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43: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself When You're Overwhelmed

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course. Today we're going to talk about overwhelm. Specifically, seven questions I like to ask myself, I like to ask others these when they're feeling overwhelmed. I have a worksheet that goes with our talk today. It's a worksheet that comes from one of my workbooks in the group coaching program when we re talking about overwhelm. This includes these seven questions that we're going to talk about, as well as some follow up questions.

It's a fillable PDF, so you can fill it out in that file format, or you can print it and just write your answers. It's a good jumping off point for when you're feeling overwhelmed. If you are interested in that free worksheet, I'll include the link in the show notes. Also, you can find it on www.theadhdclaritycoach under resources. At the bottom of that resource page is the free PDF. (You can also find it here.)

A lot of times people will want to work on motivation, and feel like there's this inexplicable low motivation for something that maybe they're even interested in or is a high priority for them, but they just can't get going. What we see often when we peel back some layers is that it's not that they're not motivated. They're feeling stuck, because they're overwhelmed. Maybe that doesn't sound like a really big difference, but it is when you're looking at supporting this.

Some of these questions that help us dig down to where the overwhelm is, the answers to those will help us move past overwhelm. They will help us have a plan, actual steps that move us out of that stuck place into action. The first question that I'll ask when I can recognize that I'm overwhelmed or someone else is would be:

1. Do I know the steps that I need to do to complete this task?

Do I know the steps that I need to do to complete this task? Sometimes it's hard to get started, because we have no idea what to do or where to start. When I first started working on my own, I had to pay quarterly taxes. Guess who really put off paying quarterly taxes because I didn't know the steps? I didn't really know what I needed to do, what forms I needed to fill out, or who I needed to contact. Did I need to get a tax person to help me out? That not knowing was really behind being stuck, and I was putting that off way beyond quarterly until I was at the end of the year. So what do you do? What do you do if you are stuck because you don't know the steps?

A couple of suggestions. One is ask for help. Now, maybe that's a person, or maybe it's a YouTube video. Do whatever you need to do to take advantage of somebody who knows the steps and can help you out.

Also, is there a way you can look at a completed job and go from that? This is really helpful for students who have ADHD. Maybe there's an open ended project, paper, or something else. Just getting an example of what it looks like completed helps them to be able to figure out the steps they need to do to get there. Now the second question is related to this, but not entirely the same.

2. Do I know the order of the steps? Why does this matter?

Do I know the order of the steps? Why does this matter? Well, sometimes it's really important to start with a certain step to save yourself time, money, and energy. Later, it's more efficient to do this in a certain sequence. Sometimes it absolutely doesn't matter, you can start at any place in the sequence. It's the same, so knowing when you need to start in a certain order is helpful. Now, if you don't know that (practicing future you and actually imagining going through these steps- what could get in your way?), you might find that you discover where there's a certain priority preference to start with one thing versus the other.

What are some examples of this? I can tell you things that have come up even just this week in coaching. If you are somebody who is looking to make a meal for a friend who just had a baby, the steps and sequence for that matters. If her friend was allergic to dairy and she's already researched all these recipes, then doing her research on what she's going to cook before she's found out what kind of things that her friend can and can't eat (getting that sequence wrong) ends up wasting her time.

If she goes grocery shopping before she is sure about the date that her friend can receive this meal, maybe she won't be able to get the food to her friend in time for it to not spoil. When you're imagining the steps and going through the sequence, the order might matter, or maybe it doesn't at all. You can just get started. I think this can be really tricky for us, when we're not sure if the sequence matters. If that's you and you feel overwhelmed a lot of times because you don't know the sequences, it may be because it is an executive functioning skill. It is one of those skills that's often impacted with ADHD, and skills can be strengthened.

Do not be discouraged. Your ability to sequence can absolutely be improved. This is a skill that can be improved the more you practice breaking down a task into these ordered steps for a sequence. The third question I asked (this is a really important one) is:

3. Am I seeing all of the steps at the same time?

This is so common with our brain types. See, oftentimes, our attention splits. Our attention is taking in a lot at the same time. There is a time where that's a benefit. When you're looking at big ideas, inspirations, and creativity, seeing that whole picture and all these different parts moving can really help.

Sometimes that ADHD approach is a different way of looking at things, and can be very helpful in creative and even problem solving situations. Where it can be a bit of a liability is when we see all of the steps in a multi-step task, and we get overwhelmed. We see them all at the same time. We have a hard time putting blinders on and focusing on whatever's in front of us.

How do we work with this? We find ways to put blinders on, whatever that means for you. For me, it means that I am not going to have a ton of things on my daily list. I'm not going to have a ton of things on my weekly list. I have a master brain dump list of things that need to be done. Projects, work commitments, home commitments, I look at that master list when I'm planning my week. That's when I look at it. I don't look at it every single day, that's exhausting.

There's no way that whole list could possibly be done in a month, and definitely not in a week. I will plan the week or pull things from that list based on my priorities and the time that I have. Each day, I don't have the entire week's list on the day. I pull things from the week, and assign them a day or assign them a likely day. I'm only looking at one day at a time.

I'm not looking at this entire week. I'm not looking at the entire month, because that is how I have to put blinders on so I can stay focused and not feel overwhelmed. Let's take another multi-step task that overwhelms a lot of people who I work with. It definitely overwhelms me. This is trying to find a new specialist.

Let's say you need to go see a GI doctor. There's so many steps between recognizing that you need to see the specialist, and actually sitting in their office for this appointment. Maybe you need to get a list of referrals from your current doctor. Maybe you need to be checking with your insurance and seeing who's in network. You get that list of people who is relatively close to you versus a 45 minute drive away.

Once you've shrunken that list, then you need to be calling these offices, seeing if they accept new clients. Once you've decided on somebody, you probably have to fill out a bunch of paperwork. Maybe you have to print that out at home and bring it in, or maybe you have to plan for being there the earliest you can fill it out in the office. No matter what, you have a lot of steps. This is not something that's going to be done in 10 minutes. What happens for a lot of us is we see all these steps at the same time.

We're saying, "Oh, I'm going to go do something else. I'm not starting this now." Putting on blinders means I'm going to find some way to shrink this down, and look at one part of this many part job. Maybe I'm just going to print out providers who are in network for me with my insurance. Maybe I'm going to put a Facebook post out there and see if anybody in my mom's group has a GI specialist they recommend. I'm going to do one step out of 20 steps, and I'm going to move myself closer to that appointment and making that appointment.

If we look at all the steps at once, it's hard to stay motivated. It's hard not to get overwhelmed.

4. Am I overwhelmed by the amount of time I think this is going to take?

Am I overwhelmed by the amount of time I think this is going to take? I say "I think so" because with ADHD, we're vulnerable here. We're vulnerable to misjudging time. Sometimes we think things are going to take much less time. Then oftentimes, when you're looking at overwhelm and a lack of motivation, we're assuming something's going to take a lot of time. That's making it very hard for us to get started.

If I'm looking at my trashed kitchen, and I'm thinking "I don't have 45 minutes to clean the kitchen," I'm guessing that's how long it's going to take me. If I don't have that, why even start? If I can shrink that down (the same idea of putting those blinders on) how can I see less of the time that this requires? Maybe I say, "I'm just going start, I don't have to finish. I don't have to do anything."

I'm just going to begin this job. I can just see how far I go, and how far I want to go. I might decide that I'm going to work on this for 10 minutes. I may set the timer, race the timer, or do whatever I can do during 10 minutes. Maybe I'm trying to see; can I get this thing done as quickly as possible? I'm guessing it's 45, but could I get it done in 15? Can I get it in 30? I had a client who told me she recorded herself cleaning the kitchen, and used a time lapse.

It was sped up, and watching the video of her kitchen come together and get not trashed and clean was really rewarding for her. Get creative and playful if that helps you, but try to find a way to put blinders on with time. This way you're not seeing that whole picture.

Often we find that the thing that we thought was going to take 45 minutes is actually going to take us 20. Just having that experience and realizing, "hey, if I get going, this might not be that bad," can help us when we're overwhelmed by the time demand of a task. Okay, number 5 is another really important one.

5. Am I overwhelmed by my own standards? Am I overwhelmed by perfectionism?

You know, let's go back to that with the kitchen example. If the only way to be done with that task is to have everything sparkling: floors done, counters done, all the dishes put away, looking like a Better Homes and Gardens spread, then it's really hard to get motivated to start that.

If you can give yourself permission to do good enough, that can be super helpful.

There's that saying that anything worth getting done is worth getting done. Well, no, it's not. I mean, no, it's not.

I'd like to counter that one with the other saying, that if everything is a priority, nothing's a priority.

You decide how you spend your time, or what your standards are for anything. If it matters and is super important to you personally that your house is up to a certain standard, fine, but then that's a priority.

You're going to have to let that really high standard go somewhere else. There's just a math equation here of how much time, energy, and bandwidth we have. When I see somebody who deals with a lot of overwhelm, they often deal with a lot of perfectionism because it pauses you. It stalls you, and it makes you stuck. If you want to get unstuck, you're going to have to embrace good enough. There'll be areas in your life that you don't want good enough. It matters so much to you, but they can't be all the areas.

You have to decide what that looks like. In general, start working in some good enough, because that is going to help you get unstuck. Number six is is my environment, the right fit for what I need to do. There's a lot of aspects of your environment. One of them is:

6. Do I have what I need available to me?

I did an episode on habits, and when we talk about habits and trying to create a new habit, one of the biggest things you can do to help yourself is cut down friction. Making sure that you have what you need to do this thing easily is huge. Another factor when we're looking at this environment, or looking at friction, is thinking about your sensory needs. A lot of people with ADHD have sensory issues.

Things like lighting, temperature, and noise can all really impact us. It's not always "less is more." Sometimes in an environment that has no sound, some of us really can't focus in an environment that has not enough sensory input.

Knowing your body, knowing your environment, and making sure those fit as best as you can might help you battle overwhelm. This applies even things like if there are other people around. You may need no one around, or maybe you're going to need the presence of somebody. Sometimes you may need a body double, somebody around to help you get going.

7. Do I have another need that is making this difficult for me?

Am I thirsty?

Am I rested?

Am I hungry?

Am I dysregulated emotionally already?

I'm already at that threshold, so do I need to drop back and do something to regulate myself? Is there something that I need to attend to in my body, in my emotions, in my general state?

Interoception is often impacted with ADHD. That means we might not be getting body signals reliably about hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Sometimes we're pushing through when there's a body need we need to meet, and that is adding to overwhelm. Just taking an inventory and saying, "Okay, maybe I need to eat something. Do I need a break? Maybe just step outside, get some fresh air, and some sunshine. What is my body calling for right now?"

That is the last of my seven questions, but it doesn't have to be the last of your questions. All these questions share something in common. That is, they are encouraging you to approach yourself with curiosity.

You know, a lot of times we get stuck in these stories about ourselves, and these beliefs about ourselves. They're pretty unfair. I've heard a zillion, trillion of them. I'm high maintenance, I can't handle things, or I can't adult. I'm fragile, whatever it is, if you can approach yourself instead with some curiosity and questions like this, you can move out of those stories and into really practical steps that you can take to support yourself. So that's it for today. Thank you for joining me.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

Learn how to use sensory input to change your energy and focus! Register for my FREE Sensory Strategies for ADHD workshop here.


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