To understand why ADHD causes people to shut down in these situations, read the following guide that includes the symptoms of ADHD shutdowns, what may cause it, and tips for managing shutdowns when they happen.

What Is ADHD Shutdown Mode?

ADHD shutdown mode is a term used to describe what happens when a person with ADHD can’t seem to think clearly or take action in overwhelming situations. Also known as freeze mode or ADHD paralysis, shutdown mode happens when someone becomes overloaded with information, tasks, or emotions. It is more likely to occur if someone with ADHD is experiencing high levels of stress.

Symptoms of ADHD Paralysis

Some of the symptoms which might signal that a person with ADHD is experiencing this type of shutdown include:

  • Being unable to get a task started, even when it’s urgent
  • Having trouble maintaining focus
  • Poor time management and/or time blindness
  • An inability to make decisions or problem solve
  • Overthinking or overanalyzing things
  • Inability to prioritize tasks
  • Struggling to actively listen to others
  • Avoiding a task or not dealing with emotions
  • Losing one’s train of thought or brain fog
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Careless work
  • Fidgeting
  • Impatience

The symptoms that someone experiences during a shutdown typically correlate to the type of ADHD paralysis they’re facing:

  • ADHD choice paralysis: They overthink something to the point where it feels impossible to make a decision.
  • ADHD task paralysis: They keep procrastinating because getting started on a project or deciding which task to tackle first seems too difficult.
  • ADHD mental paralysis: They can’t seem to figure out what to do or say because they’re so overwhelmed by their environment or strong feelings.

Why Do People with ADHD Freeze Up?

There are a number of things which can contribute to ADHD shutdown mode. With task paralysis and choice paralysis, executive dysfunction is a major factor. People with ADHD often have diminished executive functioning, which makes it difficult to do things like prioritize tasks, problem solve, and make decisions. When placed in a high-stress situation, it’s even harder than usual to do these things, which may cause someone to freeze up rather than take action.

ADHD mental paralysis is associated with emotional dysregulation. Individuals with ADHD often have a harder time regulating their emotions. This sometimes leads to emotional outbursts. In high-stress situations, however, they may simply shut down because they find it too difficult to process their emotions. This may be a means of self-protection since they’re trying to limit any further stimulation that could make them feel even more overwhelmed.

What to Do When You Have ADHD Paralysis

ADHD shutdowns are a fairly common experience among people with the condition. But you don’t just have to grit your teeth and wait until it passes. Instead, it’s important to have some strategies ready so you can manage periods of ADHD paralysis more effectively and prevent it from getting worse. Use the following tips to deal with ADHD shutdowns:

  • Step away and breathe. When things become truly overwhelming and you feel yourself freezing up, just remember one word: breathe. Stop what you’re doing and focus on deep breathing for a few minutes to calm yourself down and quiet your thoughts.
  • Write it down. If you feel like you can’t make a decision or get started on a task, do a brain dump. When you write down all the things running through your head, you can clear your mind and start to make sense of what lies ahead of you.
  • Do one thing. Breaking a task into the smallest chunks possible can help when you can’t seem to get started. Start by just doing one thing related to your task, and don’t worry about finishing it. Sometimes, just getting started releases a lot of anxiety.
  • Reward yourself. A lack of motivation can be a big part of procrastination, so find a way to motivate yourself with little rewards. Think of something you’ll treat yourself to once you get things done to encourage action when you freeze up.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider. ADHD paralysis may kick in from time to time, but with a good treatment plan in place, you should be better able to manage or even prevent it. ADHD medication is the most effective way to deal with symptoms like ADHD shutdown mode.