Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Many people with ADHD report feeling like their minds are constantly “racing” with thoughts and ideas. This has led some to believe that overthinking is a core feature of ADHD.
What is overthinking?
Overthinking refers to excessive, repetitive thoughts that go beyond what is needed to address a situation. Overthinking is often driven by anxiety and worry. It involves rehashing the same thoughts over and over without productively moving forward. Overthinking can interfere with decision-making, problem-solving, and emotional regulation.
Some key signs of overthinking include:
- Obsessive focus on negative thoughts
- Analyzing situations repeatedly without resolution
- Difficulty letting thoughts go
- Feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed by options
Is overthinking a symptom of ADHD?
Overthinking is not formally considered a core symptom of ADHD in diagnostic criteria. The main symptoms of ADHD include:
- Difficulty paying attention and staying focused
- Forgetfulness and disorganization
- Fidgeting and restlessness
- Trouble controlling impulses
However, many people with ADHD do identify with overthinking. There are several reasons why overthinking and ADHD often coincide:
ADHD minds are often described as restless, jumpy, or racing. Thoughts in ADHD can dart quickly between topics. This mental hyperactivity can feel like overthinking when thoughts become excessive and unproductive.
ADHD impacts executive functioning skills like organization, planning, and decision-making. This makes it hard to “turn off” overthinking when caught in loops. Poor cognitive inhibition in ADHD also makes it hard to redirect thoughts productively.
Focusing on the wrong things
People with ADHD can become hyperfocused on certain topics while neglecting important tasks. This hyperfocus, combined with distractibility, may contribute to a feeling of overthinking unimportant things.
The impulsive behaviors seen in some types of ADHD could be an effort to interrupt the trap of overthinking. Impulsiveness may provide stimulation to break obsessive loops.
Many people with ADHD also have co-occurring anxiety. Anxiety often exacerbates overthinking, worry, and rumination. Treating anxiety may help reduce overthinking tendencies in ADHD.
Is overthinking a problem for everyone with ADHD?
No, overthinking is not experienced by all people with ADHD. Each person is unique in their behavioral and thought patterns. Some people with ADHD report minimal issues with excessive thought. Others say they think in a more scattered, less linear way.
Overthinking can also look different depending on the ADHD presentation. For example:
- Inattentive ADHD: May involve excessive worrying thoughts about past events or future outcomes.
- Hyperactive ADHD: Thoughts may race rapidly between many topics rather than obsessing on one thing.
- Combined ADHD: Can involve both obsessive worrying thoughts and flighty, scattered thinking.
Tips for managing overthinking with ADHD
If overthinking is a problem, here are some tips that may help if you have ADHD:
Work with your strengths
Leverage your best cognitive skills to break out of thought loops. For example, if you’re creatively gifted, try doodling or brainstorming ideas.
Explain your thoughts out loud
Verbalizing your thoughts can help identify distortions and bring in outside perspective.
Meditation and mindfulness exercises can train your brain to stay calmly rooted in the present moment.
Write down your thoughts
Journaling can help “empty” obsessive thoughts from your mind onto paper.
Try CBT techniques
Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to correct unhelpful thought patterns. A CBT therapist can teach skills to challenge distortion.
Take short breaks from thinking by doing a simple activity like stretching, listening to music, or playing a game.
Prioritize physical activity
Exercise and movement stimulate feel-good chemicals in the brain to boost mood and mental health.
Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation worsens ADHD symptoms and exacerbates overthinking. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.
Practice good time management
Having a structured schedule reduces stress and limits time spent overthinking.
Talk to your doctor
Discuss any overthinking concerns with your doctor. They may adjust your treatment plan to help.
Professional treatment options
Seeing a mental health professional can help manage overthinking in the context of ADHD. Treatment options may include:
Forms like CBT provide tools to reduce excessive, unhelpful thoughts.
Coaches help establish systems for organization, planning, and time management.
Stimulants improve ADHD symptoms. Anti-anxiety medication can also be prescribed if needed.
This trains the brain’s activity levels for enhanced mental focus.
Connecting with others who understand your challenges can help you feel less alone.
Lifestyle remedies for overthinking
Alongside professional treatment, certain lifestyle strategies may also minimize overthinking:
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet to support brain health.
- Stay socially active to reduce isolation.
- Pick up a hobby or creative outlet for engagement.
- Limit news/social media to reduce anxiety triggers.
- Try organizing your home and decluttering.
- Spend time relaxing outdoors in nature.
- Listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks while doing chores.
Are there any benefits to overthinking with ADHD?
While overthinking is usually problematic, some aspects may have silver linings for some people with ADHD. Possible benefits include:
- Hyperfocusing on topics of interest can lead to expertise and intellectual giftedness in niche areas.
- Creative, idea-oriented thinking provides inspiration for art, writing, inventing, and entrepreneurship.
- Imagining different scenarios and perspectives can aid empathy and “big picture” thinking.
- Going over past conversations can improve social skills and self-awareness.
- An analytical thinking style can support certain high-level careers in fields like science, law, and research.
In summary, overthinking and ADHD often coincide but are not equivalent. While overthinking is common in ADHD, not all people with ADHD consider themselves overthinkers. The relationship between ADHD and overthinking depends on an individual’s thought patterns, comorbidities like anxiety, and type of ADHD presentation.
Learning to manage overthinking tendencies through professional treatment, lifestyle strategies, and cognitive redirection tactics can greatly improve quality of life for those with ADHD. With the right strategies, it’s possible to cultivate the benefits of an active mind while minimizing the pitfalls of unproductive rumination.