Escaping the Overthinking Trap When You Have ADHD

 I recently hosted a  Meet up with my Adults with ADHD Peeps  (here is the link to my meetup please join us next time!) It's a wonderful way to make connections and hear about others' successes and strategies. 

This Meetup was particularly rewarding and chock full of incredible sharing, insights, tools, and strategies that work for real people in real-time.  Which is exactly why these meetups are such a great support for so many struggling with the challenges of ADHD. 

We get to dig down and really talk about the specifics in our lives day to day and how different people manage using different tools.  The learning is rich, that's for sure. 

This particular meetup topic was a very popular one which prompted me to share some of what we learned here in my blog.   

 

It doesn't seem to matter what type of ADHD you have, or even if you are diagnosed.  Those with ADHD can more easily fall prey to overthinking. It is related in part to the difference in brain wiring.

Many of us struggle with some kind of constant inner chatter or cognitive hyperactivity… 

All overthinking is not bad… sometimes we are curious, generating new thoughts or ideas, questioning, or problem-solving in creative ways.  

The struggle can be when our brain just doesn't want to shut off or if the quality of our thoughts are low…. such as when we engage in negative self-talk, over-thinking around perceived failures, and even in worries.  These are the thoughts that can spiral and lead us towards a negative space in our minds.  This is the kind of overthinking that I am talking about in this article.  Those not-so-nice conversations in our head or those that we know lead us to a pit or pool of negativity and catastrophizing.  

What is the Overthinking that leads to rumination?

One client describes it as …“I just can't take my mind off of the thoughts and they are often worrying thoughts or negative self-talk”.  

What does it look like?

Your thinking gets stuck on something - often not so pleasant.  Then it snowballs into more and more of the same negative thinking.  The “pile on” begins and we remember every associated past failure or event or rejection that fits into the thinking pattern.  We begin attracting and continue attracting more of the same kind of thought.  

Next, all of your energy is being put into these negative thoughts, you shut down, the to-do list never gets done, we forgo the things we planned for the day or even drop self-care or fun things we had hoped to do.  In our minds well….it becomes a never-ending loop…we lose confidence in ourselves, get overwhelmed and anxious, which often leads us to depression, loneliness and shame.  

What happens is that this impacts both our bodies and our minds… 

We begin to self-isolate which feeds the overthinking even more as it gives us more opportunities to overthink!  We get stuck, frozen, and sit in it all day… or until we do something to shift it.

It creates stress hormones in our bodies which lowers our immune system and leads to a variety of health issues.  Very often this type of overthinking is mentally and physically draining and we end up feeling tired and fatigued with very low energy.   

If you are someone with ADHD and experience low energy consider your thinking as a contributing factor.     

When we are caught in this thinking trap we end up feeling more anxious and overwhelmed.  We feel angry and it steals our joy and happiness… leads to lost productivity which leads to feelings of shame and guilt.  It keeps us stuck. And not moving forward towards our goals.

So what can we do?  How can we shift it?  AWARENESS IS ALWAYS the KEY!    Stay connected to your body and begin to notice where this shows up…. Where do you feel negative thinking about your body… do you get tightness in your jaw - feel it in your neck or shoulders?  Notice a frown on your face or a wrinkle on your brow?  

When you build your awareness of how it feels in your body you can begin to notice it sooner!

 

Preventing it from happening is ANOTHER powerful step.  How can we prevent it?  Know your triggers….

What are the triggers?  

Get to know yourself.  What are the usual triggers or risk factors for overthinking.  Knowing what sets us up for falling into the overthinking pit can be very helpful.  Knowing the times of day that this can occur… for some it may be evening or times when they are alone for long stretches.  For others, it could be days when they do not have enough structure.  We can prevent those moments or even cut them off before we get there.  
Some of the common triggers for overthinking that my clients have shared over the years are…
  • When they are overtired - Get the sleep you need!
  • Hungry 
  • Stressed and overwhelmed
  • When things do not go as planned
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Too much social media scrolling
  • Comparing ourselves to others
  • Certain types of events or reminders of them
  • Too much free time
  • Too much alone time
What helps when you find yourself in the hole?  Here are some strategies that I have pulled together to get you ready to take control of your thinking….  
Having some go-to tools to help pull yourself out when you find yourself in the hole is also a powerful management strategy. 
  • Building our mindful skills! What exactly is being mindful?  Being present in the moment without judgment… When we are more present we know and have more awareness of our overthinking.  Practicing pausing throughout our day.  Schedule time throughout your day to pause. 
  • Breathwork and meditations (I know they are scary words! But there are so many easy apps for both meditations and breathwork - check youtube for tons of free ones)  Breathwork can change the chemistry in your brain and body.  This can help us to shift out of whatever negative mindset has taken over.

Distraction from it!  

  • When you find yourself in the trap of overthinking, look for a pleasant distraction.  This could be anything that shifts your mind or focus. 
For example, I love to clean out closets!  I love the instant gratification that it gives me when it's done (dopamine hit) and it occupies my mind as I have to think about what I am doing rather than what's in my thoughts. 
Know what type of distraction you can use to shift your mind or thoughts.  This may be getting outside and gardening, it may be an adult coloring book or doing crosswords.  My new passion is Wordle (although it's a short distraction sometimes that is enough).
  • Focus on a Goal!  Get busy, make it one you are enjoying.  Plan your next vacation or new paint color for the bedroom.  Get your mind on it and it will move away from the negativity.
  • Connect with people! Being with family or friends can also help distract you and help you to focus on something else.  Focus on their struggle instead!

Do anything to get out of your head….

  • Move the body and your mind will follow.  Get into physical action - do anything.  walk, bike, hike, get to the gym.  Go in your yard and do jumping jacks... anything to move.
  • Limit your free time. Add some structure to your day with things you can look forward to.  For me overthinking is worse when I have less stuff to do.  The brain needs to be occupied! 
  • Change your environment.  This can shift your whole attitude or perspective.  Any change in your environment or routine mixes things up a bit and forces you out of your head.

      

Allow the worry hour

Use a timer and just allow yourself this scheduled time to worry, think, overthink, or whatever it is your brain needs to focus on.  Although limiting it to less than an hour would be better, start where you need to.  Make sure you use the time and move out of it when you are done.  When we schedule it this way often we can keep boundaries around it.
  • Actively process through it.

    Contact a friend or family member and process some of your thinking.  Write it down and do a brain dump with the intention of letting it go when you're done.  Add anything that helps you feel you are resolving it.. Actions steps or something else………
  • Don't allow just any thought in.

    Choose your thoughts, thoughts become things!   What we think about we bring about.  Set boundaries with it, be more intentional with your thinking and self-talk. Just like guiding a child on how to behave we can guide our thinking in how to think in more supportive ways.   Protect your thinking space.
  • Don't believe or buy into everything you think!

    You can choose to dismiss those that are not helpful.  Very often our brain lies to us. Share the “facts” of the matter with yourself.  Your brain will listen.  Make the choice to not buy into it and replace it with a positive opposite. 
  • Leave a notebook by your bed and do a gratitude list.

    Research shows that thinking about and connecting with the things we are truly grateful for shifts our mindset, attitudes, and brain chemistry. 
  • Consider needs.

    If you find yourself in this place often with certain patterned thinking, consider what needs are not being met that might be contributing.  If it's a need for stimulation as can be the case with anyone with ADHD (usually a dopamine deficit) then consider how you need to support your brain.  Either through lifestyle changes like exercise, diet, being outdoors more, medication, therapy, or working with a coach to manage the ADHD traits and connect more with your strengths and values.  



Overthinking can be a normal process for many but when it turns into overdrive and to a negative place it can steal the joy in your day-to-day life.  It can trap your brain into a cycle of rumination and repeated thought patterns that do not serve you.   

 Build your toolbox of go-to items to get out of the overthinking trap that keeps you stuck! 

Below enjoy one of my favorite poems about how we can find ourselves in scenarios over and over again that do not serve us... until we shift......

 Let's talk about how to create your own personal way of managing this very daunting and prevalent ADHD trait.  

 



Portia Nelson, There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.

I am lost ... I am hopeless.

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it.

I fall in again.

I can't believe I'm in the same place. But it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there.

I still fall in ... it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

 

I walk down another street.

Portia Nelson

 

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