The link between ADHD and anxiety

If you’ve been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may also have another mental health disorder. Sometimes symptoms of other conditions can be masked by the symptoms of ADHD. It’s estimated that over 60 percent of people with ADHD have a comorbid, or coexisting, condition.

Anxiety is one condition that is often seen in people with ADHD. About 50 percent of adults and up to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. Keep reading to learn more about the connection between these two conditions.

If you have ADHD, it may be difficult to recognize the symptoms of anxiety. ADHD is an ongoing condition that often starts in childhood and can continue into adulthood. It can affect your ability to concentrate, and may result in behavioral problems, such as:

  • hyperactivity
  • lack of attention
  • lack of impulse control
  • fidgeting and trouble sitting still
  • difficulty organizing and completing tasks

An anxiety disorder is more than just feeling occasionally anxious. It’s a mental illness that is serious and long lasting. It can make you feel distressed, uneasy, and excessively frightened in benign, or regular, situations.

If you have an anxiety disorder, your symptoms may be so severe that they affect your ability to work, study, enjoy relationships, or otherwise go about your daily activities.

The symptoms of ADHD are slightly different from those of anxiety. ADHD symptoms primarily involve issues with focus and concentration. Anxiety symptoms, on the other hand, involve issues with nervousness and fear.

ADHD symptomsAnxiety symptoms
difficulty concentrating or paying attention
trouble completing tasks
inability to relax or feelings of restlessness
difficulty listening to and following instructions
inability to focus for long periods of time
chronic feelings of worry or nervousness
fear without an obvious cause
trouble sleeping or insomnia
headaches and stomachaches
fear of trying new things

Even though each condition has unique symptoms, sometimes the two conditions mirror each other. That can make it difficult to tell whether you have ADHD, anxiety, or both.

How can you tell the difference?

Though a professional evaluation is necessary, family members may be able to tell the difference between ADHD and anxiety. The key is to watch how your symptoms present over time.

If you have anxiety, you may be unable to concentrate in situations that cause you to feel anxious. On the other hand, if you have ADHD, you’ll find it difficult to concentrate most of the time, in any type of situation.

If you have both ADHD and anxiety, the symptoms of both conditions may seem more extreme. For example, anxiety can make it even more difficult for someone with ADHD to pay attention and follow through on tasks.

It’s not clear why there’s a connection between ADHD and anxiety, and doctors don’t fully understand what causes either condition. Genetics may be responsible for both conditions, and may also cause comorbidity. Researchers have also observed several other conditions that are commonly seen alongside ADHD, including:

Possible causes for ADHD include genetics, environmental toxins, or premature birth. It’s possible that these causes could also contribute to anxiety.

Learn more: Is ADHD genetic? »

Treating ADHD and anxiety simultaneously may be challenging because some medications for ADHD can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Both conditions need to be treated, though. Your doctor may choose to focus first on the condition that’s the most disruptive to your quality of life. They may also provide suggestions for ways to manage the other condition.

The treatments your doctor may recommend for both ADHD and anxiety include:

  • cognitive and behavioral therapy
  • relaxation techniques
  • meditation
  • prescription medication

It’s important to be truthful and open with your doctor about your symptoms. This is especially true if you suspect you’re experiencing two conditions simultaneously. Your doctor will want to know if a treatment is making one or both of your conditions worse. That will help them tailor your treatment.

Online therapy options

Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.

If you have ADHD, it’s important to tell your doctor about all of your symptoms, even if you think they’re unrelated. It’s possible you could have an additional condition, such as anxiety. You should also let your doctor know about any new symptoms, as you could develop anxiety or another condition over time.

Once your doctor has diagnosed you with both ADHD and anxiety, you’ll be able to begin treatment for both conditions.

Read more: The 11 best ADHD blogs »

An anxiety disorder is a mental condition that needs to be treated by a mental health professional. There are things you can do, though, to try to reduce your symptoms.

Learn your triggers

In some people, anxiety may be triggered by specific events, like speaking in public or calling someone on the phone. Once you’ve identified your triggers, work with your doctor to help come up with ways to manage your anxiety in these situations. For example, preparing notes and practicing a presentation may help you feel less anxious when speaking in front of others.

Get seven to eight hours of sleep every night

Being tired may trigger anxiety or increase your risk for feeling anxious. Try to sleep for seven to eight hours every night. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try meditating or taking a warm bath before bed to help quiet your mind. Also plan to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Setting a sleep schedule can be an effective way to train your body to sleep when it’s time for bed.

If you continue to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, talk to your doctor. If you’re taking medication for your anxiety or ADHD, it could be interfering with your sleep. You may also need to temporarily take a sleep aid. Don’t start taking any additional medication without first discussing it with your doctor. Some medications may make your anxiety or ADHD symptoms worse.

Create a schedule

If you have ADHD, you may find it hard to complete tasks. This can make anxiety worse in some people. To avoid this, create a schedule and stick to it. Expect each activity to take longer than you think. You don’t want to set unrealistic goals for yourself, as this can increase anxiety.

Keep a journal

Writing in a journal can help clear your mind. There’s no wrong way to keep a journal. It’s only meant for you, so you should feel comfortable writing down anything that’s on your mind. Writing in a journal may also help you pinpoint things you want to discuss with your doctor or therapist.

Exercise regularly

Exercise may help reduce anxiety. In a review of studies, researchers found that exercise reduced anxiety in numerous different studies. More research is needed to fully understand how exercise affects anxiety. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day. If you’re new to exercise, start small and work your way up to longer, more intense workouts.

Be patient

Treatment for anxiety can take time, and you may need to try several treatments before finding one that works for you. Be patient with your doctor and, most importantly, with yourself.