The Connection Between ADHD And Anxiety

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ADHD and anxiety are two different but, sometimes, co-occurring disorders. Keep reading to learn more.

RELATED: 7 Best Vitamins And Supplements For ADHD Symptom Management

In this article:

  1. What Is ADHD?
  2. What Are Anxiety Disorders?
  3. Who Are at Risk for Both Anxiety and ADHD?
  4. Why Is It Difficult to Tell ADHD and Anxiety Apart?
  5. How Can You Tell the Difference Between ADHD and Anxiety?
  6. How Are Anxiety and ADHD Treated?

Everything You Need to Know About ADHD and Anxiety

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a developmental disorder. It’s usually diagnosed during childhood and may continue on until adulthood.

Children diagnosed with ADHD may have some trouble staying focused, keeping still, and controlling their impulses. Specifically, there are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive
  • Hyperactive/impulsive
  • Combination of both

For the inattentive type of ADHD, children frequently exhibit six or more of the following symptoms:

  • Inattention to detail/prone to make careless mistakes
  • Difficulty in focusing on activities (ex: extended reading, listening to lectures, etc.)
  • Seems inattentive during conversations
  • Difficulty in completing tasks or following instructions (ex: chores, schoolwork, etc.)
  • Poor task and time management skills
  • Avoids tasks that require planning and follow through
  • Prone to losing items needed for everyday life (ex: keys, wallet, school books, etc.)
  • Gets distracted easily
  • Forgets routine tasks (ex: chores, errands, etc.)

For the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD, children frequently exhibit six or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fidgets with hands or feet often
  • Difficulty in staying seated for extended periods
  • Runs/climbs in inappropriate contexts
  • Inability to engage in quiet play
  • Moves constantly
  • Talks constantly
  • Difficulty in turn-taking (ex: waiting in line, during conversations, games, etc.)
  • Intrudes or interrupts others without permission

Children with combination ADHD type will exhibit at least six symptoms from either of the first two ADHD types. Studies show that children diagnosed with ADHD often have a more difficult time adjusting in school and making friends.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorder is actually a category for a group of disorders which includes:

  • General anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Agoraphobia

In general, individuals with an anxiety disorder regularly experience fear, nervousness, and worry disproportionate to the situation or their age. These feelings also hinder their ability to function and have a negative impact on their quality of life.

Who Are at Risk for Both Anxiety and ADHD?

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Using data gathered from multiple sources, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 5% of children in the United States have ADHD. Furthermore, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.

Children with ADHD are more likely to experience behavioral, academic, and social difficulties. These difficulties put them at a greater risk for other disorders.

This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children with ADHD for other disorders. The CDC reports 1 in 5 children with ADHD is also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that children with ADHD may struggle with the disorder until adulthood. Studies show that about 80% of adults with ADHD are also diagnosed with other disorders.

Specifically, studies show approximately 50% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. In fact, in a study conducted on male inmates, 50% of the participants with ADHD also had a mood or anxiety disorder.

Similar results were found among adult women as well. In another study, the researchers found that women with ADHD were three times more likely to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder compared to women without ADHD.

RELATED: 11 Tips For Sound Mental Health

Why Is It Difficult to Tell ADHD and Anxiety Apart?

It’s sometimes difficult to tell anxiety and ADHD apart because they share similar symptoms, such as:

  • Fidgeting
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Social withdrawal/socialization difficulties
  • Inability to complete tasks on time

In addition, it’s sometimes hard to tell which came first—anxiety or ADHD? They may develop independently from one another, but it’s also possible that one disorder contributes to the development of the other.

For example, one study found that women with ADHD tend to internalize their ADHD symptoms which puts them at a greater risk for anxiety disorders. The same study shows that when individuals have both anxiety and ADHD, it may lead to misdiagnosis because of their shared symptoms.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between ADHD and Anxiety?

It’s important to remember that ADHD and an anxiety disorder may co-occur, but they are still two different disorders. ADHD is primarily a disorder that hampers the ability to focus and control impulses, while anxiety disorders usually involve overwhelming worry or fear.

For instance, fidgeting is a common symptom in both conditions. If the person only has ADHD, fidgeting happens throughout the day regardless of the situation.

On the other hand, this may not be the case if the person only has an anxiety disorder. Fidgeting may only occur during situations which trigger specific anxieties, such as those involving social interactions.

If the anxiety disorder is primarily a result of ADHD, then the stress and worry are usually about aspects of life which are specifically hampered by ADHD. For instance, not being able to meet deadlines at work or pay bills on time.

However, if the anxiety disorder is separate from ADHD, then the worries and fears usually involve aspects of life which aren’t necessarily affected by ADHD symptoms. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, it may involve a wide range of issues or it may involve a specific phobia.

How Are Anxiety and ADHD Treated?

There are different treatment options for both anxiety and ADHD, such as:

  • Medication – There are different prescription ADHD and anxiety medications. It’s important to talk to a doctor about mixing medication for anxiety and ADHD because certain ADHD medications may aggravate anxiety disorder symptoms.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – This type of therapy aims to change negative thinking patterns. It’s often used for people with anxiety disorders.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques – These involve mediation, visualization, or breathing exercises that help manage stress and anxiety.

Apart from these treatment options, there are also certain lifestyle changes which can help manage the symptoms of anxiety related to ADHD. For example, studies show that poor sleep quality may worsen symptoms of anxiety.

So, it’s helpful to get the proper amount of sleep every night. Exercise and diet may also play a role in managing symptoms of anxiety.

One study shows that regular and moderate exercise may help improve symptoms of anxiety. Another study suggests getting proper nutrition and losing weight may help improve symptoms of anxiety.

If proper nutrition is a challenge, a dietary supplement may help deliver the nutrients that may be missing from a regular diet. Remember, it’s important to talk to a doctor before trying new treatment options or make any lifestyle changes.

Explore more about the connection between ADHD and anxiety from NewLifeOutlook:

Finding the suitable management or treatment of ADHD and anxiety takes time. Different treatment combinations work differently on each person. Explore options with the right healthcare professional.

Do you have any experience with ADHD or anxiety? What are your thoughts on the ADHD-anxiety connection? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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