Updated on 10/27/2022
If you’ve ever asked yourself how do I know if I have ADHD or anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to be diagnosed with an additional mental health condition. In fact, according to the National Resource Center on ADHD, more than 66% of people diagnosed with ADHD have at least one other mental health condition.
ADHD and anxiety can have many overlapping symptoms, so it’s important to understand which is having the most impact on your life to figure out how to treat it.
Having a clear grasp of the differences between ADHD and anxiety can help you and your therapist develop the best treatment plan possible. With the right treatment, whether that’s online therapy, medication, or both, you can live the fullest, most rewarding, and productive life possible.
If you’re wondering whether you have ADHD or anxiety, read on to learn more about the two.
ADHD vs Anxiety: What Are the Differences?
Despite some overlap in symptoms, there are some differences between anxiety disorder vs. ADHD. The major difference comes down to one underlying difference.
- Do you have difficulty focusing because you have apprehensive and fearful thoughts? Anxiety disorders result in the potential to be easily distracted because your mind is full of worrisome, anxious thoughts.
- Or, do you have difficulty focusing because you’re easily distracted (even in times when your mind should be calm)? ADHD can result in the potential to be easily distracted, even when you’re calm. Of course, keep in mind that anxiety can result from an inability to focus, because that can lead to further stress about knowing that you’re falling behind on a task, assignment, or job. “Anxiety that is separate from ADHD is often either more generalized, where you may feel fearful/nervous on a regular basis, or more specific, where you feel fearful/nervous in certain situations (i.e. social settings, public speaking, etc.),” Ertel said.
There are a few questions that can help determine if what you’re experiencing is ADD/ADHD or anxiety:
- Are you an excessive worrier?
- Do certain things make you really fearful just by thinking about them?
- Are you anxious about having to go somewhere or do something?
- Are you overly shy?
- Is there any family history of anxiety?
- Do you become irritated if you have to leave home?
Typically, a professional medical evaluation is the only way to truly know if you’re experiencing ADHD or anxiety.
“People with ADHD often experience some level of anxiety — especially if they do not have environmental and behavioral supports to help manage their symptoms (i.e. daily prioritized to-do list, consolidated calendar of events, a special place for common household items that tend to go missing easily, additional time for detailed/multi-part tasks like exams, etc.). This anxiety is due to a history of making mistakes that others may classify as “careless,” possibly doing poorly in school due to difficulty concentrating.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is a mental health condition characterized by three main things:
- Inattentive behaviors
- Impulsive behaviors
Someone with ADHD often has significant and long-term symptoms that interfere with their basic ability to successfully manage school or work. Though it’s often thought of as something that only affects children, ADHD affects many adults, too.
People diagnosed with ADHD can have issues with just one of the main symptoms, but it’s also common to experience a combination of symptoms. While having some inattentive behavior, hyperactivity, or impulsivity is normal for anyone, those with ADHD will have increased severity of symptoms. With ADHD, symptoms occur more often and drastically interfere with the type of work someone is able to complete. ADHD symptoms can also have an impact on social functioning. Treatment will vary depending on an individual’s symptoms, but typically involves a mix of behavioral therapy and ADHD medications.
The neurophysiological effects of ADHD can result in a number of symptoms between the main categories.
Inattentive behavior can include:
- Wandering off
- Difficulty focusing
- Lacking persistence
- Missing details
- Careless mistakes at work or school
- Seeming like they don’t listen, despite being spoken directly to
- Difficulty staying organized
- Avoiding anything that requires mental effort
- Constantly losing things
- Failure to follow through on instructions
- Difficulty understanding the best sequence to complete tasks
- Being easily distracted
- Forgetting chores, appointments, errands, or following up on important tasks
Hyperactivity/impulsive behavior can include:
- Moving constantly
- Fidgeting excessively
- Talking nonstop or in inappropriate situations
- Extreme restlessness
- Exhausting others with activity
- Running or climbing in inappropriate situations
- Inability to play quietly
- Difficulty with quiet hobbies
- Answering before questions have been fully asked
- Having trouble waiting their turn
- Inability to quietly do an activity
- Leaving seats or desks when they’re expected to stay seated
- Interrupting others in conversations
- Taking over games or activities
- Finishing other people’s sentences
Untreated ADHD can make it difficult for kids to succeed in school and for adults to keep a steady job. One of the reasons for untreated ADHD is because it can be misdiagnosed as obsessive compulsive disorder, since both have plenty of symptoms in common. A professional ADHD diagnosis from a licensed therapist can help you better understand the condition and how to manage it. Some of the ways you can manage ADHD can involve physical activities, therapy, and ADHD medication.
“My favorite treatment approaches for ADHD include a combination of traditional behavioral techniques, some cognitive strategies (to address some of the anxiety), and mindfulness-based strategies to learn how to more easily calm the mind.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is more than just excessive worry. Anxiety is actually a natural response to stress. It’s a heightened, sometimes helpful reaction to danger, but when worries or fears about common, normal situations begin to overtake your life, anxiety can become quite a problem. Anxiety disorders cause intense feelings of dread, fear, or uneasiness in your day-to-day life.
It’s important to determine if your anxiety is just an appropriate reaction or if your response is a result of generalized anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety symptoms can increase in severity and frequency throughout life. People who have generalized anxiety disorder may experience any of the following anxiety symptoms:
- Persistent, extreme fears or worries
- Having a near-constant fear or sense of doom
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations
- Inability to deal with uncertainty
- Feeling extreme fear or unable to deal with uncertainty about the future
- Excessively planning
- Muscle tension in neck or shoulders
- Anxiety chest pain
- Bruxism (clenching or grinding teeth)
- Having intrusive thoughts
- Intense fear of making decisions
- Feeling exhausted or extremely fatigued
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inability to relax
There’s also a type of anxiety called social anxiety, or social anxiety disorder to be exact, that can impact an individual’s social life.
“Symptoms of anxiety show up as: feeling nervous or on-edge, feeling as though something bad is about to happen/waiting for the next shoe to drop, constant worry, difficulty relaxing, and being more irritable than usual. Physical symptoms of anxiety may show up as: stomach/digestive issues, headaches, feeling as though there is a weight on your chest, and/or feeling panicked (i.e. difficulty breathing, feeling sweaty or dizzy, sharp chest pains, etc.).”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
Still not sure if your symptoms could be from anxiety? Consider taking our anxiety test to learn more.
How To Know When It’s Time to Seek Help
Wondering if it’s time to seek help? This is a question you may be asking yourself if your symptoms have become severe enough that they’re interfering in your daily functioning or life. If you want to learn how to deal with anxiety or ADHD, consider speaking with a mental health professional about treatment options.
The good news is there’s treatment available for both ADHD and anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Treatment for ADHD and anxiety are readily available and often extremely effective.
They can be treated separately, but if you’re experiencing and have been diagnosed with both conditions, simultaneous treatment can be a bit more challenging. This is in large part due to the fact that some ADHD medications can actually add to anxiety.
If both conditions are present, a licensed therapist may choose to focus on and treat the one having the most impact on your life first. Some common and effective treatment options for ADHD or anxiety might include:
- ADHD or anti-anxiety medication
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Relaxation techniques
- Creating a schedule
- Working out and eating healthy
“There is never a wrong time to seek treatment for these diagnoses. I personally (and professionally) recommend that people start therapy as soon as they can because the sooner you are able to learn coping skills and interventions, the less impactful the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety might be.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
Dealing with ADHD and anxiety can be very difficult. It can be emotionally taxing, especially in the beginning. Talkspace offers accessible, affordable, and flexible online therapy so when you’re ready, you can speak with a professional to find the right anxiety or ADHD treatment. The potential outcome can be well worth the time and effort you put into self care. It’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.