Genetic research suggests that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders may share similar genetic makeup. Approximately 30 percent of those diagnosed with ADHD have also been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and that number may be as high as 50 percent in adults.
Adult ADHD that coexists with an anxiety disorder may significantly impair the ability to function in one’s daily life. Anxiety tends to exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD, as it often takes one out of the present moment. By attending to something in the past or anticipating a potential threat in the future, anxiety makes it difficult to organize information in a productive manner and can lead to a lack of environmental awareness.
ADHD can create or worsen anxiety as well. If one is worried that their ADHD symptoms will disrupt their work or cause them humiliation, they can experience increased and even debilitating anxiety. Their struggle to manage their symptoms may become overwhelming.
ADHD affects an individual’s ability to concentrate, and may result in a number of behavioral issues. There are three types of ADHD and understanding them can be helpful in managing their symptoms as well as decreasing anxiety:
- Inattentive type.At least 6 of the following 9 symptoms would be present with very few hyperactive-impulsive symptoms:
- Not paying attention to detail
- Making careless mistakes
- Failing to pay attention and keep on task
- Not listening
- Being unable to follow or understand instructions
- Avoiding tasks that involve effort
- Being distracted
- Being forgetful
- Losing things that are needed to complete tasks
- Hyperactive-impulsive type.At least 6 of the following 9 symptoms would be present with very few inattentive symptoms:
- Getting up often when seated
- Running or climbing at inappropriate times
- Having trouble playing quietly
- Talking too much
- Talking out of turn or blurting out
- Often “on the go” as if “driven by a motor”
- Combined type.Symptoms from both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.
Anxiety disorders cause people to have intense, excessive and persistent worry and a fear of everyday situations. It interferes with daily activities such as one’s ability to work, study, or enjoy relationships. It is very important to understand the type of anxiety one has in order to best treat it and reduce any ADHD symptoms exacerbated by the anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about daily life activities and situations. Sufferers will expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.
Social anxiety is the extreme fear of being scrutinized or judged by others in social or performance situations. Although one may recognize that the fear is excessive and unreasonable, he or she is terrified of humiliation or embarrassment.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that occurs in those who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, death of a loved one, war, violent attack such as rape, or any other life-threatening event.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes one to experience unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions), often compelling them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to try to ease their anxiety.
Phobias are strong, irrational fears. Those who suffer from phobias will work hard to avoid certain places, situations, or things. Examples include animals, insects, germs, heights, thunder, driving, public transportation, flying, elevators, and dental or medical procedures.
It is extremely important to understand and treat both ADHD and anxiety simultaneously. As the ADHD symptoms are treated, anxiety reduces. As the anxiety levels come down, the ADHD symptoms lessen. Sometimes, the two may mirror one another, making it difficult to tell whether the person has ADHD, anxiety or both. It is therefore important to seek a professional trained in both ADHD and anxiety Disorders.
A combination of psychotherapy and medications can be highly effective for those who struggle with both ADHD and anxiety. Most will benefit from behavioral, psychological, educational, and coaching interventions from trained therapists with specializations in both ADHD and anxiety disorders.