Conditions

Overcoming the Challenges of ADHD and Anxiety Together

Navigating the complex world of mental health can be challenging, especially when dealing with conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders. These two conditions often overlap, leading to a unique mix of symptoms and challenges. Studies show that almost half of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder, highlighting the importance of […]

By Alan Deibel, LCPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Navigating the complex world of mental health can be challenging, especially when dealing with conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders. These two conditions often overlap, leading to a unique mix of symptoms and challenges. Studies show that almost half of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder, highlighting the importance of understanding this common coexistence.

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at ADHD and anxiety, exploring their mutual impact and providing strategies for managing both. We’ll also address common misconceptions and offer tips for effective condition management.

Whether you’re dealing with these issues yourself or wanting to support a loved one, we want to provide you with helpful information and resources. Our goal is to help you understand ADHD and anxiety better, and give you the tools to manage these conditions more effectively.

Understanding ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it hard to focus and causes impulsivity, fidgeting, and an inability to organize tasks. In the past, some medical practitioners labeled the disorder as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  It’s usually diagnosed in childhood and affects people of all ages. ADHD is estimated to affect 9.8% (6 million) of children aged three to 17 years old in the U.S., and an estimated 366.33 million adult individuals worldwide.

Debunking Common Misconceptions About ADHD

Myth #1: ADHD Isn’t a Real Medical Condition

The National Institutes of Health and the American Psychiatric Association both acknowledge ADHD as a medical disorder as there is a prevalence of family members all suffering from ADHD. Evidence indicates that genetic factors contribute to up to an 88% risk of developing ADHD.

Myth #2: ADHD Is a Phase

Most children with ADHD carry symptoms into adulthood, though these symptoms may evolve or lessen over time. However, adults that are undiagnosed may show problems with executive functioning, procrastination, substance abuse habits, excessive muscle tension pain, and poor emotional regulation.

Myth #3: ADHD People Simply Need More Effort

ADHD isn’t about willpower. Asking someone with ADHD to “just focus” is similar to telling an individual with an eye impairment to see better. Their inattention stems from differences in brain function and structure.

Myth #4: Every ADHD Individual Is Hyperactive

Hyperactivity is just one symptom of the three types of ADHD. While some people can be restless, others won’t show this trait. Also, hyperactivity often diminishes with age.

Myth #5: ADHD Is Exclusive to Boys

While boys are frequently diagnosed by pediatric psychiatry professionals, girls can have ADHD too, but manifest different symptoms, making it less noticeable.

Myth #6: Medicine Is the Cure-All for ADHD

Medication isn’t a cure, but it can help reduce symptoms for many. In most cases, a combination of stimulant and non-stimulant ADHD medication and antidepressant medication are used. 

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural human emotion, often experienced in response to stress or uncertainties. However, for some people, excessive worry disrupts daily activities and quality of life. This chronic state is called an anxiety disorder. When anxiety interferes with one’s ability to function and is a chronic state, it is likely that there is an anxiety disorder present.

Anxiety disorders manifest in various forms. People with anxiety disorders have continuous, intrusive thoughts that induce fear or distress. These worries may be so pervasive that they avoid certain situations. During a panic episode, individuals may experience dizziness, sweating, shaking, and an increased heart rate. Depending on the severity of these panic attacks, individuals may struggle with relationships, work, and daily routines, leading to a decreased quality of life.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a common comorbid anxiety disorder, presents with symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Physical discomfort can include headaches, muscle pain, stomachaches, and unexplained aches. Individuals may struggle to manage their worries and experience insomnia.

The Difference Between Anxiety and Stress

Both anxiety and stress evoke emotional and physical responses, but they have distinct differences. Stress is a short-term reaction to a known challenge or adversity, like meeting a deadline or dealing with a financial problem. Once resolved, stress levels return to normal.

Anxiety, however, is a persistent mental health disorder characterized by pervasive worry and fear. It often exceeds the appropriate response to a situation and persists even without a stressor. Unlike specific threats, anxiety is less tangible, making its management and resolution challenging.

Debunking Misconceptions About Anxiety

Myth #1: Anxiety Isn’t a Real Illness

Anxiety is a legitimate and diagnosable mental health disorder, recognized by medical professionals globally. It’s not simply a character flaw or weakness, and it requires proper healthcare treatment, just like any physical ailment.

Myth #2: Anxiety Is a Phase That Resolves on Its Own

Everyone experiences temporary anxious feelings at some point, but chronic types of anxiety disorders require professional intervention to address the underlying causes. Depending on the individual’s needs, it may include therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these.

Myth #3: People With Anxiety Need to Avoid Stressful Situations

While it might seem logical to evade stressors, avoidance behavior makes anxiety worse over time. Instead, with the guidance of mental health professionals, learning to navigate and cope with stressors can be a critical part of managing anxiety disorders.

The Intersection of ADHD and Anxiety

It’s common to have mental health comorbidity. Recent statistics show that 50% of individuals with ADHD also experience at least one comorbid disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorders, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autism

Can ADHD Cause Anxiety and Vice Versa?

Though more studies are needed, research suggests that these conditions may have a bidirectional relationship. Heightened anxiety may worsen typical ADHD symptoms like feelings of restlessness and distractibility, while the social and cognitive challenges of ADHD may trigger anxiety symptoms. 

The Effect of Co-Occurring ADHD and Anxiety

While ADHD symptoms may trigger anxiety, this connection is primarily observed in severe cases, particularly during early childhood. Research shows that up to 50% of preschool children diagnosed with ADHD also experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. These children tend to internalize their struggles and are more likely to develop long-term anxiety disorders that persist into adulthood.

Unique Symptoms When ADHD and Anxiety Coexist

Many people with ADHD experience higher levels of anxiety, which can negatively impact their ability to focus on memory tasks. Social threats also affect individuals with ADHD and anxiety differently. When both symptoms are high, anxiety tends to have a stronger influence on how these individuals process threats.

ADHD and Anxiety as Disabilities

ADHD and anxiety significantly impact daily functioning and are recognized and protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Accommodations and workplace protections are available. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has updated its listing for anxiety disorders to include OCD, highlighting their severity.

While some symptoms may resemble fatigue or anxiety from excessive work, individuals with ADHD experience persistent symptoms that may have been present since childhood. To qualify for social security disability benefits for ADHD or anxiety, documented evidence such as MRI or CT scans, treatment records, and relevant medical reports are required. 

However, meeting the criteria for disability benefits is not automatic, as the SSA has strict guidelines. To understand your legal rights and options, consult with an experienced attorney and your primary care physician.

Get support for ADHD and anxiety

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Managing ADHD and Anxiety

When ADHD is untreated, it creates a snowball effect, impacting various aspects of life. It affects academic and professional performance, self-esteem, relationships, and overall life satisfaction. Adding anxiety intensifies the negative effects of ADHD. For instance, individuals with ADHD may already struggle with task completion, and anxiety would make this more difficult.

Moreover, physical symptoms of anxiety can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, creating a cycle where one condition triggers the other. When ADHD and anxiety coexist, they amplify each other’s impact. However, recognizing this interaction is the first step toward effective management.

Five Coping Strategies for Dual Challenges

Facing ADHD and anxiety may feel like standing up against a storm, but with the right intervention strategies, one can find calm and clarity. Here are some effective treatment options:

Treating Co-Occurring ADHD and Anxiety

Navigating the terrain of ADHD and anxiety can be like threading a delicate needle. A common question is which to treat first: Anxiety or ADHD? Cynthia Mobley, a Grow Therapy licensed clinical social worker who specializes in anxiety, points out that both should be disclosed and discussed right from the start of a therapy session. Because not every therapist is specialized in treating ADHD, you may end up losing time by bouncing between practitioners. So, it’s best to make sure you’re in the hands of someone experienced with dual diagnoses.

Many individuals are used to people judging them whenever they discuss their mental health problems. If you’ve been bullied before and feel like you need to protect yourself against your therapist, remember that these medical professionals are fully educated and trained to help people like you. They’re here to support you with your challenges. If they don’t receive all the information, they can’t give a proper diagnosis and offer you the right course of treatment.

In addition to therapy, stimulant medications may be prescribed to manage the symptoms. “If the client has mild ADHD symptoms it might be possible to use only coping skills to deal with the symptoms of ADHD. However, if the client’s symptoms of ADHD are more persistent and chronic, medication may be required to assist the patient in achieving optimal functioning,” Mobley explains.

Get Support for ADHD and Anxiety

Living with ADHD and anxiety can be a bit like running a marathon where the finish line keeps moving. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on one condition, the other pops up and says “Hey, remember me?” They’re two separate conditions, but they often cross paths, creating a unique set of challenges.

While it may seem like ADHD and anxiety are controlling your life, remember, you’re so much more than these conditions. You’re not just “coping” or “managing.” You’re navigating, overcoming, and persevering. And help is available.

Finding strategies that work for you is crucial. That’s why personalized treatment plans can make a real difference. With Grow Therapy, you can connect with therapists and mental health professionals who genuinely care and are ready to provide the support you need on your journey.

Remember, you’re not alone. Many medical professionals are here to help you cross that moving finish line. It’s not just about the challenges you face, but your incredible ability to face them head-on.

FAQs

  • ADHD and anxiety are two distinct conditions, but they often coexist. They share some overlapping symptoms, which can sometimes make ADHD diagnosis and ADHD treatment challenging.

  • Both ADHD and anxiety can cause difficulties in various aspects of daily life, including work, school, relationships, and overall well-being. Combined, they may amplify these challenges.

  • Several resources provide help and support for individuals dealing with ADHD and anxiety. It includes mental health professionals, support groups, and platforms like Grow Therapy that connect individuals with professional therapists.

About the author
Alan Deibel, LCPC

Alan Deibel is a licensed clinical professional counselor with over 12 years of experience who specializes in addiction, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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