Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you can't decide whether you may have anxiety or ADHD, the good/bad news is that you may in fact have both.
It's somewhat common to experience multiple disorders, and particularly to experience both anxiety symptoms and symptoms of ADHD simultaneously — they share plenty of the same symptoms and difficulties.
It's also not uncommon to have both and not know. Adults with attention-deficit issues may have developed anxiety before or after their ADHD symptoms manifested, but one of these conditions may have been so prominent that the other one isn't so noticeable in its impact in daily life.
The good news is, they’re both treatable.
A day of anxious feelings is normal for many people without anxiety disorder. In fact, whether or not you have an anxiety disorder depends little on how you feel one day, but on how frequently you feel certain anxiety symptoms.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) calls anxiety disorders a collection of mental health disorders that share common traits, including things like intense feelings of anxiety, anxiousness, severe unease and panic.
Anxious about whether or not you have anxiety? It may not all be in your head.
Physiological symptoms of anxiety may include things like insomnia, regularly feeling wound up or on edge, having difficulty concentrating in many situations, a certain restless feeling, bodily or mental fatigue, muscle tension, aches or uncontrollable irritability and worry.
People with anxiety may also experience elevated heart rate and heart palpitations.
Anxiety must also have recurring symptoms, so one time feeling these things does not make for a diagnosable experience. You have to experience those symptoms of anxiety on most days of the week, for at least six months total, in order to be considered for an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
If it turns out you do feel these things that frequently, you may indeed have generalized anxiety disorder or another form of anxiety disorder.
So does an anxiety diagnosis make you abnormal? Absolutely not. Anxiety disorders are actually quite common — some numbers put the number of American adults with anxiety at 30 percent or more.
A person’s exact causes of anxiety aren’t fully understood and may vary from person to person, but science does credit imbalances of brain chemicals like serotonin with being a factor, as it is with other mental disorders.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is a condition that affects the development and function of an individual with patterned behavior traits of inattention and hyperactivity, as well as impulsivity.
Though it was once called attention deficit disorder, or ADD, this term is now considered outdated. But, to clarify, they’re one in the same.
People with ADHD may suffer from fidgets, tapping or excessive restlessness. These difficulties of staying on task and sitting still are not due to a lack of comprehension, nor are they defiant acts.
Most people with ADHD can’t control these behaviors without medication. Psychotherapy has been shown to help with ADHD in some cases, as has behavioral therapy — both of which can assist ADHD sufferers with more tools, skills and techniques for coping with the symptoms of their condition.
ADHD and anxiety can occur simultaneously. In fact there’s information to suggest that ADHD is more common in people with anxiety.
Both cause stress in certain similar ways, and in some cases, it’s possible for a patient to have both and not even know it.
The comorbidity rate of these two conditions is actually very high at 25 percent according to some research, leading to some obvious misunderstandings.
In fact, not only can they occur simultaneously, but these conditions can have significant modification properties for each other—in other words, they can make treating the combination much more difficult.
It is unclear whether anxiety can cause ADHD to manifest, and likewise whether ADHD can cause anxiety to manifest. What is known is that they can coexist quite comfortably.
ADHD and anxiety may both cause stress, anxiety, make you easily distracted, sap your energy, exhaust you and leave you sleep deprived. They can also cause stress, fatigue and insomnia.
As you can probably imagine, because they share so many similar symptoms, diagnosing and treating them — both separately or concurrently — can be difficult even for the most experienced mental healthcare providers.
Treating anxiety and ADHD may require a complex combination of treatment methods and systems to improve your general sense of control over both psychiatric disorders.
In other words, it could be a huge hassle — especially in the treatment of adults.
The right solution might be a little like putting on pants — best done one leg at a time, so that you don’t fall.
Our advice? Talk to a healthcare professional about both conditions. ADHD’s impact may be lessened by addressing your anxiety, and therefore you may want to start there.
For now, though, you may also want to consider looking into therapeutic practices.
Therapy is about taking the isolation out of your experience and the symptoms of anxiety you deal with — it’s an effective safe space for talking about the struggles associated with anxiety disorders, and gives you a place to address them with the goal of creating a coping plan to deal with them.
This plan may include relaxation exercises and techniques, as well as practices like deep breathing or making different lifestyle choices, like adding physical activity to your life for the purpose of keeping your brain and body healthier.
Some forms of in person and online counseling are more effective than others—studies show that anxiety disorders (and other mood disorders) and their symptoms respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people gain control over their anxious moments to better improve their quality of life.
It does this by teaching them to recognize anxious behavior patterns, and by providing them with tools to cope in a healthy manner.
Learn more about CBT and other therapeutic practices with our guide, What Is Psychotherapy & How Does It Work?.
Aside from these things, therapy professionals might suggest making changes to your lifestyle and relationships.
They may address concerns with your bedtime habits and other parts of your life that may be affecting your mental health throughout the day.
Many of these topics might also be places where a mental health professional might help you improve ADHD symptoms.
And while we’re all in favor of healthy social activities, you might be asked to address self-medication habits like drinking alcohol and taking drugs or even your caffeine consumption, all of which could contribute to anxious feelings, your ability to remain focused, etc.
All of these things can get better, and while managing two conditions at once can be exhausting, it’s possible — and certainly no reason to become discouraged.
All you have to do is take the first step and talk to someone. Until you’re ready to do that, consider using our mental health resources guide to address your lingering questions about treatment and your mental health concerns.