ADHD and anxiety in adults are common and also difficult to diagnose. A lot of people with ADHD are easily overwhelmed. But so are people who struggle with anxiety. The big question I’m always asking is: “is it ADHD or anxiety?”
While some kids are diagnosed with ADHD and/or anxiety, often it takes a long time for a person to understand what’s wrong. Diagnosing ADHD and anxiety in adults can be difficult because the problem may have been going on for so long that the person doesn’t even know that they might have ADHD or anxiety.
ADHD and anxiety display many similar symptoms, making it difficult to identify whether it’s ADHD or anxiety. ADHD and anxiety are also one of the most common pairs of mental health diagnoses that co-occur.
Many of my clients struggle with both ADHD and anxiety, but they may not even know they have either. It’s very easy to go undiagnosed when it comes to ADHD. I see so many people who don’t know they have ADHD suffering through their struggles with having a hard time focusing even if they are getting things done, keeping their attention on one thing, having scattered thoughts, experiencing racing minds, or going through the same thoughts over and over again.
People with ADHD are easily overwhelmed, as are people who struggle with anxiety. Other common symptoms of anxiety are fear and discomfort when dealing with uncertainty. People with ADHD experience similar symptoms, particularly difficulty with uncertainty. You can see why it’s so difficult to separate the two.
I’ve personally diagnosed many clients with ADHD after seeing the symptoms and realizing that they’re not just managing anxiety. When it comes to anxiety, many of the same symptoms occur with ADHD. Attention, difficulty focusing, racing thoughts, and overwhelm are common symptoms of both anxiety and ADHD.
It’s very common for people to not know they have either anxiety or ADHD. If you struggle with deadlines and common responsibilities, you may have ADHD. But you also could have anxiety if simple tasks are overwhelming. Many people with anxiety are perfectionists and want to do everything right. When they make a mistake or struggle with a task or assignment, they get frustrated and feel anxious.
od swings, and difficulty coping with stress. If the thought of working on a task that you don’t understand feels so frustrating you want to poke your eye out, you may have ADHD. ADHD include impulsivity, disorganization, difficulty focusing or multi-tasking, restlessness, low frustration tolerance, mood swings, and difficulty coping with stress. If the thought of working on a task that you don’t understand feels so frustrating you want to poke your eye out, you may have ADHD.
Common symptoms of anxiety include restlessness, panic, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, difficulty concentrating due to worrying, and difficulty sleeping. When you’re anxious you try to find the one perfect solution that will help you avoid your anxiety. If you focus on that, it may feel like you’re having a hard time focusing on other matters.
You may also experience hyperfocus, which is also a symptom of ADHD. Another cross-over symptom between anxiety and ADHD is difficulty sitting with emotions, which can often look like difficulty concentrating.
Anxiety and ADHD both show up in the body with a dysregulated nervous system and physical symptoms. For someone who has anxiety, you may get panic attacks, feel your heart pounding, get headaches, feel extremely fatigued, or have an upset stomach. If you have ADHD, you may have a lot of energy that you don’t know what to do with that also can make your heart pound.
ADHD has a higher rate of difficulty sleeping. When you have a hard time sleeping, it’s difficult to know whether you’re having issues with sleep because of ADHD or if your anxiety is keeping you up. You might have a lot of “what if” thinking that you have more time and space to focus on because you're not busy doing other things.
As you can see, there is a lot of overlap in anxiety and ADHD symptoms. This is what makes it so hard to know whether you have ADHD, anxiety, or both.
Aside from therapy and medication, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help manage ADHD and anxiety. Diet and exercise are two things you can change to make a difference in your mental health and decrease symptoms of ADHD and anxiety. A well-balanced diet can help decrease inflammation in the body, which may help with brain function. 30 minutes of exercise a day can help decrease the severity of your ADHD symptoms. It can also help regulate your nervous system, which is dysregulated with both ADHD and anxiety.
You might also try meditation and mindfulness. These practices require you to be present in the moment and not focus on all the things that you’re anxious or worried about. Meditation and mindfulness can also help with inattention by requiring you to focus on the here and now. You can use an app like Calm to guide you through meditations if you have a hard time sitting still in silence. You can also practice mindfulness by noticing your breathing, focusing on the environment around you, and using your senses to ground you when you start to feel overwhelmed. If this is too difficult, try walking meditation.
Four percent of the population in the US (8 million adults) have ADHD. But less than 20 percent of adults with ADHD are diagnosed or treated. And of those adults, only one-quarter actually seek treatment.
I often see ADHD and anxiety in adults when working with my clients. The question that’s always on my mind is “is it ADHD or anxiety?” Often it’s both.
People with ADHD are easily overwhelmed. So are people with anxiety. Sometimes anxiety can be caused by ADHD, and other times they’re separate. However, they both work together to make your life hell when left untreated.
Treatment for ADHD and anxiety in adults should be done with a combination of medication and therapy. I’m not a doctor and cannot prescribe medication, but I recommend that you meet with someone who can.
It’s very important, though, to make sure you’re attending therapy and putting in the work to improve your mental health. Medication alone is not enough to help ADHD and anxiety in adults.
In therapy, we can work on concrete things such as time management and dealing with overwhelm. We’ll come up with coping strategies to help you handle difficulty with tasks. We can also focus on your anxiety symptoms and find ways to manage uncertainty, panic, and over-compensating for things that feel out of your control.
Still not sure whether you have ADHD or anxiety? Consider therapy – I can help you work through your symptoms and come up with coping strategies to manage how easily you can feel overwhelmed if you have ADHD or anxiety.
During our work together, you’ll learn how to manage your anxiety and ADHD. We’ll come up with coping skills to deal with your symptoms and help you step confidently into the world knowing what you’re dealing with and how you can manage it.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials manage their anxiety so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.