As much as we wish they did, our minds and bodies don’t always cooperate with our medical diagnoses. Mental or physical conditions can present in a very similar way and thus, complicate treatment. For example, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders not only have similar symptoms, but they also occur together at a high rate.
Yep, about half of the adults with ADHD are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Understanding the differences is essential. If you have ADHD but don’t realize you also have anxiety, it can seriously impact how successfully manage ADHD. Let’s shine a light on this connection and how to navigate it in a healthy manner.
The Connection Between Anxiety And ADHD
There are several different types of anxiety disorders. ADHD is not one of them. It is a developmental disorder that often emerges during childhood. Some of ADHD’s hallmark signs and symptoms can overlap with anxiety disorders, e.g. restlessness, fidgeting, a short attention span, and more. Some details to remember:
- ADHD and anxiety disorders can occur independently of each other.
- Someone with ADHD can become quite stressed about the outcomes of their condition (forgetfulness, being late, losing things, etc.) and this can increase their risk of getting an anxiety disorder.
- If you are taking medications for ADHD, they can sometimes cause side effects that mimic the symptoms of anxiety.
- Anxiety primarily features feelings of fear, worry, and nervousness. This, in turn, can lead to forgetfulness or loss of focus. With ADHD, however, having difficulty with concentration is part of the disorder.
- People with ADHD will typically not display the perfectionist behaviors that are common with anxiety.
- If you have both conditions, it is likely that (until treatment kicks in) the symptoms of both conditions will be more severe than if you had the conditions independently.
- Children with both anxiety and ADHD can be more irritable and get into more trouble at school. In some cases, they will withdraw into activities like watching TV or playing video games.
- The full scope of the connection is not yet fully understood but other factors being explored are environmental toxins, premature birth, and genetics.
Self-Help Steps That Can Complement Your Treatment
People with ADHD and anxiety can successfully manage both disorders. A major component of this reality is their willingness to commit to important lifestyle changes. These may include:
- Try to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night — getting to bed and waking up at roughly the same time
- Daily physical activity and exercise have been shown to lower anxiety which, by proxy, will lessen the impact of both conditions
- Learn how to make the healthy eating choices that work for you and, in the process, lessen your symptoms
- Cultivate stress management and relaxation techniques
Identify Your Triggers
Do the work to recognize what can set off either ADHD or anxiety (or both). This will reduce that feeling of being blindsided. It can very helpful to keep a journal to monitor and track these triggers. Journaling is also a helpful way to express yourself and name your emotions.
Add Structure to Your Life
ADHD can knock you off track. Getting knocked off track makes you more anxious. Left unchecked, the cycle will spiral from there. Be proactive by creating a firm day schedule for yourself — always allowing plenty of time for each task. It doesn’t have to be obsessive but your schedule should be viewed as something you wish to follow in the name of feeling better.