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The Overlapping Symptoms of ADHD & Social Anxiety
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can be confused with several other neurodivergent conditions because of the similarities in their symptoms. Some individuals can be diagnosed with ADHD at first, and then have an entirely different finding afterward. Likewise, ADHD can coexist with other conditions that share similarities. For instance, ADHD can occur together with Social Anxiety Disorder. These two comorbid conditions can have quite similar symptoms and can equally affect each other when not managed well.
Distinguishing ADHD and Anxiety, An Overview
Before we discuss the similarities between ADHD and Social Anxiety Disorder, let's first discuss them separately.
ADHD may present itself in three categories:
- Predominantly Hyperactive
- Predominantly Inattentive
- Combined ADHD Type
These ADHD types can have common symptoms, such as being impulsive, having difficulty focusing on tasks and other activities, or being excessively active and restless. On the other hand, anxiety can be caused by different external factors, making us experience discomfort and distress or uneasy emotions that may affect how we carry on with our daily lives.
Some studies suggest that dopamine, a neurotransmitter which affects our ability to handle emotions well, organize things, and plan, is a contributing factor. There are also investigations saying ADHD can be hereditary seeing that it often runs in families.
Anxiety Disorders can also be attributed to heredity, but are primarily acquired from external factors, such as previous traumatic experiences, distress, or side effects of medicines. Social anxiety disorder, for instance, may develop while the person is growing up, especially when they are exposed to certain social conditions, like bullying, hearing negative comments, rejection, or humiliation. Sometimes, when a person experiences these instances, it affects how they develop their social skills, leading to social anxiety disorder.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder All About?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is one of the types of anxiety disorders. When a person has SAD, even everyday social interactions can cause significant distress, anxiety, and embarrassment. They might also become self conscious due to the fear of being scrutinized. For this reason, some people also call SAD “social phobia.”
Some people may dismiss the existence of SAD, thinking that it may only be an exaggerated feeling of shyness or being introverted. But for people dealing with social anxiety disorder, it is more than that.
Having social anxiety disorder doesn't necessarily mean that you are afraid to face people. It can, however, affect how a person thinks or acts, especially when interacting with others. They usually worry about the things other people may perceive with their actions, how other people may judge them, or how they would handle difficult situations when alone outside.
Social Anxiety Disorder can cause panic attacks and severe trauma in certain situations or environments. Hence, managing SAD should be a priority. To manage social anxiety effectively, you must first acknowledge that you may be experiencing it. With self awareness of the possibility, you can get in touch with a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
The intervention from a healthcare professional is a must because it’s possible that your challenges do not come from SAD. Maybe you have another condition or your SAD comes with another neurodivergent issue.
One of the most common conditions that can coexist with social anxiety disorder is ADHD. Mental health professionals sometimes have a hard time diagnosing their patients because of these coexisting conditions.
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ADHD and Social Anxiety Disorder Can Co-Exist
According to studies, SAD is one of the most common Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder comorbidities. Adults with ADHD can present with anxiety symptoms as the two neurodivergent conditions often have similarities. Moreover, ADHD can mask the symptoms of SAD and vice versa.
After the psychotherapist assesses both ADHD and anxiety symptoms and conducts further evaluations, they may diagnose you with ADHD, SAD, or both. Of course, it’s also possible for you to have another condition, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
To help you during your consultation, note all your experiences and write them down on a piece of paper. That way, when you meet your mental health expert, you won't miss anything, and they can provide you with an accurate diagnosis.
When you have an accurate diagnosis, you'll have a higher chance to address social anxiety effectively. Remember: when one of these comorbid situations is neglected, more problems may arise, such as experiencing panic attacks, or you can feel intensely nervous when talking to people who you do not generally know.
What Happens When A Person Has Both ADHD And Social Anxiety Disorder
People with ADHD and/or SAD typically experience challenges during a social interaction or gathering. They may feel nervous before the event (anticipatory anxiety), become extremely anxious during the event, and have intense relief after the fact.
Note that individuals with ADHD often know about social cues, but they find it challenging to control their response to them. As a result, they can exhibit behaviors such as restlessness or fidgeting to release the tension they feel.
Coming across a familiar face on the street from afar can also trigger the symptoms of ADHD and social anxiety disorder. Before your actual encounter with that person, plenty of things will get inside your head. You feel the need to think of familiar topics to start a good conversation and ask them how satisfying their life is. When you unexpectedly run into these distant or local friends, you'll feel distressed because you know you aren't the best person to have a conversation with. Either you'll zone out and cannot focus on the things they are saying, or you may negatively judge them by their appearance and blurt it out with them.
Why People With ADHD May Be Afraid To Face People
Younger people with ADHD are sometimes negatively judged by society. The stereotypes made by people who don't have accurate knowledge about ADHD and its most common symptoms may affect how they view a person struggling with it. And as a result, those affected by stereotyping may act differently around them or mask their symptoms because they don't want to feel negative judgment toward them.
For example, a child with ADHD that blurts out everything inside his brain and cannot control his thoughts may be viewed by another fellow student as talkative or disturbing. When the same kid has heard negative comments about them, their self-esteem might get affected and fall into a shame spiral, causing her to suppress her thoughts, keep them to herself and feel uncomfortable talking.
The impulsivity brought by ADHD may also be a contributing factor as to why some may be afraid to attend gatherings. A person with ADHD might get invited to join a house party and willingly join because of impulsivity. And being a person with an outgoing and hyperactive personality, you can manage to conquer your anxiety and make social interaction with every other attendee at first. However, you may have to take a couple of drinks to boost your self-confidence and reduce the anxiety and tension that you may feel at any given point. And since ADHD and Alcohol don't mix well, certain things may get out of control. This experience may make you feel that you cannot handle it well, making you intensely afraid and reject social gatherings because you might feel overwhelmed again.
Untreated anxiety, combined with ADHD, can stem from more severe problems. You can have distinct fear in facing people you once knew or connecting with strangers in your social environment. These experiences may give you a hard time coping with your ADHD symptoms.
How To Manage ADHD & Social Anxiety Disorder Well
Experiencing ADHD and Social Anxiety Disorder at the same time might mean seeking help from others or asking for assistance, especially when facing complex tasks. If you are experiencing problems in home organization or setting up your schedule, you may have to tap into your immediate family members to help you out. But if you feel anxious, especially when you live independently, the struggle can continue or persist.
As much as possible, don’t face the challenges alone. Doing so may contribute to anxiety and depression association. Before things get out of hand, here are some of the things you can do to manage ADHD and social anxiety disorder:
- Be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. If you are getting overwhelmed by these and struggle to handle them well, you can write a journal about your experiences. This will help you understand your triggers and the situations that give negative feelings.
- If you don't feel like writing your thoughts on a piece of paper, you can have the right support in the form of your friends. Remember that it is still quality over quantity. Unlike other people, you may have a smaller circle of friends, but your relationship with them may be more intact.
- Having an accountability partner may also be beneficial for you. This person will help you manage your tasks and commitments and provide support when needed.
- Remember that it is okay to make mistakes. When exposed to situations where you feel anxious because of people's possible judgment of you, be gentle with yourself..
- When you cannot avoid feeling uncomfortable talking with the crowd or a stranger, practice deep breathing exercises. This can help you calm yourself when you are experiencing panic or anxiety attacks.
- If you feel that you are falling into a shame spiral-related social anxiety, try to be around animals. Reports say interacting with animals can help reduce cortisol levels (a stress hormone).
- Last but not least is to get professional help. If you feel like your symptoms are starting to take a toll on your daily functioning, it would be best to seek professional help from a psychiatrist or counselor who diagnoses ADHD and social anxiety. A primary care provider may suggest ways to treat ADHD and social anxiety disorder, making you feel better.
In conclusion, people with ADHD can also have other mental health concerns, such as social anxiety disorder. It’s also possible that they don’t have ADHD. Rather, SAD just made it seem like they have ADHD. The two, after all, have similarities.
It is essential to understand ADHD and social anxiety better to manage them well. Have someone who understands you well and can support you with your struggles. If you still struggle and feel lost, it is best to seek professional help to get back on track and address them adequately.
ADHD and Social Anxiety: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Does everyone with ADHD have Social Anxiety?
No. Social Anxiety may or may not coexist with ADHD. Other neurodivergent disorders can also affect an ADHD brain, or sometimes, it's just ADHD alone.
Is Social Anxiety the same as Social Awkwardness?
No. Social Anxiety Disorder is under the Anxiety Disorder umbrella, while Social Awkwardness is not. Social Anxiety Disorder is when a person experiences overwhelming fear in social situations to the point it disrupts their daily functioning. On the other hand, social awkwardness can make a person feel anxious and does not necessarily have to be to the point of avoidance or fearfulness.
Is Social Anxiety Disorder Associated with Depression?
Depression may occur when ADHD and/or SAD is not managed well. Depression is often associated with SAD because the person may feel like they're not good enough or not meeting up to other people's standards. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.