ADHD and anxiety are common co-morbid conditions. Learn more about the overlap of symptoms and how to overcome ADHD-induced anxiety here by implementing these simple strategies.
ADHD is a challenging disorder. Children (and adults) with ADHD have trouble with their executive function, which means there is trouble with impulsive behavior, distraction, hyperactivity, authority, and for many, anxiety.
However, there are very few articles that I have read online that even *mention* anxiety as a symptom of ADHD, much less talk about how common it is.
A few months ago, I decided to do a little more research into ADHD and anxiety, and this is what I found.
What the Research Says about ADHD and Anxiety
ADHD is classified as a disorder of attention and executive function, but an anxiety disorder is classified as a person who feels stressed, uneasy, and even frightened in normal, non-threatening situations.
While ADHD and anxiety are two different conditions, they can play off one another. Knowing that you are impulsive and likely to say the wrong thing can create anxiety. Constant anxiety can make it harder to concentrate.
According to Psych Central, about 40 percent of children and adults with ADHD also suffer from anxiety, either mildly or as a full-blown disorder.
Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist specializing in ADHD told Psych Central,
“People with ADHD, especially when untreated, are more likely to feel overwhelmed and to have more things fall through the cracks which evokes more frequent negative situations—others are angry with them, they feel disappointed in themselves.”
Individuals with ADHD are also typically more sensitive than others, which means they feel emotions more strongly, including feelings of anxiety.
The Relationship Between ADHD and Anxiety
What I found most surprising is how closely ADHD and anxiety disorders are related. A study from 2007 published in Biological Psychiatry found there was a surprising link between ADHD and anxiety disorders like OCD. This study found that when family members were diagnosed with either ADHD or OCD, the risk of another family member having either ADHD or OCD were increased. The risk of diagnosis for ADHD was also elevated in individuals already diagnosed with ADHD and vice versa.
In other words, if you have a family history of ADHD, you are also more likely to have a relative or two with OCD (which is true in our family).
Another study found that about 30 percent of people with OCD also have ADHD.
What to Do If You Suspect an Anxiety Disorder in Your ADHD Kid
If you suspect your child might have an anxiety disorder on top of ADHD (you can check for signs of anxiety disorders here), get evaluated by a qualified psychologist as soon as possible. Treating hidden anxiety with ADHD medication, for example, can actually make anxiety problems worse.
However, even children who don’t have a full-blown anxiety disorder tend to be anxious if they have ADHD. This can appear either as social anxiety, constant restlessness, or low self-esteem.
Children with ADHD are also more likely to be depressed and may try self-harm, as their impulsive, risky nature does not tell them that self-harm is an incredibly bad idea. Don’t dismiss any comments that your child makes about self-harm. Speak to a therapist or other qualified professional as soon as possible if your child continues to make statements about self-harm or depression.
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ADHD and Anxiety at Home
Behavior therapy can help a child with ADHD work through some of the mild anxiety caused by the disorder. Common anxiety triggers include:
- Fearing the loss of friends
- Fearing they will say the wrong thing
- Fearing other kids will think they are weird
- Fearing they won’t do well in school
- Fearing they won’t do well in life
If your child mentions something about feeling anxious, spend a few minutes talking about it. When your child is in a solid emotional state, you can discuss strategies to prevent these fears from occurring.
You might discuss things like:
- Strategies for small talk
- Taking 10 seconds before speaking
- Discuss strategies to make studying easier or to prevent procrastination
- Learning more about potential careers
- Discussing appropriate and inappropriate topics for conversation
- Discussing how to deal with slights from friends
Books on ADHD and Anxiety
ADHD children who also struggle with anxiety require a slightly different approach. If your ADHD child struggles with anxiety, you might find these books and resources helpful:
The anxious child with ADHD is not alone. Although it is not discussed as much as the inattentive part of ADHD, anxiety is common and your child is not unusual if they suffer from anxiety in addition to ADHD. With the correct strategies, you can overcome anxiety.
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