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ADHD

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ADHD vs Anxiety in Adults: How to Tell the Difference

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Dec 10, 2021

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety are two different disorders, but the symptoms often seem the same. In fact, they often can co-exist, and the disorders can make each condition seem worse.

This post will explore the important differences between anxiety symptoms and ADHD symptoms and provide actionable advice about treating both conditions.

Living with symptoms of ADHD and anxiety can make simple tasks difficult or even paralyzing. If you are suffering from symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, or both, speak to a medical professional on Klarity today for online ADHD and anxiety treatment.

Klarity makes it simple to access mental health care through affordable telehealth appointments. Take this short evaluation to understand your symptoms better and schedule a virtual session for ADHD or anxiety treatment within 48 hours

ADHD – Overview & Symptoms

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals of all ages. Children with ADHD typically present with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty paying attention, while adult ADHD may exhibit more subtle symptoms. ADHD is generally diagnosed in childhood, but many adults may not be diagnosed until later.

Both child and adult ADHD can have a significant impact on daily life, but the specific challenges may differ. Treatment approaches for both age groups may involve medication and therapy but differ in some respects.

Symptoms of ADHD include trouble concentrating and finishing tasks, impulsivity, lack of time management skills, restlessness, and mood swings. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Many adults with ADHD aren’t even aware that they have it. Instead, they know everyday tasks can seem difficult, but they aren’t sure why.

ADHD vs Anxiety

The symptoms of ADHD are slightly different from those of an anxiety disorder. ADHD symptoms primarily involve issues with focus and concentration. On the other hand, anxiety disorder symptoms include problems with nervousness and fear.

Common Anxiety Symptoms

Nervousness

People with anxiety disorders often experience severe feelings of nervousness or worry. These feelings can come on frequently and without an obvious stressor. Many physical sensations can accompany nervousness, including a dry mouth, sweaty palms, dizziness, and feelings of self-doubt.

Feelings of Dread

Anxiety disorders can cause intense dread, fear of the worst, feeling on edge, or a general sense of panic. Dread can creep into almost every aspect of day-to-day life, causing a general sense of unease. This sort of anxiety is less intense than a panic attack but longer-lasting, making normal life difficult and relaxation impossible. 

Overwhelming Worry

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about many different things. There’s a tendency to anticipate disaster and be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, and other issues.

Physical Symptoms

Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms. These can range from sweaty hands or shaky legs to an elevated heart rate, nausea, and digestive trouble. Specific types of anxiety may have additional physical symptoms, such as chest pain, numbness or tingling sensations, dizziness, overheating, or chills.

Symptoms Anxiety & ADHD Have in Common

Irritability

Irritability, ADHD, and anxiety all go hand in hand. A prime example of irritability is when environmental changes make you feel angry. For patients with ADHD and anxiety, it’s often hard to deal with expecting things to go one way and then finding out that they don’t. This inability to “roll with things” often leads to quick anger.

Trouble Sleeping

Adults with ADHD and/or anxiety frequently suffer from sleeping problems. People with ADHD tend to have trouble winding their minds down when it’s time for sleep, whereas those with anxiety wrestle with excess worry and fear, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Sleep disorders can worsen anxiety, creating a negative cycle where sleep decreases while anxiety symptoms worsen.

Restlessness

Both ADHD and anxiety can cause restlessness. Whereas this can manifest in children as hyperactivity, in adults, it appears differently. Rather than bouncing off the walls, adults with ADHD and anxiety are likelier to be restless or find that they cannot relax. Others may describe you as on edge or tense. 

Difficulty Concentrating

Someone with an anxiety disorder will find it difficult to concentrate during certain situations that cause them to feel anxious. However, someone with ADHD will find it difficult to concentrate most or all the time.  

Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms associated with ADHD and anxiety but often the least discussed. All of the above symptoms of restlessness and troubled sleep lead to an inevitable crash, and with that comes fatigue.

ADHD and Anxiety: Comorbidity

“Comorbidity” is simply two conditions that exist together. Not only is there a lot of crossover and similarity between ADHD and anxiety—he two conditions often exist side by side. Roughly half of the adults with ADHD also suffer from an anxiety disorder. ADHD can often exacerbate anxiety symptoms and vice versa.

To complicate things, the relationship between ADHD and anxiety in an individual is not always clear. A person can develop an anxiety disorder and experience anxiety symptoms due to their attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

If a person’s ADHD symptoms (difficulty focusing and trouble concentrating) cause them excessive worry about their performance at work or at school, it could lead to them developing a social anxiety disorder, panic attacks, or other comorbid anxiety disorders.

On the other hand, severe anxiety symptoms can result from an unrelated mental health condition not causally linked to ADHD. That’s why talking to a board-certified mental health provider about your medical history and symptoms is so important.

Noticing symptoms and suspect you have a mental health condition? Take a free self-evaluation on Klarity today.

Getting Diagnosed with ADHD vs Anxiety

Overlapping symptoms of comorbid psychiatric conditions often complicate getting an accurate diagnosis. Consulting a professional is the best way to improve your mental health.

While both anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can cause difficulties with attention and concentration, there are some key differences in how these conditions are diagnosed and treated.

  1. Diagnostic criteria: The diagnostic criteria for anxiety and ADHD are different. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed based on persistent and excessive fear or worry about everyday situations or events. ADHD is diagnosed based on inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity symptoms that interfere with daily functioning.
  2. The onset of symptoms: Anxiety disorders can develop at any age, but they often first appear during childhood or adolescence. ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood, but symptoms can persist into adulthood, and some individuals may not receive a diagnosis until later in life.
  3. Types of symptoms: While both anxiety and ADHD can cause difficulties with attention and concentration, the types of symptoms are different. Anxiety may cause worry or preoccupation with certain thoughts or situations, while ADHD may cause trouble sustaining attention, forgetfulness, and impulsivity.
  4. Treatment approaches: Treatment for anxiety disorders typically involves a combination of medication and therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Treatment for ADHD may also involve medication and therapy, but the specific types of medication and therapy used may differ. For example, stimulant medications are commonly used to treat ADHD, but they are not typically used to treat anxiety—in fact, stimulant medications can cause anxiety or make existing anxiety worse.
  5. Comorbidity: Anxiety and ADHD often co-occur, and individuals with ADHD may be more likely to experience anxiety or other mood disorders. In some cases, anxiety symptoms may be secondary to ADHD symptoms, such as worry about poor performance or difficulty completing tasks.

Trust Klarity for ADHD And Anxiety Diagnosis & Treatment

It’s challenging to find the right treatment when you have ADHD and anxiety. The first-line medications often prescribed to treat ADHD can make anxiety symptoms worse. Plus, through the traditional psychiatric care system, you’d have to wait weeks to get your answer. 

Klarity offers a different solution to finding the right treatment for people who have ADHD and anxiety. On Klarity, you no longer have to wait weeks to meet with a medical provider and weeks longer for a follow-up. Also, you can meet with your provider anywhere you have internet service or cellular data. 

All you need to do to get started is take our brief 2-min evaluation to connect virtually with a provider in 48 hours or less to discuss anxiety treatment and ADHD treatment

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