As of February 2023, a recent stat shows that over 10.5 million adult Americans are currently diagnosed with ADHD. 50% of those also say they face anxiety disorders alongside ADHD. This makes knowing whether you have ADHD or anxiety quite tricky when facing the fact that you can have both at the same time!
If that’s the case, how would you know if you have ADHD or anxiety? And what are the differences and similarities between ADHD and anxiety?
ADHD vs Anxiety: What Are the Differences? Is it ADHD or Anxiety?
Mental health on a spectrum
As is the case with other mental health conditions, ADHD and anxiety are both on a spectrum or a range that varies between each individual. Each person on that spectrum’s symptoms may vary from minor to major presentations based on where they are on it.
However, it is not all hard and dry. It all boils down to the diagnosis that your doctor gives you. Just keep in mind that ADHD and anxiety appear in varying degrees, bringing different challenges and needs.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions, which means that it affects how your brain would normally function.
The term ADHD stands for “Attention-deficit/Hyperactive disorder,” characterized by a lack of attention, too much activity, and impulse behavior.
ADHD’s start often presents itself during childhood and its symptoms can continue well into adulthood. It is a common misconception that ADHD can only affect children, but in fact, adults can also exhibit the same symptoms – leading to challenges within the school or the workplace.
ADHD can present itself through several symptoms. People can experience problems with just one of the main symptoms, but those on the severe side can have issues with a combination of symptoms.
Depending on the presentation of the symptoms, it can hamper the productivity of a person. Not only that, other areas of life can be affected – more importantly, the social aspect and functioning. Therefore, the treatment of ADHD also varies depending on each person.
As a whole, ADHD symptoms are cataloged into three distinct categories:
People who experience symptoms of ADHD can fall under the following four categories.
The Inattentive type
If you are in this category, the symptoms for the inattentive type lean more strongly toward inattention rather than hyperactivity or impulsivity. That doesn’t mean you may not struggle with hyperactivity or impulse control, but that the main characteristics of your ADHD do not lean towards those areas.
An individual with the inattentive type of ADHD can experience difficulties in the following situations:
- Organizing or finishing a task
- Paying attention to details
- Following instructions or a conversation
- Constantly losing things
- Avoiding anything that requires mental effort
And more often than not, the individual is easily distracted and forgets details during daily routines.
The Hyperactive-impulsive type
A person who is the hyperactive-impulsive type is characterized by a combination of hyperactive and impulse control symptoms. Keep in mind that this is not the combined type, where you may experience all three at once. This category of ADHD is strongly marked through the following situations:
- Talking and fidgeting a lot
- Inability to sit still for long
- For children, it may show as running, jumping, or climbing constantly without letup
- Feelings of restlessness during inactivity
- Can’t control impulses
- Interrupts others a lot
- Grabs things from people
- Speak at inappropriate times
- Wait or listen for their turn and directions
People with ADHD that are the hyperactive-impulsive type are more prone to accidents and injuries due to issues with impulsiveness.
The Combined type
People who fall under the combined type category are normally displaying signs of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, however, they don’t fall exclusively within them.
Instead, the individual experiences a combination of symptoms from both types. As we said, ADHD falls under a spectrum, so this type is where people generally fall. Most experience varying degrees of inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive behavior.
Most people and children experience a combined form of ADHD. It is the most common form of ADHD. According to Hopkins Medicine, boys are two to three times more likely to have this form of ADHD than girls.
Children with this form of ADHD may experience problems concentrating and completing assignments in school, while adults may have trouble managing their work and maintaining relationships.
The Unspecified type
The unspecified type of ADHD is the category that applies to individuals who have symptoms that align with those of ADHD but do not meet the full criteria for it. The unspecified classification is the least common among the four categories.
For this type, it is usually up to the doctor to choose not to specify the reason the criteria are not met, or the missing information needed to make a more specific diagnosis.
These are the four types of ADHD that a person may experience, but when classified into one area, people are not set on that trajectory for life. As situations and circumstances change, so can the symptoms and their severity.
ADHD comorbidities are when a person experiences one or more conditions at the same time along with ADHD. The most common ADHD comorbidities are:
- Learning disabilities
- Anxiety (Hey!)
- Sensory processing disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
According to a study, 15.2% of adults experience one or more conditions along with ADHD, which is a 3x increase from adults without. While for children, at least 12% experience one or more conditions that present themselves with ADHD, which is a 4x increase.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. It is more than just the regular nervousness or anxiousness that one may feel.
A person with an anxiety disorder may respond to certain situations with fear and dread that can affect them at a physical, emotional, and mental level. Anxiety disorders can interfere with a person’s ability to function, making it harder to get through the day.
Symptoms of Anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety can show themselves through different categories of anxiety disorder:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
These types can exist by themselves or simultaneously, however, the symptoms also overlap. A person with an anxiety disorder can face physical or psychological symptoms.
The physical symptoms that your body can experience from anxiety are:
- Stomach pain/digestive trouble
- Weakness or fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Pounding heart
- Muscle tension
- Panic attacks
Psychologically, a person with anxiety may face these symptoms:
- Feeling tense or nervous
- Having a sense of dread
- Feeling like you are out of sync with the world
- Feeling like people notice everything you do
- Feeling like you can’t stop worrying
- Excessive worrying
- Low mood
ADHD vs Anxiety
Knowing if you have anxiety or ADHD depends on the symptoms and feelings that you are experiencing. ADHD and anxiety can exist together, so it is not a case of one or the other.
The connection between them may seem similar, but it must be noted that they are separate and distinct conditions.
Anxiety and ADHD are similar in their symptoms, but not in results. For example, a person with anxiety and ADHD can have the following overlapping symptoms:
- Excessive worry
There are, of course, other symptoms, but the correct diagnosis depends on the clinician’s examination of your history and questions about what you are currently feeling and experiencing.
On the other hand, the difference between ADHD and anxiety is found in your symptoms. Anxiety disorders give you the feeling of long-term nervousness or anxiousness, which make it the main symptom.
However, the anxiety or nervousness that comes from ADHD is often fleeting, it may be a reaction to a situation or circumstance. It is a side-effect that one can experience.
So, if you experience frequent and long-term anxiety, but don’t have issues with other signs of ADHD such as hyperactivity or impulsivity, that is a sign that you have an anxiety disorder but not ADHD.
ADHD and Anxiety in Females
ADHD and anxiety were long thought to only occur in boys and men but has since been shown that it also occurs in women. There is no connection between the prevalence of ADHD and anxiety with gender, as the numbers are essentially the same.
Historically, however, symptoms of ADHD and anxiety continue to be underdiagnosed for women. Experts conclude that it comes down to the type of ADHD that girls often present, which makes it subtler and harder to diagnose.
Therefore, before anxiety or other conditions develop, ADHD must be diagnosed and treated.
How To Know When It’s Time to Seek Help
Knowing when it’s time to seek help depends on your circumstance and feelings. If you find that your symptoms are becoming severe to the point that it hampers your daily function, then it is the right time to find help and treatment.
Treating ADHD and Anxiety
Treating ADHD and anxiety brings a few solutions. Mental health professionals can help you learn to deal with them through therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes.
For example, a professional may encourage cognitive behavioral therapy which can help you manage your thinking and the way you behave. Treatment for both conditions is readily available and effective!
On the other hand, medication such as ADHD or anti-anxiety medications can help you to manage your condition. However, what is prescribed depends on your symptoms and the diagnosis of the clinician.
If both are present, a therapist may prescribe lifestyle remedies that focus on the issue that impacts your life the most.
Lifestyle remedies are an effective and less intrusive way to manage ADHD and anxiety. Therapists may recommend the following lifestyle changes:
- Keep a journal
- Get enough sleep
- Relaxation techniques
- Working out and eating healthy
Dealing with anxiety or ADHD can be more manageable by applying some of these lifestyle remedies.
Although ADHD and anxiety may seem similar on paper, knowing whether you have ADHD or anxiety is up to the diagnosis of your therapist. It is key to know the symptoms of either condition, their similarities, and their differences so you can make the best decision with the help of your doctor.
Mental health appears in a spectrum, so people are at different stages of battles with ADHD or anxiety. At the end of the day, if it is impairing your ability to function within the day, then that is time to book an appointment with a licensed clinician.
Can ADHD be mistaken for anxiety?
Yes, ADHD can be mistaken for anxiety if you are not careful about recognizing the different symptoms between them. ADHD and anxiety can share similar symptoms, and in fact, anxiety can be a side effect of ADHD, however, they are not the same thing.
How do you test for ADHD?
ADHD can be tested professionally through an appointment with a licensed doctor. This is the recommended way to know whether you have ADHD or not. A person can take a personal quiz online to get an idea of whether you have ADHD or not, but this is unreliable and should not be taken as a sure-fire method.
Can you develop ADHD or do you have to be born with it?
ADHD is a biological disorder, so most cases of ADHD occur because it runs through the family. If you have ADHD, it is a likely case that your parents or siblings have it, as it is usually passed through the genes.