Learn the Skill of “Pulling Over” with ADHD Overwhelm

ADHD Strategies    September 3, 2019

ADHD OverwhelmAs many of you know, I moved back to Washington State several years ago and I noticed something different. On Washington State freeways, there are a lot more cars pulled over on the side of the roads.

Having lived in California for 13 years, a car on the side of the freeway usually meant one of two things. The car was having some sort of “trouble” – out of gas, flat tire, minor fender bender, etc. Or it humbly sat with the dreaded red, blue and white lights flashing. In general, Californians and California freeways are designed to get you somewhere fast and directly as possible. Taking a break on the side of the road didn’t factor in.

On the freeways of Washington State, it’s different. There is an undeniable number of cars pulled over on the right margin of the road, stopped and safe. No flashing lights, no raised hoods. Instead, the driver is typically parked on the side of the road on their phone talking or texting. It seems safety and taking a break when needed is more important than getting there.

I experienced this phenomenon on one of my many freeway trips during my move. The hood of my car wasn’t latched securely and I started to panic, looking frantically for an off-ramp. Yup, I was convinced the hood was going to suddenly flip off and block my view like a bad road trip movie.

Thankfully, I was traveling with my sister (a long-time resident of Washington state) who just kept saying, “Pull over…pull over…Laurie, just PULL OVER!”

It took me a minute to actually comprehend what she was saying since experience taught me that stopping on the freeway was rare and forbidden. Even so, I crossed to the far right lane, safely pulled over onto the shoulder, latched the hood (took a deep breath), merged back into the traffic and we were on our way.

This all reminds me of an analogy Dr. Hallowell used during his 2018 Succeed with ADHD Telesummit interview: “People with ADHD have a Ferrari brain and bicycle brakes.”

Yup, our ADHD brains can be like the California freeway – with its many revved up sports cars swerving in and out of lanes, racing along at a frantic pace, working so hard to get somewhere.

But the California way isn’t always the best way for an ADHD brain. It can lead to feeling overwhelmed, lost or in crisis. You don’t want to go fast and only stop when something breaks down or you get in trouble.

Instead, what if we add in a bit of the Washington mentality? What if we give ourselves permission to “pull over?” Time to take stock of our situation and determine what we need to do to avoid a crash? Maybe even “phone a friend” or ask “Siri for directions” and then when we are ready, pull out into life again.

So how can you develop the skill of “pulling over” when it feels like your brain is meant to go at high speed and wants to ignore the flashing warning lights?

Here are a few suggestions:


Notice how your body feels when overwhelmed. It may be a tight stomach, fuzzy or spinning feeling in your head or some other sensation. This is your cue that the overwhelm is beginning.


When you notice your overwhelm signals beginning to start, change your response and plan for how you can “pull over” to regain your calm. For most, this might include removing yourself from the current chaos. (Learn more about the feelings of ADHD here.)


Because you may not be able to figure out what to do next in the moment, the next step is to pull over and take a break. It will depend on the context as to what type of break you’re able to take, of course.

For example, if you’re working and overwhelmed, you may decide to stop working. If you are in a meeting or class, perhaps you can excuse yourself to go to the washroom. And, if you are having a one-to-one conversation and start to notice the overwhelm, you might ask to reconvene at another time entirely.

You might even decide to engage in an activity you enjoy so you can have some time away from whatever is causing you the overwhelm. It might just be the best thing to do in the moment. (See if you can answer this question – How Good of a Relaxer Are You?)


In some cases, it might be enough to take the above 3 steps to reduce your feelings of overwhelm and get back at it. However, once you feel more in control, you might decide what plan you would like to take if it happened again.


With your Ferrari brain, becoming overwhelmed at times is common for persons with ADHD. Following the steps above, allowing yourself the opportunity to pull over when you become overwhelmed can help you get back to calm more quickly and have you on the road again in no time.


Want to learn more about ADHD and strategies you can use?

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The Truth About ADHD Medications and How They Work

ADHD Treatments & Medications    August 31, 2019


ADHD is a medical condition that affects the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain. 

With just a little understanding of how ADHD medications work, many people can enjoy great improvement in their ADHD symptoms. 

The symptoms of ADHD are a result of the brain not producing enough, or utilizing efficiently, the brain’s neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. 

Just like any organ in the body – your eyes, pancreas, heart or lungs – the brain is susceptible to faulty functioning.  When there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, it cannot operate effectively. This is similar to needing glasses when you have impaired sight, inhalers for asthma, or insulin for diabetes.

In fact, a good analogy to help understand ADHD and how ADHD medications work is what happens with the pancreas and diabetes.  

In diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Sometimes this occurs in childhood…sometimes it happens with aging. Either way, management of diabetes includes learning about the condition of diabetes, making changes in lifestyle habits, such as diet and foods, and increasing exercise. However, one of the most effective ways to re-balance the body’s insulin is with an oral medication or an injection of insulin.

ADHD is similar.  

Balancing the Imbalance

With ADHD, the brain is simply not producing or utilizing enough of the neurotransmitters dopamine or norepinephrine. 

Without sufficient neurotransmitters, there is not enough of them to activate the frontal lobe of the brain – the area responsible for providing us with the benefit of “executive functions.” Executive functions include our ability to pay attention to things less interesting, the ability to filter out environmental stimuli or remember details (You can learn more about executive functions in my course Your Best Year Ever With ADHD or my ADHD Medications Course). 

For my son, and for many others, confirmation of the need for more active neurotransmitters in his brain came when he started taking ADHD medication, like Ritalin or Adderall, that is designed and formulated to specifically and only activate specific neurotransmitters. 

Better Grades in Six Weeks

The difference when my son took the medication was like night and day. Finally he was able to hold his attention on reading and his grade level increased three grades in six weeks! He wanted to read, the problem was not his motivation, but that his brain was just not able to focus on the task because he did not have enough dopamine to help him keep his attention. 

ADHD is also similar to someone whose vision is impaired and needs glasses. If you have poor vision, you cannot simply force yourself to make your eyes focus. We don’t hesitate to see an eye specialist and if found needing, provide and wear corrective lenses. Interestingly, we never worry that wearing glasses at a young age will weaken eyesight later. Imagine if we believed that impaired vision should not be corrected or was optional!

What we know about people who are not getting enough dopamine and other neurotransmitters to their frontal lobe is that they often struggle academically, personally and professionally. They struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence and are more likely to seek out alternative ways to self-medicate, trying to get their brain to focus or calm down. 

When a person takes a stimulant medication such as Ritalin or Adderall that targets specific neurotransmitters, it helps to activate dopamine or norepinephrine so it can be utilized by the brain more effectively.  

What ADHD medications do is specifically “simulate” the neurotransmitters in the brain. 

How Dopamine Works

Stimulating the dopamine receptors in the brain increases the dopamine available in the brain. With an increased dopamine level the brain is now better balanced and ready to complete the tasks of the day!

Even though this post is about how ADHD medications work, they are just one “tool” available to help you better manage ADHD symptoms. And, of course, medications need to properly prescribed by your physician.

The prescribed medications need to be the right medication at the right dose, delivered at the right time and taken consistently to get maximum benefits with minimal side effects. 

And medication is not the whole answer. 

ADHD is a 24/7 disorder, while medications work fairly quickly, the best solution is a comprehensive approach that combines medication with other “tools”. Other tools such as using a planner system effectively, creating systems and structures to follow, etc.

Comments? I love reading your comments and replying! Please leave your comments below.

Enjoyed this article? Here are 3 more all about managing ADHD in your loved one:

What 10,000 Steps and ADHD Have in Common

Your Top Three Questions About ADHD Medication Answered

New “Tests” for ADHD

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Stop Missing Appointments!

ADHD Strategies, Adults with ADHD, Time Optimist    August 30, 2019


Recently I’ve noticed an increase in my dentist’s efforts to remind me of appointments.

In the good old days, I would get a postcard two weeks before an appointment reminding me of the day and time. This was helpful because most of those appointments are made six months in advance.

And then before I knew it, reminder phone calls replaced the postcards which started showing up in my mailbox about two weeks before the appointment. 

Fine by me!

Then the reminder phone calls were joined by several reminder email messages a few days before the appointment – and even a text message asking me to hit reply to confirm that I will be there.

I have a business myself that struggles to find ways to remind clients of appointments, so I can appreciate and respect these reminders.

In fact, I kind of admire the persistence.

But this got me thinking. 

Thinking about all the other polite, conscientious people out there in the world who would never purposefully miss an appointment (AKA most people I know with ADHD).

The people who do their best to remember every appointment they make…only to read a text or pick up a ringing phone the day of the appointment to hear that they were an hour late to their dental cleaning.

Are you one of those people? Constantly late or missing appointments?

If you are, and if you find you are starting to feel nervous to show your face at your dentist or doctor’s office in case you might have been put on their “naughty list”, I’ve got you covered.

A Guide to Keeping Your Appointments with ADHD

Keeping appointments is more than just putting it on the calendar or entering it on your iPhone. Remembering the appointment involves a multi-step system. A system that could fail at any point. Which is why I have broken it down into three steps that include a few tips and tricks to help you make, remember and actually show up 

1. Record the appointment in your planning system

Get in the habit of recording your appointments when you schedule them. 

Many people with ADHD make the appointment, but don’t record it anywhere except their memory. And unfortunately, we all know how that goes.

Not writing it down or thinking you are going to remember it just opens up the door for disaster. In fact, when you don’t record an appointment, it lowers the chances of actually getting to it by about 25 percent!

It is really this missed step that undermines most people’s chances of ever getting to the appointment. You may have the sincerest intentions to write it in your planner later, but be honest: most of us say we will write it down, but we procrastinate and don’t (and if you tend to procrastinate, check out my post here where I write about overcoming procrastination).

Here are some ideas for ways to record the appointment:

  • Write it in your planner
  • Type it into your smartphone
  • Write it on your calendar
  • Create a text and send it to yourself
  • Set a date and time reminder on your phone
  • Take a picture of the appointment card and send it to yourself
  • Ask for a reminder call

If you made and recorded the appointment, congratulations! 

You now have about a 50/50 chance of showing up on the right day and time. Those are better odds than before. 🙂

But, you haven’t reached the appointment yet. Which leads us to step #2…

2. Set a reminder for the day of the appointment.

Set a reminder (preferably several) for the day and time of the appointment as soon as you get it.

Go ahead and add alarms and timers on your phone or watch. Set them a week before, the day before and one hour before the actual appointment. Even better try using a unique alarm sound only for appointment reminding purposes. And if you want to increase your chances of making the appointment to 75 percent, use the vibration alarm. You’ll thank me later!

So far, you’ve made the appointment. You recorded it. You set alarms to remind yourself.

But there’s one final step – perhaps the most crucial one.

Getting there on time.

3. Know how long it will take you to get there.

When I coach my adult clients, I always tell them preparation is the key to success. So when you are trying to get to an appointment on time, be sure to prepare for it by knowing how long it will actually take you to get there. Considering the time awareness challenges so many people with ADHD have, guessing about this is not a good idea.  

Be sure to factor in the time it will take to get out of the house, possible traffic, parking delays, and even slow elevators.

When you’ve figured out how long it will take, multiple it times two.

Yes, times two.

Even with all that factoring in, it is common to still underestimate how long it will take to get somewhere. Multiplying times two allows for those pesky delays. The idea of making and keeping appointments may seem to be a trivial matter to most, but for someone with ADHD, it can be a real problem. 

Good news is that this is a problem that can be solved – as long as you put a few habits, systems and steps into place. 

What are some of your experiences or best ways to make and keep appointments?  I love reading your comments! Let me know below.

Laurie Dupar, Senior Certified ADHD Coach and trained Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, specializes in working with clients who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and want to finally understand how their brain works, minimize their challenges and get things done! Through individual/group coaching, live speaking, and her writing, she helps clients and their loved ones use effective strategies to minimize their ADHD challenges so they can experience success. She is the co-author and editor of 365+1 Ways to Succeed with ADHD and author of Brain Surfing and 31 Other Awesome Qualities of ADHD. For more information, please visit https://www.coachingforadhd.com

This article was originally published on March 30, 2015 and has been updated.

Want to learn more about using your ADHD to your advantage? Check out my most popular blogs below! And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog

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