How to Focus

Brain Freeze: Why People with ADHD Need Downtime

Go ahead and hyperfocus – but when you come out of it, tune out, recharge, and let your brain process what you missed while you were away.

Right now, I’m beating my head against the desk because I’m stuck. I can usually come up with some pretty good tips on maintaining a happy and fulfilling life as someone with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), but today, I have nothing. Zip.

I’m in that uncomfortable spot called stagnation. I’m not moving forward. My wheels are spinning like crazy, but I just can’t get traction. Most people with ADHD know and despise that “stagnant” feeling. We shouldn’t take it all out on stagnation, though, because for me, stagnation is the end result of being overwhelmed.

People with ADHD are great at hyperfocusing. We can do it for hours, days, or months, depending on how interesting the project is. During that period we don’t need food, water, sleep, or hygiene – though our friends and family may disagree with the hygiene part. It feels good to hyperfocus when something seemingly normal like focus is actually hard to come by. What we don’t realize is that, for long periods of time, busting our butts means busting our brains.

[Free Download: Secrets of the ADHD Brain]

People with ADHD need downtime. We need alone time. We need time to process things in our brain that we haven’t had time to do. We don’t process as it’s happening. We have to break it all down later when we can give the act our undivided attention. When I’m in tune with the needs of my brain, I’ll take some time to sit on my couch and look out the window, sometimes for an hour or more. I don’t even know what goes on in my brain as this is happening, because I’m not an active participant. I let it do its thing. I know thoughts are tumbling around and problems are working themselves out, so I kind of observe the process and, when it’s over, I feel less anxious and more focused. Basically, I’ve just made a bunch of room in my brain to allow things to settle in nicely. This gives me a sense of being more on top of things.

When I’m less in tune with my brain’s needs, I go full-throttle, forgetting that I have a bunch of unprocessed thoughts bouncing around in there. If they don’t get processed, they take up room and I can tell you that, with this ADHD brain, the elevator gets full fast.

When I have less room and more thoughts inhibiting my mental space, at some point everything comes to a screeching halt. My brain gives me the middle finger salute and locks the doors. It is closed for business. At this point, I’m out of luck. I can kick the doors, rattle the windows, and try to pick the locks, but until my brain has had its necessary down time, I am in the “Stagnation Zone.”

So here I am. I’ve run myself down. I’ve over-committed. Holidays keep happening, and I can’t get myself together. I’m still trying to kick in those doors and now, after writing this, I kind of feel sorry for what I’ve put my brain through lately. I need to respect its needs to operate at optimal power. I am officially letting the idea of breaking and entering go. Go in peace, brain. Do your thing. If you love something, let it free, blah, blah, blah…you’re coming back, though, right?

[“The 3 Ways I Overcommit, Get Overwhelmed, and Fail”]