Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/30/2022
When we feel overwhelmed, worry a lot or have trouble focusing, we may want to know what’s causing these feelings. This brings many people to wonder about the relationship between ADHD versus anxiety.
While many of us may associate being easily distracted with the condition ADHD — which stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder — there’s also some overlap between this condition and anxiety disorders.
ADHD and anxiety are two separate conditions. But since they often have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to determine which one you have.
Having a clear understanding of the symptoms of anxiety, as well as ADHD symptoms, can not only help you and a health professional figure out the best treatment plan but also give you peace of mind.
If you’re curious about anxiety versus ADHD, keep reading for an overview of both psychiatric conditions and how to seek treatment for either.
ADHD is a disorder known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). It occurs when people experience hyperactivity, inattention, impulsiveness or a combination of these symptoms.
Those with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors or staying organized.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders first diagnosed during childhood that can last well into adulthood. In 2020, there were over 360 million global cases of adult ADHD.
Many of us may struggle to focus from time to time. But for those with ADHD, inattention and impulsivity are more severe and frequent while interfering with school, work and social life.
Other mental and physical symptoms people with ADHD may experience include:
Overlooking details or making careless mistakes
Seemingly not listening when spoken to
Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort
Difficulty following through on instructions
Fidgeting and squirming
Feeling restless (children with ADHD may run around at inappropriate times)
ADHD can be misdiagnosed as emotional or disciplinary problems, especially in children. The symptoms of ADHD may also change over time and last into adulthood.
Treatment for ADHD can include medication, psychotherapy, education or a combination of treatments. More on this below.
Feeling anxious or worrying about something in your everyday life is normal, even without an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Whether or not you have an anxiety disorder depends little on how you feel one day but on how frequently you experience certain anxiety symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are a collection of mental health disorders that share common traits, including intense feelings of fear or worry, anxiousness, severe unease and panic.
Symptoms of anxiety may include insomnia, regularly feeling wound up or on edge, difficulty concentrating in many situations, a certain restless feeling, bodily or mental fatigue, muscle tension, aches or uncontrollable irritability.
People with anxiety may also experience elevated heart rate and heart palpitations.
If you’re experiencing recurring symptoms (having symptoms most days of the week for at least six months), you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder or another form of anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are actually quite common — just over 19 percent of Americans are believed to have an anxiety disorder.
There are different types of anxiety disorders, each with specific symptoms and causes. Some of the most common include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).Generalized anxiety disorder can cause excessive or persistent feelings of anxiety or worry. People with generalized anxiety disorder may experience constant worry about their health, work and social life, among other things.
Social anxiety disorder. Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder can cause intense fear or anxiety of being viewed negatively or rejected in social situations. Sweating, trembling, racing heart, trouble making eye contact or feeling self-conscious are common signs of social anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder.Panic disorder can cause people to experience sudden and frequent panic attacks, either after being exposed to a trigger or at random. Panic attacks involve a rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweaty hands, feeling out of control and chest pain.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Obsessive-compulsive disorder is when someone has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts and behaviors (obsessions and compulsions). People with OCD may check certain things, wash their hands, clean their home or perform other “rituals” repetitively to provide relief from obsessive thoughts. Like other anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder can interfere with a person’s social or professional life and affect their relationships.
The cause of anxiety may vary from person to person. But science does credit imbalances of brain chemicals like serotonin as a possible factor, as with other mental disorders such as depression.
While there are differences between ADHD versus anxiety, there is a notable relationship between the two.
ADHD and anxiety can be comorbid, meaning the two disorders exist at the same time in one person. In fact, about half of adults with ADHD have a co-occurring anxiety disorder.
While ADHD versus anxiety aren’t the same, the conditions can sometimes mirror each other, making an accurate diagnosis difficult.
Whether ADHD can cause someone to develop anxiety or vice versa is unclear.
Not only can they occur simultaneously, but these conditions can also have significant modification properties for each other. In other words, they can make treating the combination much more difficult.
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.
Medication is one treatment option for both conditions. However, some ADHD medications can make anxiety symptoms worse. For example, Adderall — a typical ADHD medication known as a stimulant — can increase nervousness, among other side effects.
Another medication, bupropion (Wellbutrin®), may be used as an off-label treatment for ADHD. However, this medication can cause side effects such as anxiety, sleep problems and tremors — which some people with anxiety may already have.
The best solution might be trying to treat one condition at a time.
Talk to a health professional about your symptoms to get a proper diagnosis. The impact of ADHD may be lessened by addressing your anxiety, so you may want to start there.
Psychotherapy is another good place to start and a commonly recommended treatment for both ADHD and anxiety.
Therapy is a safe space for talking about the struggles associated with anxiety disorders and creating a coping plan to deal with them.
Some forms of in-person therapy and online counseling are more effective than others. For instance, studies show that anxiety disorders (among other mood disorders) and their symptoms respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people gain control over their anxious moments to better improve their quality of life. The method teaches patients to recognize anxious behavior patterns while providing healthy coping tools.
Mental health professionals might also suggest making changes to your lifestyle, relationships or other parts of your life that may be affecting your emotional well-being throughout the day.
While managing two conditions at once can be exhausting, it’s possible — and certainly no reason to become discouraged.
Our mental health resources portal can address your mental health concerns and lingering questions about treatment. It can also connect you to mental health professionals when you’re ready to take the next step.