There's a lot of overlap, but the two are still distinct.
Many people associate ADHD with hyper, unfocused young boys. But the truth is, ADHD is much more complex than that. Of course if you have ADHD, you know it’s a lot more than hyperactivity. ADHD isn’t just about trouble concentrating; it also comes with emotional dysregulation, sensitivity to rejection, trouble with organization, and anxiety.
But wait, you might be thinking: anxiety is its own diagnosis! How can it be part of ADHD? To put it simply... It's complicated.
Let’s pick this apart and make it make sense.
Like many mental health conditions, ADHD exists on a spectrum. Some people are so mildly affected, they never even get diagnosed. And sometimes ADHD is so challenging, it makes it difficult to maintain a job and a stable life. The same is true for anxiety. Anxiety disorders also exist on a spectrum, and can affect your life to varying degrees.
Okay, I know that doesn’t offer much clarity, but bear with me. I’m getting there, I promise.
Many people with ADHD also have other mental health conditions (called comorbidities) like depression, substance use disorders, OCD, and anxiety. Like a lot of mental health conditions, ADHD and anxiety have overlapping features and symptoms. Because of these overlapping features and behaviors, we are sometimes misdiagnosed. Getting the wrong diagnosis can actually make our quality of life worse, such as taking medication that isn’t helpful for your actual condition, or getting a less-than-ideal kind of therapy.
So what’s the difference between ADHD and Anxiety? Can you have both? Thank you for asking, because I have a long-winded answer for you!
ADHD is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, which is a fancy way of saying that your brain and central nervous system (CNS) developed a little differently than other folks’. Some people use the term “neurodiverse” to describe people with ADHD. Though ADHD stands for "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder", it’s a lot more complicated than that. Below are some common behaviors associated with ADHD.
Pretty much all humans experience anxiety — a feeling of worry or unease, usually about a future event or outcome—at some point in their lives. Anxiety disorders are how we label anxiety that is so intense or frequent that it negatively impacts your life. Common terms for anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), phobias, panic attacks or Panic Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Yes, you can have both ADHD and an anxiety disorder. Though they have similarities, they are still distinct diagnoses. Frustratingly, these similarities can make it hard to get the right diagnosis. ADHD symptoms can mask symptoms of other disorders, and vice versa, which can delay you in getting the right treatment.
Here’s how ADHD and anxiety look similar:
Here are some ways ADHD and anxiety are different:
ADHD and anxiety are both chronic conditions that can make life, work, and relationships challenging. It’s not always easy to know if you have ADHD, anxiety, or even both.
If you’re questioning your anxiety or ADHD diagnoses — or looking to get diagnosed with one or both — you should listen to your instincts. Do some self-reflection via journaling, asking friends/partners for feedback, and observing your day-to-day moods. If you feel your current diagnosis (or lack thereof) isn’t quite right, reach out to your doctor. You deserve an accurate diagnosis, because that will lead to proper treatment. And that will ultimately result in a calmer, happier life.
Whatever you find, remember that you are so much more than your diagnoses. You can still lead an amazing life with ADHD and/or Anxiety... I promise.
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