Navigating social situations can be extra challenging for people with ADHD. In some cases, this can lead to social anxiety.
There are three main symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. Each of these symptoms can impact how you communicate and socialize.
In some cases, ADHD symptoms may create social anxiety or make social anxiety symptoms more pronounced.
It’s possible to improve your social skills at any point in your life. While the symptoms of ADHD may make social situations more stressful, understanding the challenges can help you take steps to overcome them.
If you live with one or both conditions, there are many treatment options, and you may find that learning new coping skills may help you in your daily life.
If you live with ADHD, it’s worth remembering that this neurodevelopmental disorder affects many people — about 4.4% of U.S. adults and up to 10% of U.S. children — and you don’t need to put up with unfair character judgments from other people.
The same goes for social anxiety disorder, a condition that affects an estimated
“Social anxiety disorder is a mental health diagnosis marked by fear or anxiety about social situations where the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others,” says Brent Metcalf, a licensed clinical social worker in Tennessee.
“Usually, the individual [with social anxiety disorder] is afraid they will act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing, which will lead to rejection,” adds Metcalf. “Social situations almost always provoke anxiety in the individual, and people with social anxiety will often avoid social situations altogether due to fear or anxiety.”
Some ADHD symptoms can make conversation and communication more challenging, particularly for those who don’t understand the condition. ADHD can make you more likely to:
- interrupt people during a conversation
- jump between topics in a way that’s hard for others to follow
- get distracted during social interactions and lose the thread of conversation
According to the CDC, about 3 in 10 children with ADHD also have anxiety. A
“It is common to have both anxiety and ADHD,” says Metcalf, “and it is also not uncommon for social anxiety and ADHD to coexist.”
“When someone is nervous or anxious in social settings, they might find themselves wanting to touch things or fidgeting their fingers around,” says Myisha Jackson, a licensed professional counselor in Louisiana. “That is also common with someone with ADHD. They might be fidgeting when they are in a setting where they have to focus or sit still.”
It can be easy to mistake ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity with social anxiety disorder symptoms like fidgeting. Trained mental health professionals can help you identify the causes of your challenges and guide you to coping strategies to ease unpleasant feelings during social events.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD or someone who’s just feeling uncomfortable and on edge during social events, you may find it helpful to consider coping tools as you look for treatment.
There are several standard treatments for ADHD and social anxiety.
For instance, therapy is one standard approach you could take. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common therapy style that may help you manage your ADHD symptoms and find effective tools for your daily life.
You may also want to consider medication and consult with your physician on whether this is the right choice. “If anxiety is the result of ADHD, your doctor may prescribe medication for ADHD only,” suggests Chaye McIntosh, clinical director at ChoicePoint Health.
Alternatively, stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin target symptoms of ADHD and may also provide relief from anxiety. There are also selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (NRIs) such as Strattera (atomoxetine) that may treat both ADHD and social anxiety symptoms.
Several coping methods may help make your daily life a little easier.
From exercise to journaling to meditation, you can explore various options and select the ones that help you move through your days with more ease.
If you feel inattentive or are having trouble completing tasks, it’s essential not to blame yourself for forgetting chores or missing a deadline.
Things won’t always go perfectly, so being gentle with yourself is a best practice. You may find various journaling prompts, such as writing yourself a forgiveness letter, helpful.
Another coping strategy to consider is creating a routine that feels good to you. Part of that routine could even include regular exercise because, as McIntosh notes, “exercise increases serotonin levels and reduces anxiety.”
While your instincts may tell you to avoid situations, that may not be the best coping method. “When it comes to social anxiety, I encourage people not to use avoidance,” says Jackson. “Try not to put off tasks or avoid doing them because it may worsen your social anxiety.”
Instead, Jackson recommends you slowly engage in settings that may cause social anxiety.
“You may want to start going to events where there are not many people, or when you do have to go to places with a large audience, consider bringing someone along with you,” she says.
Whether you are working through ADHD, social anxiety, or both, you’re not alone — and you’re not without options.
Given that symptoms are often similar and could even be linked, consider talking with a doctor to see what solutions would help you most.
If consulting with a doctor doesn’t feel like the right first step, consider a support group for individuals with ADHD to see what has worked for others.
If you’re looking for tools to manage the symptoms of ADHD, there are many resources to investigate, depending on your finances and time constraints.
Try to be patient with yourself as you seek help. There are therapists to help you work through your questions, feelings, and anything else you may be experiencing.