My Brain is Running a Marathon While I Sit Still. 7 tips to cope with immobilizing overwhelm.

Okay - who can relate?

You are sitting still.

Staring at some useless thing on your screen.

You look relaxed....chill....just taking a moment to unwind.

But your head is racing, full, straining.

You can see the thoughts in your head pushing outward, trapped, but wanting to move into action.

It's almost painful.

You need to function - now! 

And all you can think of is - why?

What the heck is wrong with me?

Why can't I get moving?

Why can't I get anything on paper? 

Why am I wasting so. much. time.

Your only true escape from the pounding in your head is sleep. But you sleep too long. And then you wake up feeling like even more of a failure. And everything hits you the second you wake up - a huge tidal wave of thoughts, anxiety, self-judgement, worry, overload.....and all you want to do is scream 'make it stop!'

Does any of this sound familiar?

When this happens to my brain, it feels like all the oil has run out of an engine. Have you ever seen an engine seize? It's pushing, grinding, groaning- and then boom!  Nothing. 

Do you know why this happens? I will tell you that it is not related to an individual being unmotivated, lazy, lollygagging or intentionally wasting time.

And if you want to see an individual lock up even further?....then just accuse them of any of these things. 


Ed Hallowell has written some great articles on brain function and he has really helped me to understand non - neurotypical neurocircuitry, a huge phrase meaning 'wired differently'...(although, is there really any such thing as different?...but that is another blog post).

He has a great way of explaining this phenomenon. Essentially, in the brain, the frontal lobes are responsible for executive function....planning, rationale decision making, time management and organization. However, under the frontal lobes is the part of the brain devoted to survival.

Once fear hits - as it often does when we are feeling overwhelmed - this part of the brain sends survival messages to the frontal lobes. These messages, when received by the frontal lobes, cause an endless cycle to start. The frontal lobes, knowing they can't keep up, eventually get overloaded.

Just like electrical circuits, they stop functioning properly. As Hallowell says "the frontal lobes loose their sophistication, as if vinegar were added to wine.' 


So what can you do when this happens? When that overload creates full lock down mode?

Here are a few of the things that have worked for me and those that I work with.  

1) Breathe.....The first thing you need to do is to get your brain out of panic mode. Sit still and take some long, deep breaths. 

2) Go for a walk....Yes. When you don't have time to 'do nothing' is exactly when you need to 'do nothing'. 

3) Talk it out....Find someone you trust, who offers you a safe non-judgmental space to talk (non- judgement is key) and purge out all the thoughts in your brain. Having someone who will stare at you like an alien is not useful at this moment. Only talk it out with someone who 'gets it.' 

4) Just start....If you are needing to write a 6 page essay and can't figure out the opening sentence, then write something in the middle. Start anywhere and let it take shape later.

5) Take a smaller bite....If you feel you need to clean the whole house over the next 3 days because company is coming and now the task is so big you can't begin, then just clean one toilet. Do what you can, right now, this minute....and then move on to the next thing, the next minute. One small bite at a time. 

6) Build in more space....I have what my husband calls 'tip over days.' Some days I just tip over. Because I know this is going to happen I never leave anything to the last minute. I take 'small bites' and 'just start' everyday. Remember, panic mode will cause your circuitry to seize and though you might get the work done eventually, it will be really, really painful. And you will put yourself on the road to a full burnout. 

7) Forgive yourself....You are not a drone, and if you have unique neurocircuitry, then you are very likely a highly creative, colour outside of the lines thinker. Your brain doesn't always function on command. The key to your brain functioning at it's best is to not panic so use the other strategies above to ward this off before full brain seize up occurs.


Self awareness is always the key to knowing what is happening, why it's happening and what you need to do about it. Non stop brains are exhausting, but they are also full of creative, brilliant thoughts; they are part of your unique self. We want these brains to flow - not lock up. So work on self acceptance to calm the panic monster and when you feel the lock up setting in...step back, take a deep breathe and re-group.  


Judy Mouland loves to challenge the status quo and chip away at the word ‘normal.’  Over the years, she has learned to embrace and use her own quirky brain to succeed and is passionate about the power of self-awareness. She became a CTI (Coaches Training Institute) Life Coach for people with ADHD, LD, OCD (and their favorite cousins; anxiety and depression) after serving for 20+ years in local, national and international settings, most recently as the C.E.O. of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.She works to empower her clients to live life on their own terms - no excuses – and to uncover their brilliance so they can shine. She is a member of the International Coaches Federation and freely admits that most everything she knows she has learned from her three exceptional children, who never let her brain become idle.  Her empowering blog posts can be found at: