I can put some tools and systems in place to help me overcome!”

—Michelle near Seattle

Clear Clutter Now


Find out what's REALLY stopping you with free "Procrastination Tree" Tool for Adult ADD / ADHD.