ADHD and Anxiety: Connection, Overlapping Symptoms and More

May 6, 2021 0

 

You’ve been labeled reckless. You find it hard to be enthusiastic about life. No one seems to understand you. You worry, you obsess, and you feel very irritated.  Is it anxiety, or is it Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? First of all, inattentiveness and hyperactivity are part and parcel of human life. It is normal to switch off, and we all have our lazy days. It is normal to fear and worry – this helps us prepare or cope with dangerous situations.

But when these things adversely affect your school, work, or social life, a clinical diagnosis of ADHD or anxiety is imminent. Anxiety and ADHD might be birds of a feather, but they are inherently different. More than 275 million people have anxiety disorders. Based on a national survey of 2016 parents, an estimated 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Anxiety disorders and ADHD share similarities in symptoms. An anxious adolescent can be highly distracted by his/ her anxiety or obsessions, leading to hyperactivity, for instance. The two conditions can both result in excessive worry and difficulties falling asleep. A thorough medical history analysis is necessary when determining whether either condition is present. You should expect to be asked to fill in forms to help the clinician gather helpful information.

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Read on to learn more about how ADHD and anxiety are connected. 

                             

1: Understanding the Links between ADHD and Anxiety

Anxiety and ADHD are the two most common mental disorders that often occur together. It is more common for an anxiety disorder to develop when ADHD is present. Also, people with ADHD commonly have a host of mental health conditions, including OCD, depression, and anxiety.

Anxiety and ADHD share many signs and symptoms, which makes differentiating between them a very challenging task. A lack of concentration and focus characterizes both ADHD and anxiety, and it is hard to determine which of the two causes the other. To better understand how ADHD and anxiety function, it is essential to start from the definition.

First,

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

There are essential differences between anxiety disorders and panic attacks, which are the body’s normal response to survival in times of threat. The signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder are rarely pleasant, causing patients to suffer in their social life, work, or school. “Anxiety disorders” is a blanket term for various types of anxiety syndromes. These disorders sometimes have distinctive features and clinical diagnoses.

What Are the Six Types of Anxiety Disorders?

1. Panic Disorder: During panic disorders, a patient experiences unexpected and recurrent attacks with sudden spurts of anxiety that can leave them feeling debilitated.

2. Phobias: Persons with anxiety may have different phobias linked to specific objects, feelings, activities, or situations.

3. Social Anxiety Disorder: In this form of anxiety, people fear social situations and circumstances.

4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: The symptoms of OCD include compulsive thoughts and behaviors with repeatability that impacts everyday life.

5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is associated with traumatic past events and experiences throughout a person’s lifetime, causing them to encounter stressful signs and symptoms.

6. Illness Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety related to illness refers to troubling thoughts regarding health.

 

Anxiety
Medical Conditions Linked to Anxiety

 

Now let’s talk about ADHD.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

An ADHD diagnosis can occur at any age. Adults and children can both be diagnosed with ADHD with life-long effects. Just like anxiety disorders, ADHD has its many categories:

Type 1: Predominantly Inattentive

This type of ADHD leads to difficulty focusing on one task at a time. Individuals diagnosed with it are unable to follow instructions or to finish tasks on time. Females are more likely to develop this type of ADHD than males.

Type 2: Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

People with this ADHD type tend to be both impulsive and hyperactive. These behaviors may annoy those around them who must deal with irrational behaviors such as fidgeting, overacting, or inappropriate reactions.

Type 3: Combined Hyperactive-Inattentive Type

This type of ADHD has both hyperactivity and inattention.

Below is a detailed breakdown of both ADHD and anxiety.

What Is the Connection between ADHD and Anxiety?

Researchers still do not have a complete picture of the connection between the two kinds of mental disorders. Experts generally believe that genetics play an essential role in their development. There have been many attempts to explain the connection between ADHD and anxiety. One study argues that similar risk factors shared between both mental health disorders might explain the co-occurrence of these mental health disorders.

Per another study, around 25% of patients in different populations suffer from comorbid mental health disturbances such as ADHD and anxiety. The reports and literature suggest that these subjects had ADHD as children with significant problems with emotions which led them to develop anxiety disorders later in life.

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ADHD
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2: ADHD and Anxiety How to Tell Them Apart

Definitions aside, understanding the differences between these two conditions comes down to the symptoms.  There are many symptomatic similarities between ADHD and anxiety. However, a professional evaluation is crucial to pinpoint the differences between ADHD and anxiety because there are still many aspects of both that are different.

Let’s draw the line between Anxiety vs. ADHD symptoms.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

Excessive Worrying

There is no trigger or valid reason for the worry associated with an anxiety disorder. Instead, it stays constant throughout the day and can become exaggerated due to typical daily life situations. The worrying behavior should be continuous for most of the days for about six months for a clinical diagnosis of anxiety disorder.

Irritation

Because of an overactive sympathetic nervous system, agitation is a common symptom of anxiety disorders. If you have an anxiety disorder, your body has wrongly assumed that it is in danger and is thus constantly stressed, making you irritable.

Lethargy

A person with an anxiety disorder will likely experience anxiety attacks regularly in life. Also, people with anxiety disorders become fatigued too quickly—fatigue commonly follows anxiety attacks.

Muscle Tension

You could have an anxiety disorder if your muscles tend to tense up throughout the week without any apparent reason. Anxiety can lead to muscle tightness, and tensed muscles can then increase anxiety.

Panic Attacks

Recurring panic attacks are a hallmark of having an anxiety disorder, especially in panic disorder. If a significant anxiety attack occurs, people might mistake it for a heart attack. These symptoms include rapid and irregular heartbeat, chest discomfort, and excessive sweating.

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Common Symptoms of ADHD

Fidgeting

In both children and adults with ADHD, fidgeting is a normal part of daily life, whether stressed or not. It can easily be a disruption of others’ conversations.

Failure to Complete Assignments

A significant sign of this mental disorder is the inability to complete assignments and lack of motivation. There is always an unfinished pile of work involving homework, office work, or even home chores.

Avoiding Cognitive Strain

A person with ADHD avoids laborious mental tasks that involve sustained mental exertion. They avoid stuff like planning, estimating, outlining, organizing, and pondering.

Restlessness

Since the mental activity is fast and jagged, it leads to outbursts of emotions and constant restlessness. Since their thought patterns are rapid and irregular, people with ADHD may be pretty loud. Frequently these individuals do not recognize that they are disrupting other people or not letting other people speak in their turn and may blame others for their lack of patience.

Repetition of Mistakes

It is commonly assumed that people who have ADHD are overly careless or slacking intentionally, but their brain chemistry keeps them from functioning efficiently. When ADHD and anxiety are coexisting, you need to understand how they impact one’s functioning to receive an accurate diagnosis.

Below are some ways to differentiate between the two, The table below compares ADHD to anxiety signs and symptoms.

 

ADHD
Medical Conditions Similar to ADHD

 

ADHD Symptoms Vs. Anxiety Symptoms

Symptom ADHD Anxiety
Trouble with concentration Present Present
Memory deficits and trouble in completing tasks Present Absent
Unable to follow instructions Present Absent
Lose focus easily Present Absent
Extreme worry and nervousness Absent Present
Fear triggers Absent Present
Insomnia Present Present
Irritability Absent Present
Stomach disturbance Absent Present
Unable to try new things Absent Present
Impulsiveness Present Absent

 

3: Understanding ADHD and Anxiety in Children

Children and adolescents with ADHD are much more inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive than one would expect for their age. Their behavior can lead to family conflicts and problems at school. However, there is a smooth transition between slight behavioral issues and the various forms of ADHD.

In some children, ADHD manifests itself primarily through inattentiveness. Other children are more likely to be noticed by hyperactive or impulsive behavior. The treatment options depend on whether a child is more inattentive or more hyperactive, how old they are, and whether they are more likely to have behavioral problems in the family or school.

How to Know if Your Child Has ADHD?

Initially, the world thought children to be immune to anxiety and depression. However, this was later proved wrong, as every age can experience mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. An anxiety-prone child may either show a high degree of impulsivity or avoid concentrating on anything.

The following are some typical behaviors seen in children who suffer from ADHD and anxiety concurrently:

  • Fidgets all the time
  • Easily irritated
  • Avoids responsibilities
  • Avoids socialization
  • More interested in social media and video games

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Is It Possible for Anxious Kids to Get Misdiagnosed as Having ADHD?

Many times, children with ADHD and anxiety disorders receive a misdiagnosis given the close similarities between the two conditions. The reason is that children are most likely to exhibit the following behaviors, which may be misdiagnosed as ADHD or anxiety:

Trouble Paying Attention

The majority of parents might mistake difficulty paying attention for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). Children with anxiety may have trouble paying attention, but this is a different case. Attention deficits caused by anxiety and, in general, occur because of stress or worry, lack of sleep, and nutritional deficiencies. However, for kids with ADHD, inattention is a natural part of the condition.

Fidgeting

Anxiety and ADHD share many symptoms, including fidgeting, making it difficult to separate these disorders. It is essential to realize that if a child has an anxiety disorder, it may be caused by the underlying nervousness that anxiety produces. Usually, these students will fidget, or doodle on the board, or shake their legs.

Slow in All Activities

With an anxiety disorder, children work slowly because they strive to do everything perfectly. They are under pressure to be better. But with ADHD, children generally do not plan or initiate a task and are typically unable to pay attention for long periods.

Gets Stuck on Tasks

A child who suffers from anxiety has a more hard time completing tasks and projects. Most often, work is left undone or uncompleted. Anxiety interferes with socializing and reduces the likelihood of asking for help. An anxious child would not ask for help from peers and therefore is likely to lag. On the other hand, ADHD children will not complete assignments because they won’t plan or organize their schedules and can’t finish them.

Lack of Social Interaction

Children with social anxiety tend to isolate themselves from their friends and family members. They have an extreme fear of social interactions and gatherings. But people with ADHD don’t fear social connections. Their aggressive and hyperactive tendencies are what hinders them from getting along with others.

Moreover, ADHD children often lack social cues and get distracted in conversations, which leaves them isolated. Since the two disorders can stem from different factors, it is difficult to determine the exact cause of either. You can help your child by using the definitive treatment and management options as discussed in this guide.

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ADHD
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Tips and Tricks for Parents: How to Help a Child with ADHD and Anxiety?

Your child’s difficulties can take many forms. So, to manage the situation better, it can be beneficial for you to establish a routine for your child. Routine can be reassuring for the child because it allows him/ her to know what to expect. It is essential to know that a child can easily be confused by new or unforeseen things that come into his/ her life; you may have noticed this yourself a few times.

Thus, to reduce the risk of worsened symptoms, please create a routine schedule for them. Once you know your child has developed both ADHD and anxiety, conservative treatment strategies come into play, such as therapies and medications. But there is a lot you can do to aid the healing process. This portion of the guide contains a comprehensive management plan to help you and your child better handle emotional symptoms.

Talk to Your Child

You should constantly monitor your child’s behaviors. If he or she has stopped interacting or is afraid of certain things such as; making or meeting new friends, new places, too much involvement in video games, etc., discuss these things with him/her in detail.

Validate Their Feelings

If your child has anxiety or ADHD, do not scold them. Instead, talk to him/her and find out what they are experiencing to ease their symptoms.

 

Anxiety
Management Options for Anxiety Disorders

 

Calm Yourself

Often, the family becomes annoyed with anxious and ADHD kids, and other members may develop general anxiety. Most of the time, the family starts losing their cool and becomes irritable. Remember that throughout childhood, kids spend a significant amount of time observing their parents. They may learn how to respond to stressful situations like anxiety attacks or ADHD hyperactivity by imitating you. What you do will set an example for your child in the future.

Patience Is a Virtue

You may find it frustrating when your child misbehaves or is rude and abusive. Just remember that they, too, are struggling, and they need an outlet to release their pressures.

Encourage Your Child

You must remind your child of the bright side of things whenever he/she feels anxious and depressed. Determine easy ways for him to cope with stress outside of the home. Remind him of his successes and associate them with the intrinsic qualities he/she possesses: “You continued even when it was difficult. You have shown perseverance.”

Consult an Expert

ADHD and anxiety symptoms cannot be handled or managed in this fashion by parents on their own. You will need a mental health expert who is certified to recommend treatments for ADHD and anxiety symptoms on a clinical basis. Remember that assessing the severity of ADHD and anxiety is essential to find the best way to resolve the issue. The earlier your child receives treatment, the better his/her daily life will be.

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4: ADHD and Anxiety in Adults

In the previous chapter, we discussed ADHD and anxiety in children, but adults have similar signs and symptoms with greater severity. Adults with ADHD tend to have impulsive behavior, inattention, and anxiety attacks frequently. People who have ADHD generally live with some form of anxiety disorder.

How Is an Anxiety Disorder Related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults?

ADHD and anxiety disorder may have specific characteristics in common, but one is not a symptom of the other. People with ADHD have a 50% chance of developing anxiety disorder later in life if they have ADHD at any point in their lives. Symptoms like irritability and poor concentration can occur in anxiety as well as ADHD. Although scientists believe that the two disorders share genetic links, their exact correlation path isn’t certain at this point.

Is It Possible for One Mental Health Disorder to Worsen Another?

The answer is YES when ADHD and anxiety occur together. People with ADHD have progressively more anxiety symptoms. Compared to those without ADHD, there are comparatively fewer possibilities of developing anxiety disorders as adults. Researchers note that people with ADHD are often anxious due to the social stigma associated with mental illnesses and their behavioral reactions. Social anxiety is by far the most common form of anxiety in ADHD.

Potential aspects of ADHD that exacerbate anxiety are:

Unpredictability

With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), people experience persistent inattention and overwhelming behaviors, so thinking about new tasks causes them to feel uncertain about how their minds and bodies react in different circumstances.

 

ADHD
Common Stimulants for ADHD Treatment

 

Pressure to Perform

Those with ADHD can recognize their tasks and deadlines but have difficulty implementing their plans to accomplish them. Being unable to meet deadlines leaves them behind their peers and classmates. People with ADHD are often unhappy that others do not fully understand their situation and the adverse impact on their performance and capability, which worsens their anxiety symptoms.

Raging Emotions

A hyperactive person often shows signs of Emotional Dysregulation. Unpredictable outbursts of emotion make it even harder to focus and complete tasks, thus breeding anxiety.

What Are Some Self-Management Strategies for ADHD and Anxiety in Adults?

COVID-19 has made the stressors more difficult for people to cope with, especially ADHD and anxiety. These conditions have become progressively more severe. It is, therefore, crucial to introduce yourself to the specific skills and the coping mechanisms that can assist you in times of mental health crisis.

Anxiety and ADHD Coping Mechanisms

Scheduling

If you fail to organise your time, you won’t work effectively. Different time-scheduling tools exist, including digital calendars, planners, bullet journals, or simply making a list. Make sure you prioritize every single task and add rest and break periods accordingly.

Exercise

Under current circumstances, people spend most of their days on a couch, working from home. But this doesn’t help to keep your body healthy. Physical activity is important for the brain to function normally. Any exercise releases endorphins that help regulate emotions and mood. Other options to relieve stress include yoga and meditation.

Healthy Diet

We snack on junk food and fast food to save time, but this leads to detrimental additives and preservatives that are unhealthy for our overall health. Things such as caffeine and alcohol amplify the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety. By eliminating the effects of artificial sugars, additives, and preservatives from your diet, you may successfully reduce symptoms of ADHD and anxiety. Only a diet rich in nutrients and vitamins is the basis for overall and mental health.

Pace Yourself

You must set a lower bar of expectations for yourself, knowing that mental health conditions such as ADHD and anxiety cause a lot of pressure and complications. Instead of worrying about exaggerated expectations, it is better to reframe them according to your time and potential.

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Anxiety
Anxiety Treatment

 

5: Anxiety and ADHD Treatment Options 

The prerequisite for treatment is a reliable diagnosis. It must be based on the established ADHD and anxiety diagnostic criteria. After the diagnosis, a consultation with a specialist in mental health follows. In the session, adults/parents and children report how they experience anxiety or ADHD in the family and at school and what problems exist in everyday life. It can be helpful to include an educator in the conversation.

Depending on which problems are in the foreground, suitable treatments may be suggested. Therapy or counseling is often recommended first; in the event of issues at work or school.

ADHD and anxiety symptoms can be mild and easy to control, but they can also be severe and disruptive. Medication and psychotherapy can both be helpful if a child or adolescent is extremely hyperactive or impulsive, can hardly concentrate, shows bothersome social behavior, or has other psychological problems such as depression or anxiety.

A combination treatment plan is beneficial because medication (stimulant or non-stimulant), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and lifestyle approaches reinforce each other.

When it comes to comorbid mental health issues like ADHD and anxiety, working with professionals is the best approach to manage these conditions effectively. The most tested methods for treating ADHD and anxiety include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Relaxation techniques

 

ADHD
Common ADHD Triggers

 

Let’s get down to the details:

Psychotherapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stands out as the best method of psychotherapy for people with ADHD and anxiety.

What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Involve?

The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method used by a psychotherapist that helps individuals identify and change unhealthy beliefs and avoidance behavior. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aims to modify autonomic negative thoughts that are instrumental in fostering and worsening ADHD and anxiety.

Negative thoughts can adversely affect mood. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps identify these thoughts, challenge them, and replace them with more rational, realistic thoughts. Several CBT strategies consist of journaling and role-playing, relaxation techniques, and mental distraction.

Medication

Many people who suffer from ADHD and anxiety often end up being unable to achieve their goals because of the irrational thoughts caused by these conditions. These include; self-doubt, procrastination, negative thoughts, fear, etc. If the psychotherapy approaches fail, pharmacological prescriptions may be imperative.

Our team will work together with you to find the best treatment plan, including an effective schedule that is also sensible. A few combinations may be necessary to achieve the best results. ADHD and anxiety medications may not treat symptoms equally or affect each person the same way. The most effective treatment is often a combination of medication, CBT, and behavioral changes. This is the famed multi-modal treatment.

The Medications Most Widely Used Include:

Stimulants: The drugs in this group have been helpful in treating ADHD for decades. These drugs may help you concentrate and block out distracting thoughts. Most people who take stimulant medications do so to treat moderate and severe ADHD. These medications may help children, teens, and adults who have difficulties studying, working, or at home. The use of some stimulants is effective in children over the age of three. Other drugs of this group may be available for children over the age of six.

Non-Stimulants: Some people use non-stimulants when stimulant drugs don’t work or cause unwanted side effects. These drugs help people with symptoms like impulse control and concentration.

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Anxiety
Anxiety Treatment

 

The most common drugs used for ADHD are:

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine
  • Vyvanse
  • Focalin
  • Strattera (Atomoxetine Hydrochloride)
  • Ritalin (Methylphenidate) 

 Whereas anxiety is treated most commonly with the following drugs:

  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) (Cymbalta (duloxetine), Effexor (Venlafaxine), and Pristiq (Desvenlafaxine)
  • Treatments using Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro)
  • Benzodiazepines (i.e, Clonazepam (Rivotril)*, Alprazolam (Xanax) and Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Non-benzodiazepines (i.e,  Buspirone, Beta-Blockers, Pregabalin, Gabapentin, Hydroxyzine and Diphenhydramine)

Please Note: It is always advisable to obtain a prescription for medications and report any side effects. Mental health medications require a prescription and precautions and can only be issued by certified physicians.

Relaxation Techniques

With the following relaxation methods, ADHD and anxiety patients can relieve stress and reduce symptoms.

Deep Breathing

People with anxiety and ADHD often struggle with negative thoughts and procrastination. Deep belly breathing is a proven method of relieving stress.

Mindfulness

By being mindful, you live in the moment and forget all your worries. Prayer, deep breathing, yoga, and meditation are all forms of mindfulness.

Regular Exercise

The release of endorphins in response to exercise is essential for regulating mood and emotions. These chemicals impact mental health and overall physical health. Exercise also improves sleep, emotional health, and overall well-being.

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Outlook

Consult a health professional if you have ADHD and anxiety as soon as possible. Talk to your therapist about your symptoms because the comorbidity won’t resolve itself on its own. Take medications only under the direction of your therapist. Along with medical treatment, you may be able to manage your symptoms using relaxation techniques and exercises. Report any sudden changes in your body or behavior to a doctor.

Living well with ADHD and anxiety requires constant monitoring of symptoms and determining what strategies work best for you. With the proper support and the right treatment, you can enjoy a fulfilling life and reach your fullest potential.

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