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Understanding Anxiety and ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, affects both children and adults. Around 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD. Common symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. 

Those diagnosed with ADHD often have a second — or comorbid — condition. The most common comorbid conditions are depression, social phobia, and anxiety.  ADHD and anxiety have an overlap of symptoms, making it difficult to separate the two conditions. This article will focus on understanding anxiety and ADHD, focusing on:

  • Their similarities and differences.
  • What comorbidity is and how it affects these conditions.
  • What you can do to get a correct diagnosis. 

Similarities and Differences 

Girl Covering Her Face
Dealing with ADHD or anxiety in children at a young age is an immense challenge. Making sure they get the right treatment is very important. 

The similarities between ADHD and anxiety make it more difficult to see symptoms of one if you have already been diagnosed with the other. Understanding how anxiety and ADHD are similar and how they differ is important for anyone diagnosed with either condition. 

Anxiety Disorder

An anxiety disorder is characterized by intense symptoms of anxious thoughts and beliefs, feeling overwhelmed or frightened, and physical reactions to those triggers. Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed can result in inattention, one of the symptoms of ADHD. 

Anxiety is often caused by a mixture of genetics and biology as well as stress and your environment. The exact causes are unknown. It may develop at any point from childhood onward, as your environment changes. 

Anxiety disorders can be treated in two ways. 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that helps those struggling with anxiety. CBT is usually a one-on-one between a patient and a therapist who works to help you manage your symptoms of anxiety
  • Medicine is also used to treat anxiety disorders. There are multiple anti-anxiety medicines and antidepressants that are prescribed to help those struggling with anxiety. 


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning it is an effect of the way the brain grows and develops. It develops in children and can last into adulthood. It is often difficult to diagnose because it is normal for children to have trouble focusing and be hyperactive. 

Children with ADHD do not grow out of those behaviors. Signs of ADHD involve when symptoms interrupt their daily lives. There are three main types of ADHD. They focus on the two main symptom groups of ADHD: inattention and being hyperactive and impulsive. 

  • The predominantly inattentive presentation manifests in an overall lack of attention. It is difficult for individuals diagnosed with this type of ADHD to organize and finish tasks, pay attention, and follow instructions.
  • The predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation manifests in a lot of fidgeting and talking. Individuals diagnosed with this type of ADHD are not able to wait their turn and are wont to interrupt people when speaking, not listen to instructions, and move constantly. 
  • A combined presentation diagnosis is when both symptom groups manifest equally. 

Treatment for ADHD, similar to anxiety, is a mixture of psychotherapy and medication. Therapy is often recommended before medication, but the best treatment will vary from child to child. 

Key Differences

There are differences in the symptoms and treatment of ADHD and anxiety. ADHD makes it difficult to concentrate, regardless of the situation or pressure, where anxiety hinges on the situation. In a high-pressure situation, someone with anxiety may experience heightened symptoms while someone with ADHD will experience normal symptoms. 

Some treatment medications for ADHD will worsen the symptoms of anxiety. If they are not diagnosed together that can create complications. It is common for people diagnosed with ADHD to have another condition affecting them, known as comorbidity. 

Getting the Correct Diagnosis

Small Group Discussing A Diagnosis
Friends and family are great resources for figuring out a diagnosis. It is challenging to accurately recount your own symptoms of ADHD or anxiety. 

A correct diagnosis is important to understand your condition and treatment going forward. A misdiagnosed condition can lead to worsening symptoms until the diagnosis is corrected. It is difficult to distinguish between ADHD, anxiety, or them being comorbid. Considering the timing and theme of your symptoms as well as thorough testing is a good way to distinguish between them. 


Comorbidity is the presence of two or more conditions at the same time. For someone with ADHD, the common comorbidity is an anxiety disorder. 


Knowing the timing of your symptoms gives insight into what is affecting you. ADHD, anxiety or both can be the cause of symptoms dating back to childhood. In each case, the conditions may begin years before they get diagnosed. 

In some cases, an anxiety disorder can be mild enough that the person does not notice or can work through it on their own. If it worsens and they go to a doctor about it, figuring out when the symptoms started is imperative to getting a correct diagnosis. Asking multiple sources is recommended, be they co-workers, friends, family, or teachers. 


How the symptoms affect your life gives more insight into what is affecting you. In general, ADHD symptoms are more consistent than anxiety symptoms. Someone with ADHD may experience anxiety prior to a performance or when trying to meet a deadline because they cannot focus. On the other hand, someone with anxiety may feel overwhelmed in those situations in spite of their preparation.

People with ADHD can also be anxious about social situations, but their anxiety stems from not paying attention to their friends or generally lacking self-control. For someone with anxiety, that worry may stem from the number of people gathered or their appearance. 

If these two conditions are comorbid, diagnosis becomes more challenging. 


There are several self-diagnostics online, such as the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS-v1.1) and the General Anxiety Disorder 7 (GAD-7). While these are good places to start, meeting with a medical professional is important to a correct diagnosis. 


If you are worried you may have anxiety or ADHD, do not hesitate to contact your medical provider. If you prepare the correct information, they are well equipped to diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment for you.