A man holding his head in his hands.
50% of children and adults who suffer from ADHD also suffer from anxiety.

ADHD and Anxiety: Overlapping Symptoms

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that affects about 6 million people. ADHD triggers hyperactive and impulsive behaviors, meaning people can get easily distracted, people may lack time management skills, and people may often feel restless and impulsive. Someone with ADHD can also have difficulty concentrating, making decisions and regulating emotions.

Anxiety is the constant feeling of worry, which can take a toll on your mental and physical health. So, how does this affect people who have ADHD and anxiety?

What Are Anxiety Disorder Symptoms?

We’ve established what the symptoms of ADHD are, now let’s compare them to the symptoms of anxiety.

Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Shaking
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling fearful
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty controlling anxiety

When someone worries, the object of their worry is real and the person can sometimes find a solution to stop worrying. Worry is temporary, normal and controllable.

When you have ADHD, you might worry about losing your keys or phone, or not getting something done on time. With an anxiety disorder, the cause of anxiety can be unclear. At times, nothing a person does eases their anxiety.

3 Main Types of Anxiety Disorders

Panic disorder. This disorder causes panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of sudden terror but there is no real danger. Panic attacks can happen anytime and anywhere without warning

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A person with GAD has constant anxiety over several things. They could be overly concerned with disasters, money, family and other issues.

Social anxiety disorder. Social interactions or the thought of them can cause anxiety. Normal social interactions cause fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment. A person with social anxiety disorder obsesses over social interactions.

What’s It Like to Have Anxiety With ADHD?

As if life is not hard enough, up to 50% of children and adults with ADHD also suffer from an anxiety disorder or at least have anxiety symptoms. When the two disorders are comorbid, their overlapping symptoms can worsen.

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Overlapping Symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety

When a person has ADHD and anxiety, they can have overlapping symptoms from each condition. Here’s how these overlapping symptoms can affect a person.

  • Sensory overload. ADHD impairs executive function, preventing you from properly managing your emotions. Sensory overload typically occurs due to the brain trying to process too much at once. The stimuli could be thoughts, sounds, movements, light. Having an anxiety disorder increases the amount of emotion your brain can process. This makes sensory overload more common in individuals with ADHD and anxiety disorders.
  • Trouble sleeping. There are few studies on how ADHD and anxiety disorders impact sleep. This study found that anxiety made sleep problems worse.
  • Constant thinking or racing thoughts. It is not clear if comorbid ADHD and anxiety disorders can increase the amount of constant thinking in a person. With ADHD, the racing thoughts are random. With an anxiety disorder the thoughts can be random but anxiety related.
  • Poor social interaction. When you combine ADHD and anxiety, poor social interactions will occur more often.

How Should Anxiety Disorder and ADHD be Treated?

You should begin treatment as early as possible. The longer each disorder goes untreated, the worse it can get. Treatment is similar to how the disorders would be treated if they occurred separately. A combination of therapy and medication is used.

The famous MTA study proved a combination of therapy and medication is the best treatment. However, one unique challenge when treating ADHD with anxiety disorder is deciding which disorder to treat first. Which disorder is treated first depends on your care provider. They will evaluate the strength of each disorder and how they are interacting with each other.

Treating ADHD first might be preferable if it is suspected that ADHD is causing the anxiety symptoms.

Using Medication to Treat Anxiety Disorders and ADHD

In some cases, treating ADHD with stimulant medication can also be effective at treating anxiety. In other cases, treating ADHD with stimulants will make anxiety symptoms worse. Popular ADHD stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin, available in several generic forms.

Common side effects of ADHD medication include:

  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Fever
  • Dry mouth

Addiction and heart problems are a risk as well. Anti-depressants are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and ADHD. Popular anti-depressants include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Celexa.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you struggle with anxiety and ADHD, make sure to talk to your doctor about what course of treatment is right for you. Therapy may help, or you may need medication, but the safest option is consulting your doctor first.