The Links Between Anxiety and ADHD

November 16, 2023

A woman is distracted from her work as she thinks about adhd with anxiety and depression

The presence of anxiety can complicate the identification of co-occurring ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as the symptoms of these conditions often overlap. Likewise, ADHD itself can obscure the manifestation of anxiety symptoms. Accurately recognizing and differentiating both conditions will streamline optimal treatment strategies.

Many individuals diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) experience additional mental health disorders. Research indicates that roughly two-thirds of those with ADHD confront the challenge of managing at least one coexisting condition. Read on to learn more about the intricate interrelationship between ADHD and anxiety.

How Are Anxiety and ADHD Connected?

ADHD typically manifests in childhood and may persist into adulthood. This developmental disorder is often characterized by symptoms including a limited attention span, restlessness, impulsivity, fidgeting, and hyperactivity.

According to ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), half of all U.S. adults with an ADHD diagnosis also have an anxiety disorder. The exact reasons for the frequent co-occurrence of anxiety and ADHD remain uncertain. Genetic factors, premature birth, and exposure to environmental toxins are believed to contribute to ADHD and may potentially influence the development of anxiety disorders. That said, further research is required to establish definitive connections.

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An anxiety disorder involves persistent feelings of nervousness, fear, and worry. While occasional anxiety is normal, individuals with anxiety disorders experience heightened anxiety most, if not all, of the time. They may struggle to identify and manage their specific fears and concerns, which often disrupt their daily lives and interpersonal relationships.

Various types of anxiety disorders exist, including GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Despite the potential co-occurrence of anxiety and ADHD, ADHD itself is not an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can arise independently or as a result of living with ADHD. Stress and worry due to missed deadlines or forgetting crucial tasks can lead to anxiety in individuals with ADHD. Prolonged experiences of such situations may eventually develop into an anxiety disorder for many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Beyond this, certain medications used to treat ADHD – especially stimulant medications like amphetamines – can induce symptoms of anxiety. Genetic predisposition may also contribute to the complex relationship between ADHD and anxiety.

A woman sits hunched over, as she is experiencing the effects of both anxiety and adhd

How Are Anxiety and ADHD Treated Together?

Managing both ADHD and anxiety concurrently can be demanding as some ADHD medications have the potential to aggravate anxiety symptoms. Regardless, it remains imperative to address both conditions effectively.

Initially, your physician may prioritize treating the condition that most significantly disrupts your quality of life. They may also offer guidance on managing the other condition through various means.

Recommended treatments for both ADHD and anxiety, whether in adults or children, may involve cognitive behavioral therapy or the use of prescription medications, including stimulants.

Honest and open communication with your doctor regarding your symptoms is essential, particularly if you suspect the presence of both conditions simultaneously. Sharing feedback about any treatment effects worsening either or both of your conditions will enable your physician to tailor your treatment plan accordingly.

Certain lifestyle adjustments can aid in coping with both anxiety and ADHD, including:

  • Understanding triggers: Identify specific triggers that induce anxiety, such as public speaking or making phone calls, and work with your doctor to devise coping strategies for these situations.
  • Prioritizing sleep: Strive for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, employing relaxation techniques like meditation or a pre-bedtime bath to calm your mind. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, and consult a doctor if you encounter sleep-related challenges due to ADHD.
  • Emphasizing healthy eating: Recognize how nutritional deficiencies or food allergies might exacerbate your symptoms. Initiate an elimination diet to identify triggers, and subsequently adopt a balanced diet, like the Mediterranean diet, while avoiding processed foods and added sugars.
  • Establishing a routine: Develop a practical schedule to manage tasks effectively, considering that challenges in task completion can amplify anxiety. Factor in additional time for each activity to counteract potential ADHD-related time management difficulties.
  • Journaling: Maintain a journal to declutter your mind and jot down any concerns you wish to discuss with a healthcare provider or therapist. It can serve as a valuable tool for self-reflection and tracking progress.
  • Regular exercise: Incorporate regular exercise into your routine, as it has been shown to reduce anxiety. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, with higher-intensity workouts potentially yielding more significant benefits, according to many studies.

ADHD and Anxiety Medication

When managing ADHD with anxiety and depression or any other mental health condition, medication can play a key role in alleviating symptoms and improving overall well-being. There is no single best ADHD medication for adults with anxiety and depression, though. Indeed, some medications used to treat ADHD can potentially worsen anxiety symptoms. Here are some common medications used for treating ADHD and anxiety:

Stimulants

Adderall and Ritalin are the medications most commonly prescribed to treat ADHD. While effective in managing symptoms, they may occasionally contribute to increased anxiety in some individuals. Regular monitoring and adjustments in dosage may be necessary to minimize any adverse effects.

Non-stimulant medications for ADHD

Non-stimulant medications – atomoxetine (Strattera) and guanfacine (Intuniv), for instance – are alternative options. They may be considered when stimulants are not well-tolerated or prove ineffective. These medications typically do not exacerbate anxiety symptoms and may even help alleviate coexisting anxiety disorders.

Anxiolytics

These medications, such as benzodiazepines (alprazolam, diazepam) and certain antidepressants (SSRIs or SNRIs), are commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders. They work to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and may be used alongside ADHD medications. Nevertheless, careful monitoring for potential side effects and interactions is essential.

Alpha-agonists

Some alpha-agonists, like clonidine, are used to manage symptoms of both ADHD and anxiety. These medications can help reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity associated with ADHD and may also have a calming effect, potentially beneficial for managing anxiety symptoms.

Individuals should collaborate with healthcare providers to find the most effective and well-tolerated medication regimen. Open communication about any concerns or changes in symptoms is vital to ensure optimal treatment outcomes for both ADHD and anxiety. Regular follow-ups and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary to achieve the optimal outcome.

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Get Treatment for Anxiety and ADHD at Connections

At Connections Mental Health in Southern California, we treat all types of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders. Contact our anxiety treatment center in Orange County today to get the process started.

During inpatient treatment for mental health conditions like anxiety or ADHD, you will engage with a personalized blend of treatments. A team of passionate mental health specialists will help you restore functioning and improve your overall well-being.

You can also get support from peers dealing with similar issues. We treat a maximum of six individuals at any one time, ensuring that you get the attention you need to tackle your mental health condition. Call 844-413-0009 for more information and immediate assistance.

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