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Understanding Anxiety Disorders: Types, Symptoms, and Management

Anxiety disorders encompass various conditions characterized by excessive worry, fear, or nervousness. These include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), and specific phobias. Symptoms may vary but often include heightened anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and physical symptoms like palpitations or sweating. Managing anxiety disorders involves therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. It's essential to recognize symptoms, seek professional help, and develop coping strategies tailored to individual needs.

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Tayler Hackett

TMAC Editorial Manager & Trainee Psychotherapist

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How Do Different Types of Anxiety Disorders Affect Individuals with ADHD?

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by relentless worry or fear, unable to escape your thoughts? Anxiety disorders can cast a shadow over every aspect of life, but understanding them, and how they differ, is the first step toward finding relief.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The various types of anxiety disorders and their distinguishing features.
  • How each anxiety disorder interacts with ADHD.
  • The reality of coping with these anxiety disorders and insightful strategies for managing anxiety in all its forms.

Ready to get a deeper understanding of anxiety, and work towards a calmer, happier mind? 

If so, keep reading. 👇

Anxiety Disorders: An Overview

Anxiety is the name we give to a feeling characterized by irrational fears and worries, physical symptoms such as nausea or rapid heart rate, and behaviors such as avoiding certain situations or activities.

Anxiety is a normal stress response and is biologically designed to alert us of danger and help us focus and prepare for any situations that may present risk. ‼️ 

The problem is that, in the modern day, we experience this anxiety far more than necessary. It’s no longer about survival, or even danger. For example, feeling anxious about going to a party or meeting someone for the first time, even though it poses no physical threat to survival. 😕

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

When anxiety becomes persistent or ‘excessive’ it becomes an anxiety disorder, which is a recognized mental illness. 

In fact, anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses, with the World Health Organization estimating that at any given time, around 4% of  the global population are currently living with an anxiety disorder.

The term anxiety disorder describes a group of different mental disorders that each cause someone to feel anxious or afraid most days. This can be extreme, irrational feelings and thoughts about certain situations, objects, or events such as flying in planes, public speaking, conflict and even leaving the house. 🛫

There are several types of anxiety disorders including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder.

Phobias can also trigger anxiety disorders.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety can be caused by anything: genetics, stress, extreme fear, excessive worry, personality types, trauma, racism, sex, gender dysphoria, life events, and certain medications.

Anything that can trigger a fight or flight response (known medically as the stress response), can turn into anxiety - and, if left unmanaged, it can grow into a disorder. 

That also means anyone can experience anxiety. There isn’t a ‘certain type of person’. Life can be stressful and difficult for anyone. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

However, certain risk factors put you at higher risk of developing anxiety more often than others.

This includes:

  • A family history of mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, or panic attacks.
  • Loss of a loved one. Many who lose someone to a severe illness can experience separation anxiety.
  • Trauma or abuse. Childhood abuse in particular can turn into an anxiety disorder later in life. 
  • Growing up in an unstable home. For example, research shows children of divorce are more likely to experience anxiety due to abrupt change.
  • , especially those that affect mood, such as depression, ADHD, autism, and bipolar disorder, to name just a few.

Women are said to be twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men, but it’s important to note that part of that number is likely because men are, unfortunately, less likely to seek the support they need.Interestingly, recent research indicates that women are biologically more sensitive to a hormone called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which is involved in how the body responds to stress. Because of this increased reaction, women are at double the risk of developing stress-related health issues compared to men.Drinking too much caffeine can also make anxiety disorder symptoms worse, especially when combined with strong emotions like anger, stress, fear, etc. ☕🥹But how do you know if that feeling is anxiety?

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What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

There’s no simple answer to this. 

There is a huge range of symptoms tied to anxiety, each manifesting in different ways. You may experience physical, mental, or behavioral symptoms, or more likely, a combination. 

It all depends on which anxiety disorder you’re experiencing, and its severity.  

A few examples include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches or feeling like your stomach is in knots 🪢
  • Irritable bowels
  • Nausea 🤢
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Tightness in the chest (which can even feel like a heart attack)
  • Not being able to think clearly 
  • Trouble sleeping (or sleeping disorders) due to anxious thoughts 😴

It’s often an overwhelming sensation that makes it hard to focus on anything but the anxiety itself.

It’s important to note that not all anxiety is a disorder, and sometimes you can experience all these symptoms and it isn’t even anxiety at all.

For example, there’s a fine line between the symptoms and feelings of anxiety and those of excitement or anticipation. Think about the feeling of being on a rollercoaster - those butterflies in your stomach are both fear and excitement (unless, like me, you’re scared of rollercoasters). 😆

The Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

As we’ve mentioned, while anxiety is often generalized, there are several different types, each with its causes, symptoms, and treatments. 

Let’s explore each of them in more detail, and how they relate to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 👇

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder. It’s usually what we mean when we say we have anxiety before we consider other anxiety disorders.

By definition, it’s a persistent excess of worries and tensions that interfere with daily life. produces constant and exaggerated concern for the everyday world. This anxiety can consume many hours – making it much harder to concentrate on daily activities

A person with GAD may get fatigued by worrying and suffer headaches or digestive problems. General anxiety disorder can also contribute to depression and is often described as a state of constant tension.

Who gets Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

  • GAD is the most common form of anxiety disorder. It's what many refer to when talking about feeling anxious, affecting roughly 3% of people. According to the WHO, this rate increased by as much as 25% during and after the pandemic.
  • GAD is more prevalent in wealthier countries, with 1–7% of Europeans and 7.8% of Americans experiencing it at some point in their lives.
  • Recent research highlights a significant increase in GAD among young adults, particularly among women aged 18 to 34.
  • Additionally, nearly 60% of individuals with GAD will experience major depressive disorder at some stage, indicating a high comorbidity with depression.

What is the relationship between GAD and ADHD?

There's a significant overlap between ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder).

Research indicates that:

  • Among those diagnosed with GAD, 1 in 9 also have ADHD, compared to 1 in 33 among those without GAD.
  • Women with ADHD are four times more likely also to have GAD.
  • Over half of individuals with both ADHD and GAD have also dealt with depression at some point.

You may have already recognized that GAD and ADHD share symptoms like difficulty concentrating, daytime fatigue, and headaches. The combination of the two can worsen ADHD symptoms, particularly inattentive symptoms. Worry is a constant distraction, and the ADHD brain is already distracted enough.

Generalized anxiety disorder often negatively impacts sleep, either the ability to fall asleep or the overall quality. Lack of sleep typically worsens ADHD symptoms

There are also plenty of ADHD symptoms or daily experiences that can exacerbate GAD, such as disorganization, forgetfulness, or time blindness. Missed deadlines, for example, can be a big source of anxiety. 

Panic Disorder

Panic disorders are characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort. 

A panic attack can peak within minutes and cause physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, and a sense of impending doom or loss of control. People who suffer from panic disorders often live in fear of experiencing another attack, leading to avoidance behaviors. 

What is the relationship between GAD and ADHD?

Panic disorder and ADHD frequently coexist, with symptoms of both conditions exacerbating each other. 

The distractibility, impulsivity, and difficulties in emotional regulation of ADHD can make panic attacks more severe. 

Without full emotional control, and the additional sensitivity to stimuli that come with ADHD, it can be difficult to manage the overwhelming fear and physical sensations that happen during the episodes brought on by a panic disorder. 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder, (previously known as social phobia) is an overwhelming fear of social situations or interacting with others, especially where they may be scrutinized or judged by others.

People with social anxiety often fear embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection, leading to avoidance of social gatherings, public speaking, or interactions with strangers

This intense fear can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life. Treatment for a social anxiety disorder may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, medication, and social skills training to help individuals manage anxiety in social settings and improve confidence.

What is the relationship between social anxiety  and ADHD?

Social anxiety disorder is more common in people with ADHD, particularly within those with the inattentive presentation.

This may be because many of us with ADHD are often socially awkward, whether that’s due to forgetfulness, impulsivity, and a tendency to interrupt, or as a result of feeling ‘different’. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts the development of certain skills, like social skills

Regularly dwelling on awkward or uncomfortable social situations can turn into social anxiety, resulting in avoidance and increased isolation.

Rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD), which is common in those with ADHD, can also play a big part, where fear of rejection leads to fear of socializing in general. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive fear of separation from attachment figures, such as parents or caregivers, leading to significant distress when apart. It’s commonly associated with children but can persist into adulthood

People with this disorder will try to avoid this situation or anything that they perceive to be separation or abandonment, at all costs, and with great anxiety.

Symptoms may include persistent worry about harm befalling loved ones, reluctance or refusal to leave home or be alone, nightmares about separation, and physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches when separation is anticipated. 

What is the relationship between Separation anxiety disorder and ADHD?

People with ADHD may experience heightened separation anxiety due to challenges in emotional regulation and coping with transitions or changes. New or unfamiliar situations can cause even more separation issues to occur. This can be particularly significant for children with ADHD.

Struggles with executive functioning skills like organization, memory, and emotional control can (but not always) make people with ADHD more dependent on others for support. Separation anxiety disorder can add to this dependence, putting a strain on relationships. 

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are intense and irrational fears of specific objects, situations, or activities. 

Common examples include fear of heights, spiders, clowns, flying, or enclosed spaces. Unlike generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias are centered around particular triggers and often result in immediate anxiety or panic when confronted with the feared object or situation. 

People with phobias may go to extreme lengths to avoid their phobic triggers, which can significantly impact their daily lives, leaving them constantly on edge.

Treatment typically involves exposure therapy, where you’re encouraged to gradually confront your fears in a controlled setting to reduce anxiety responses and desensitize to the subject of your fear.

What is the relationship between phobias  and ADHD?

Like the previous anxiety disorders, difficulties with emotional regulation come into play here, but those with ADHD are also more susceptible to developing intense phobias in the first place. 

Sensitivity to surroundings and increased emotional reactivity can trigger these phobias more often than someone who is neurotypical and make the anxiety symptoms worse. Phobias are not to be confused with misophonia, which is a sensory disorder and not a phobia - even though it may appear to be as such.

Diagnosis of Anxiety Disorders

If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you’ll want to speak to your doctor or GP. While anxiety may be one of the more common mental disorders, that doesn’t mean you have to just ‘put up with it’. 

The healthcare professional will ask you about your symptoms including severity and how long you’ve been experiencing them. You’ll also want to describe how it’s negatively impacting your everyday life, including school or work.

They may use a specific health assessment if they suspect other mental health conditions that may be triggering your symptoms. 

You may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further diagnosis or move on to treatment recommendations.

How to Manage and Treat Anxiety Disorders

With effective treatment, anxiety can be managed and allow you to live a normal, productive life. ☀️

Several treatments are proven to be effective for people with anxiety disorders, but each person will respond differently, so it’s important to explore multiple options. 

For those happy to try medication options, anti-anxiety medications or psychotherapy medication can help treat anxiety disorders. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), while usually prescribed for depression, can also be used to treat certain anxiety disorders, but it’s important to discuss this with your GP.

Therapy is one of the most important options (even if you’re not suffering from a disorder). 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is super helpful for anxiety as it teaches you actionable tools and techniques to manage your anxious thoughts. This can include stress management techniques, scheduling ‘worry time’, and learning to analyze your thought patterns. We also always recommend it for ADHD.

Mindfulness practices and exercise are also excellent ways to quiet the mind and redirect your thoughts. 

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety is a common stress response but can become problematic when persistent and excessive, leading to anxiety disorders.
  • Symptoms of anxiety disorders vary but may include physical, mental, and behavioral manifestations.
  • There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
    • Panic Disorder
    • Social Anxiety Disorder
    • Separation Anxiety Disorder
    • Specific phobias
  • Treatments may include therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments tailored to individual needs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective in managing anxiety symptoms.

Understanding which anxiety disorder you may be experiencing is a crucial first step in getting the treatment and management recommendations you need to live an anxiety-free life. Being aware of what triggers your anxiety and how to self-soothe is the first step to being able to live without fear,

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can an anxiety disorder be cured?

Anxiety is not curable per se, it is something you may or may not feel but you can have control over it through stress management. The short answer is that anxiety treatment begins with getting the right treatment plan for your condition. Getting the correct treatment for anxiety will assist you in dialling back your out-of-control thoughts so that you can live your life again.

What can I do about anxiety?

Numerous treatments for anxiety disorders exist including anti-anxiety medications and therapy (e.g. talk therapy, exposure therapy) with a mental health professional. However, there are also several self-help techniques you can try to cure anxiety disorders when they occur such as breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness. There are also support groups available where you can join and share your own experiences to help others how to manage stress.

What is the best treatment for anxiety?

The most effective treatments for anxiety are anti-anxiety medication (SSRIs) combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). People usually find that a combination of both CBT in individual or group settings along with a daily regimen of an SSRI helps them feel more in control over their anxiety.‍

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