Cartoon illustration of a worried-looking character with the large text 'ADHD' above and '& Anxiety' below, alongside the Instagram handle @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

The ADHD Anxiety Connection: What’s the Difference?

ADHD and anxiety are distinct conditions, but they can coexist. ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, while anxiety involves persistent worry and fear. Distinguishing them involves observing the primary symptoms: if restlessness is driven by worry, it's more likely anxiety; if it's due to impulsivity or boredom, ADHD is the probable cause. Recognizing the overlap is crucial for appropriate treatment and support.

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Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

Reviewed by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach
In this Article

Reviewed by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach
A word form our expert

Why Are People with ADHD More Prone to Anxiety?

Have you ever wondered why anxiety is so common in people with ADHD? Reports say nearly 50% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. In fact, many people, particularly teenage girls, are diagnosed with anxiety long before anyone suspects ADHD. That’s what happened to me. 

But why are these two mental disorders so closely linked? And how do you differentiate between the two?

In this article, we’ll unpack:

  • The overlap between ADHD and anxiety symptoms.
  • How ADHD and anxiety are two distinct conditions.
  • Why ADHD and anxiety can coexist and exacerbate each other.
  • Strategies for managing both conditions effectively.

Now, let's find out more about the complexities of ADHD and anxiety, the symptoms they present, and how we can happily and healthily navigate life with them.

Understanding ADHD and Anxiety 

For those of us with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), one of the most common comorbidities is anxiety. This is partly because common day-to-day ADHD symptoms can trigger anxiety, due to the struggles they create.

These two mental disorders can often be so intertwined that mental health professionals have a hard time telling them apart because of similar symptoms, which can lead to misdiagnosis.

You know yourself better than anyone, which is why you must understand the distinctions between anxiety and ADHD so you’re fully informed when you seek a diagnosis.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes, like increased blood pressure. It’s normal to be anxious from time to time, but if you find yourself having anxiety frequently for no reason, you might have an anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorders tend to cause consistent feelings of worry or dread without cause. Physical symptoms like muscle tension, panic attacks, and insomnia are also common physical manifestations of an anxiety disorder. This worry or fear is also challenging to control and can cause problems in a person's life. 

Some of the most well-known symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:

  • Chronic feelings of nervousness.
  • Struggling to cope using relaxation techniques.
  • Experiencing fear without knowing the actual cause.
  • Frequent questioning or overthinking of one's thoughts and decisions (rumination).
  • Endless feelings of worrying and restlessness.

Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, may be due to a person’s previous experiences in life. Understandably, it can come from abuse, neglect, or any trauma that a person has endured either in childhood or adulthood. 

Other factors, such as an individual’s genetic makeup, medication side effects, or chronic stress can also contribute to anxiety disorders.

You Asked Us…

What does high-functioning anxiety look like?

High-functioning anxiety often appears as being highly productive but internally, individuals may feel overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, have trouble falling asleep, and experience constant worry while managing daily life effectively.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of either hyperactivity, inattention, or both. 

ADHD affects the brain's production of dopamine, a type of chemical messenger known for pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. While not fully proven in every case, ADHD is most likely acquired through heredity and genetics. 

As for its symptoms, numerous traits can be attributed to it. Here are some of the symptoms that an adult ADHD brain can experience:

  • Difficulty with organization, both thoughts and belongings
  • Being forgetful and misplacing things
  • Impulsivity
  • Sensory overload and sensitivity
  • Zoning out of conversations
  • Hyperactivity and trouble sitting still

Note, though, that this list isn't exhaustive, and even the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), only lists some of the many symptoms widely known to be linked to both child and adult ADHD. 

Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms. Not only are there three types of ADHD (hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, and combined), but even the experiences within these subtypes can widely vary. While some may experience symptoms that overlap with anxiety disorders, others might not.

Visualize your ADHD traits!

Take our fun online quiz to visualize your ADHD traits and learn more about your brain!


Anxiety and ADHD: The Numbers

So we can already see how there's a close link between ADHD and anxiety, but just how much?

According to reports and research studies, approximately 50% of adults with ADHD have an anxiety disorder. That’s quite a staggering percentage. 

According to the research paper, Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach, the most common psychiatric comorbidities co-occurring with ADHD are anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and substance abuse disorder

Researchers asked a considerable sample size of 3,199 people with ADHD, and surprisingly, 47.1% of the respondents stated that they were struggling with an anxiety disorder. In contrast, almost 38.3% have been affected by mood disorders.

You Asked Us…

Is ADHD linked to anxiety?

Yes, ADHD and anxiety are often linked. Many adults with ADHD also experience anxiety, as ADHD symptoms can lead to stressful situations that heighten anxious feelings.

The Overlapping Dance of ADHD and Anxiety

ADHD and anxiety share a special connection. Anxiety can develop from years of negative feedback as a result of ADHD struggles and difficult situations. Experiencing this negativity consistently can create a fear of failure and a lack of self-confidence that can easily turn into a persistent anxiety disorder (or one of ADHD’s other coexisting disorders).

Now we understand how the two disorders affect the human brain individually, it’s time to take a closer look at the actual reality of these symptoms, particularly those that can be attributed to both ADHD and anxiety.

  • Restlessness and Inability to Relax - For ADHD, this may stem from our brain's hyperactivity and our "on-the-go attitude." Comorbid anxiety may worsen this as racing thoughts and chronic worrying can make it even more difficult to relax.
  • Poor Organizational Skills - This, along with difficulty concentrating, is common for many people with ADHD due to poor executive function. An anxiety disorder can add the overwhelming feeling of having to do everything at once or the fear of not being able to complete a task.
  • Sensory Overload - ADHD brains can be particularly sensitive and have strong reactions to external stimuli, but when we’re anxious, worrying, and in the habit of overthinking, this can also lead to feeling overwhelmed and oversensitive to our surroundings.
  • Trouble Falling Sleep - Anxious feelings and overthinking can contribute to our brain's inability to sleep and rest easily. For ADHD, racing thoughts caused by hyperactivity can cause the same sleep troubles. Tiredness can make ADHD symptoms and anxiety worse.
  • Social Awkwardness - Adults with ADHD and anxiety disorders may find it challenging to be present in social settings. From an ADHD brain standpoint, they might feel it’s too exhausting to mask their ADHD traits to avoid being judged by other people. This can also cause social anxiety because of the traumatic experience that might have occurred in the past.

These are some of the ADHD symptoms that tend to likewise be present in people with anxiety disorders. As we can see, they are pretty similar, and it can be challenging to manage both if we don't understand how they affect each other.

Navigating Diagnosis and Treatment Options

To receive an accurate ADHD diagnosis, medical professionals often must have to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms first

You see, there are instances where an underlying anxiety disorder can be misinterpreted as ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, symptoms of anxiety can originate from ADHD symptoms. 

And, of course, it can be both. 

That’s why, to avoid misdiagnosis, it's essential to talk about it thoroughly with a mental health professional.

You Asked Us…

How do you calm anxiety and ADHD?

To calm anxiety and ADHD, try mindfulness exercises, structured routines, and physical activity. Medication management and therapy, like CBT, also effectively treat both conditions simultaneously.

Treating the Conditions Individually

It's important to know that while they can co-exist inside a person's brain, both anxiety and ADHD are different conditions with distinct symptoms, treatments, and medications. 

Both should be treated evenly and understood thoroughly to minimize their negative impact on a person's life.

If you're struggling with symptoms of either condition, it is best to seek professional help to find the proper treatment that can minimize your struggles as anxiety can make ADHD symptoms worse and vice versa.

The right medication, such as stimulant medications to treat ADHD or anti-anxiety medication, combined with the proper treatment for managing your symptoms will surely make you feel better. 

Therapy is also recommended. While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically recommended for treating ADHD, it can also treat anxiety, as can other different types of talk therapy such as interpersonal therapy (IPT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, and exposure therapy.  

Outside of professional help, remember to reach out to your friends and family to have regular, healthy conversations with people you trust. Finding communities that understand you can also be life-changing.

An infographic by The Mini ADHD Coach detailing the connection between ADHD and anxiety. It highlights that 50% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder and discusses the challenges of diagnosis and recognition. The bottom of the image features the website

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly 50% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder, highlighting the close link between these conditions.
  • Understanding the differences between ADHD and anxiety is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
  • Symptoms of ADHD and anxiety can overlap, making diagnosis challenging and emphasizing the need for professional evaluation.
  • Managing ADHD and anxiety requires a multifaceted approach, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
  • Seeking support from friends, family, and communities can provide valuable emotional and practical assistance in managing both conditions.

By knowing everything about ADHD and anxiety including their differences and overlaps, you can build a plan to navigate these coexisting conditions. Taking anxiety or ADHD medication, practicing self-regulation activities, and therapy can all be effective ways to reduce anxiety, manage ADHD symptoms, and help you live a mentally healthy life. 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can ADHD worsen anxiety symptoms and vice versa?

This is possible, especially if a person with ADHD is not receiving proper treatment or support for their condition. Struggles with inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can lead to anxiety-inducing situations that may worsen a person's anxiety symptoms. It is crucial to seek professional help to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment for your case.

Is it also possible for an ADHD brain to have other comorbidities aside from anxiety?

Other comorbidities can co-exist even if you already have ADHD and anxiety. The most common comorbidities include depression, personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse disorder. It is essential to have a proper diagnosis to receive the right treatment for your specific needs.

What are some effective treatments for ADHD and anxiety?

There are various treatment options available depending on the severity of your symptoms. Some of the most common approaches include taking medication, behavior therapy or counseling, lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and alternative treatments like mindfulness meditation, relaxation techniques, or neurofeedback. Working closely with your mental health experts regarding the right approach and medication is important.

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