Can ADHD Cause Anxiety?

It isn’t uncommon for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) to also experience depression and/or anxiety. According to research, 47% of people diagnosed with ADHD also have a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder. 

This statistic may be concerning, particularly for those who have an ADHD diagnosis. What is it about these two conditions that makes them appear together so often? Could it be the case that ADHD causes anxiety in some way? In this blog, we’ll look to explain the relationship between ADHD and anxiety, and show that while there are some times where ADHD might have an impact on anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily cause anxiety.

ADHD and Anxiety Disorders: What Are the Differences?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that is present from birth and typically diagnosed in childhood, often persisting into ADHD in adults. There are many different signs of ADHD that can vary from one person to another, and not every person with ADHD will experience them in the same way. However, the most common signs of ADHD are as follows:

  • Difficulty remaining focused, especially for extended periods
  • Restlessness and a tendency to fidget
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity
  • Poor attention to detail

These symptoms can be categorised into three main themes of symptoms; inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Some people may experience more of one than the other, but these are just different presentations of the same disorder. 

Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, are characterised by regular episodes of intense anxiety, fear, or worry. We all experience anxiety from time to time, especially when faced with stressful situations. However, if you are experiencing an anxiety disorder, you will notice a significant impact to your day-to-day life, often avoiding many situations that might trigger your anxiety.

Anxiety can also manifest in different ways. It can be experienced as a consistent feeling of nervousness, or feeling restless or tense. Other symptoms can include difficulty concentrating, feeling unable to control your worries, being on edge and worrying something awful will happen. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include a tight chest, a racing heart rate, rapid breathing, feeling hot and sweaty, as well as being fidgety, struggling to sit still, and having sleep difficulties.

Where ADHD and Anxiety Disorders Overlap

As you might have noticed, there is some overlap between anxiety symptoms and ADHD symptoms which can make it difficult to determine the underlying cause. For example, both ADHD and anxiety disorders cite difficulty concentrating, difficulties with sleep and restlessness as symptoms. This means that the road to diagnosis can be challenging, and can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis.

How Can ADHD Cause Anxiety?

In addition to the overlap in symptoms, experiencing symptoms of ADHD in a world that is not set up for people with ADHD, can trigger some anxiety. For example, a student with ADHD might struggle to meet their learning potential in a traditional education setting due to their needs being unmet. They may struggle to concentrate for sufficient periods of time, have problems with managing their time and meet deadlines. The ADHD symptoms can therefore become a cause for concern for the student and can trigger worry and anxiety. However, coupled with overlapping symptoms of worry and anxiety, it can appear as though the ADHD symptoms the student worries about get worse, and it can therefore become a vicious cycle of anxiety and ADHD symptoms.

In addition, if the student is unaware of how ADHD and anxiety can overlap and keep each other going, then treatment may not be as effective. When treating someone with ADHD for anxiety, it is important to take both conditions into consideration and to formulate how one might trigger or keep the other one going.

Getting the Right Diagnosis

Understanding how your ADHD presents itself and how it sits along your anxiety is important in helping you manage both these conditions. If you suspect you have either or both, a diagnosis can help you understand your condition further and will also give you the opportunity to develop a treatment plan alongside a specialist, so that you can ensure you are working to manage these difficulties in the most suitable and appropriate way.

Without an ADHD diagnosis, you might find yourself having unrealistic expectations of yourself. Repeatedly trying techniques for neurotypical people can lead to negative self-judgement and low motivation. With a diagnosis, you can start to apply techniques that work better for people with ADHD and achieve a higher success rate. Equally, if you are experiencing anxiety, it is important to understand how your ADHD symptoms may trigger anxiety and how your anxiety can perpetuate your ADHD symptoms. By using techniques that acknowledge both these difficulties and how they interact with each other, you will be more likely to achieve the results you desire.

With a holistic treatment plan, you’re able to address the underlying ADHD symptoms that are giving you feelings of anxiety: in a sense treating both conditions at once. It’s important to be honest with your GP or therapist here though, as they will want to make sure that they are helping you to address all of your symptoms, even if they don’t seem to be related to your main diagnosis.

Managing Your ADHD

While the symptoms of ADHD can often lead to feelings of anxiety, it’s not entirely true to say that ADHD causes anxiety disorders. Instead, it tends to be the circumstances around Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder that lead to feelings of anxiety. However, with the support of trained psychiatrists, therapists and/or coaches, it is more than possible to manage your symptoms so that you’re able to succeed and thrive. At Psymplicity Healthcare, we take a holistic view of neurodevelopmental disorders and mental health treatment to help our patients work towards improved quality of life, relationships and family life as well as better concentration, all while managing frustration and feelings of anxiety. To find out more about how we can help diagnose and treat ADHD and anxiety disorders, get in touch with us today.

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Mavish S

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity. Since beginning undergraduate studies 13 years ago, Mavish has worked in various mental health settings within the charity, NHS and private sector. Mavish’s passion for learning and professional growth has led to a vastness of experience and accelerated growth in her career while delivering one-to-one therapy, group workshops, training and supervision for professionals and senior team management. Mavish is a keen writer and writes many of the articles on our website, as well of our self-help resources.

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