Acting and Overwhelm, What’s an Artist to Do?

By Andrew Avery

Q: When is overwhelm not just overwhelm?

To build and sustain a creative career is no walk in the park. Success takes tremendous motivation, focus, planning, and resilience. To make a living as an actor is tough enough — but how about when you throw in the demands of a day job, continued training, starting a family, and raising kids? Whoa! That’s enough to overwhelm just about anybody!

But when is overwhelm not just overwhelm?

When you have ADHD.

If you’re struggling with too much stress, disorganization, lack of focus, distraction, problems prioritizing tasks, weak follow-through, frustration, lack of planning, poor motivation and — yes — overwhelm — And You Wonder if It Might be ADHD — this post is for you.

Asking the ADHD question is a good thing! Untreated and undertreated ADHD can seriously undermine your career and many other aspects of life. But you can make things a whole lot better if you recognize and learn to manage your ADHD.

So how do you know if your stress, frustration, and overwhelm is ADHD? And then what do you do?

First, recognize what ADHD really is.

“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” is a lame name and misleading. Most people with ADHD aren’t physically hyperactive. And there is no “deficit” of attention, just poor regulation and distractibility. Really, ADHD is a condition where there is a deficit in the so-called “Executive Functions” of the brain.

Together, the Executive Functions help you prioritize tasks based on importance so you can pursue plans and goals over extended periods of time. Beneath some of the most obvious ADHD traits — clutter, losing stuff, porous memory, disorganization, impulsivity, restlessness, being distracted — are deeper issues: “time-blindness” and lack of a “big picture” of life. And let us not forget low self-esteem, diminished confidence, and shame.

Now let me give an example what all this looks like from my own life.

Okay, back in the day I went to USC Film/TV grad school. Being in school was pretty easy for me, but let’s just say I didn’t excel — I flailed! — when I got out. I was overwhelmed when confronted with millions of choices and unstructured time. Yeah, I had a few successes — I directed a movie and became a writing protege of the Exec Producer David Milch. I had ability.

But I never had a career. Why? Because talent needs structure and focus or it won’t manifest. I never had a specific vision of what I wanted to become. I did not have a plan or prioritize tasks. I didn’t know what to do or where to begin. I worked a lot, but it didn’t add up. I had no support system or nurturing relationships. I felt feckless, stuck, anxious, and depressed. And I had such a poor self-image I was too ashamed to advocate for myself or create a support system. Getting married and having children totally overloaded my system. After that, I was a freaking mess! All the things I’m talking about here are consequences of untreated ADHD.

Overwhelm is not just overwhelm when ADHD symptoms actually impair your life. That could be school, relationships, work, social life, and even the ability to enjoy yourself, laugh, and have fun.

Second, if you think you might have ADHD, you can screen yourself using online questionnaires.

Here’s one I like: And here’s another: These tests aren’t the same as a diagnosis, but they give you a good idea of what you’re dealing with.

Third, you can educate yourself more about ADHD.

There’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there, as well as a couple of big myths. One, it’s not true that people with ADHD are hyperactive — most aren’t. And it’s not true ADHD affects boys more than girls. One final factoid: ADHD is found in about 5% of the population in general, but I would say that number is much higher for creative types and people in artistic careers.

Many books are available — I like ones by Dr. Russell Barkley or Dr. Ned Holloway. There’s a ton of condensed information in this short article here:

What do you do if the screeners are positive or if you go on to get a diagnosis?

You can read my full answer to that question on my blog Factoids for Distractoids found here:

The short answer: consider medication, get ADHD coaching from someone trained specifically to coach adults with ADHD, further education, and physical well-being: exercise, sleep, and diet. (Avoid therapy other than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and avoid brain scan and brain-feedback treatments, which thus far are unproven.)

You can also ask me questions via email: or on my Facebook page ADHDTraction. Fire away!

Finally, if you think you might have ADHD, don’t wait to do something about it. Get help ASAP. You’ll be glad you did!

Andrew Avery aka “Coach Drew”

Andrew loves being an ADHD Coach because it allows him to make a difference in the lives of many very talented, bright, and unique individuals. To become a coach, he trained at the ADD Coaching Academy — great place! — and the University of Santa Monica’s program for Spirit-Centered Coaching. Before that, he worked as a writer and director in Los Angeles after getting an MFA in Film/TV from USC. He has two luminous daughters, the joy of his life. Andrew is also a nature-boy to the core, easily mesmerized by birdwatching, fishing, or just taking in the infinite beauty of the world. For more info or to set up a complimentary call with Coach Drew, visit

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