The Road to Overwhelm


People with ADHD often describe themselves as being overwhelmed. What goes into feeling overwhelmed? The two main ingredients are avoidance and time. Most everyone goes to work or school, has places to go, people to see, bills to pay, taxes to file, and dishes to wash and not everyone is overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they have or managing paper work.

For folks with ADHD the tasks they need to address loom large and it might seem easier to avoid them or pretend they don’t exist. The trouble with this strategy is that sooner or later the things you avoided come back to bite you in the butt.

The first stop on the road to overwhelm is avoidance.

You avoid doing things you don’t feel comfortable doing. You might avoid doing things because they are too stupid, too much work, too hard, too easy or because you want everything to be perfect. You can avoid homework, difficult conversations, cleaning up clutter, completing paperwork or planning a trip. You over think the problem and it gets bigger and scarier and then you do something fun instead and avoid the scary stuff.

The next stop on the road to overwhelm is time.

The longer you avoid doing the things you have to do the more overwhelming they become. College students with ADHD might avoid classes that are too early, too boring or too hard. They can avoid the class a few times but when they avoid going to class too many times they fall so far behind that they have to fail. They feel overwhelmed when they’re flunking out of school.

If you avoid completing paperwork or that report your boss wanted for a few hours or even a few days ago it might not become a problem but if you put it off for a couple of weeks you will end up overwhelmed. when you get fired.

People tend to get stuck and stay there once they overwhelmed.

Here are some strategies to try for getting out of Overwhelmville:

  • Notice what it is you are avoiding.
  • Notice what you are doing instead of the stuff you need to be doing.
  • Make a list of the things you’re avoiding and prioritize the tasks.
  • Set a time to start working on what you have been avoiding. Keep starting.
  • Ask for help if you need it.
  • Aim for progress not perfection.
  • Start with the easiest part of the task first.
  • Think about how good it will feel to cross the task you have been avoiding off your to-do list

Kathy Sussell is an ADHD coach in Brooklyn, NY. She helps teens, college students and adults with ADHD with time management, planning and prioritizing, getting started with and finishing tasks, organizing paper and objects and improving social skills. She is the organizer of the ADHD Women’s Meetup Group that meets every month in downtown Brooklyn. For more information visit her website: or email Kathy at

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