Is it Adult ADHD or Anxiety?
Many adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were diagnosed as children. They’ve grown up with the condition and, even if it’s not well managed, they’re still familiar with the symptoms and the strategies they can employ to help control it.
However, undiagnosed adults with ADHD generally have one question on their minds: What is wrong with me?
When a child presents as hyperactive, unable to focus on simple tasks, and easily distracted, ADHD is usually a physician’s first level of inquiry to diagnose. When an adult presents the same way, however, a diagnosis of ADHD isn’t always so obvious, partially because it’s still often thought of as a “childhood” condition and partially because there are so many other conditions that mimic the symptoms.
One condition that closely resembles ADHD is anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health defines anxiety as “a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread, which can interfere with daily life.”
Anxiety symptoms can include:
- Feeling on edge or restless
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble concentrating at work or school
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Getting tired more easily
For an adult diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), at least three of these symptoms need to be excessive and present more days than not for at least six months.
Irritability? Restlessness? Trouble concentrating? That sounds a lot like ADHD, as well – which is typically where the confusion begins. And it doesn’t help that anxiety is the most common comorbidity for ADHD.
Is It ADHD, Anxiety, or Both?
You can have anxiety without ADHD, ADHD without anxiety, or both at the same time. But in order to effectively treat the condition(s), it’s important to know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Anxiety is a physiological response to a threat or risk. Anxiety has a real value – it helps you react to danger and avoid harmful situations. It’s what kept our ancestors up at night listening for the sound of wild animals outside of the cave and what keeps us up at night wondering how we are going to come up with the money for our property tax bill.
Anxiety causes some of the same symptoms as ADHD, primarily restlessness, trouble focusing, and irritability.
The main difference between ADHD and anxiety is how your symptoms present over time. If you have anxiety, for instance, you’ll likely only experience symptoms in situations that make you anxious. If you have ADHD, you’re going to experience those symptoms in any situation.
Imagine you’re in a room with a large group of people you don’t know well. You’re overwhelmed. Your heart begins racing, your palms start to sweat, you may stumble over your words or feel the need to find an exit route. If it’s anxiety, those symptoms will disappear once you’ve removed yourself from the situation; if it’s ADHD, you likely feel the same way in a room full of people as you do in your bedroom by yourself.
In short, anxiety is dependent on a triggering situation. ADHD is constant.
But what if it’s both Adult ADHD and Anxiety?
Being diagnosed with either ADHD or anxiety is no picnic. But when you have both ADHD and anxiety, the symptoms of each tend to be exacerbated. This is why it’s so important to get an accurate diagnosis from a board-certified professional.
Treatment options for both conditions include medication and therapy, but the types vary. Whereas stimulants are often the first option for ADHD, benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for anxiety. And while cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used for both anxiety and ADHD, the focus of the therapy can change based on the individual and the symptoms.
Adult ADHD and Anxiety: Conquering the Comorbidity
It’s not easy constantly feeling like you’re being held prisoner by your own brain. But with time, effort, a proper diagnosis, and a team of supportive people in your corner, it’s possible to tame your racing thoughts. Baby steps will help you develop coping skills to help you deal with ADHD-enhanced anxiety, and take control of your life instead of letting it control you!
Are you struggling to cope with your new ADHD diagnosis? Do you need some direction? Could you benefit from a certified ADHD coach who can show you how to be more focused and accountable? I can help! Book your FREE Discovery Call today and let’s get started.