Can you have ADHD without anxiety?
Adulting With ADHD Staff
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a condition that goes hand in glove with inattention, impulsiveness, anxiety, and hyperactivity. But there are instances when some of these conditions may not accompany ADHD.
Can you have ADHD without anxiety? Yes. Though anxiety is commonly linked with ADHD, the former isn’t an integral part of the latter. Close to 50% of adults with ADHD suffer from anxiety disorder, which means the remaining 50% with ADHD do not exhibit anxiety symptoms. Also, up to 70% of kids diagnosed with ADHD have no anxiety issues.
If you’d like to learn more about the link between anxiety and ADHD and how the two influence each other, keep reading. Also, you would understand why it’s so important to delineate the two.
Drawing the Line Between ADHD and Anxiety
ADHD is a neurological condition that affects the sections of the brain that help you plan, concentrate on, and perform tasks. The condition is ongoing, often manifesting in one’s childhood and continuing into adulthood. It could impact a person’s ability to focus and might lead to behavioral issues, such as:
- Lack of attention
- No control over impulses
- Inability to sit still for a substantial time period
- Fidgeting tendencies
- Difficulty organizing and finishing tasks
What Is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is considered normal when it’s intermittent and based on certain situations or events. However, it turns into a disorder when it’s irrational, chronic, and interferes with different life functions or intrudes into your routine.
When anxiety becomes problematic or turns into a mental health condition, it tends to be long-lasting and serious. It could leave you feeling uneasy, distressed, and extremely frightened in normal, or even friendly, situations.
If you have had an anxiety disorder, the symptoms could be so alarming that they may hinder your ability to study, work, be in a happy relationship, or even go about regular activities. The symptoms of an anxiety disorder usually are:
- Frequent worrying over various things (mostly trivial)
- Constant stress and fatigue
- Hypervigilance – the state of heightened alertness
- Sleeping troubles
- Headaches and stomachaches
- Fear of attempting new things
ADHD’s symptoms are slightly different compared to the signs of anxiety. The symptoms of ADHD are primarily rooted in focus and concentration issues. Anxiety symptoms involve problems with fear and nervousness.
Even though ADHD and anxiety have their unique sets of symptoms, at times, their symptoms could intertwine or be similar. And when that happens, it could become extremely tough to tell them apart.
The Connection Between ADHD and Anxiety
ADHD and anxiety disorders occur together quite frequently. And there is not a lot of scientific data explaining why that is so.
Factors such as premature birth, genetics, environmental toxins, etc. are believed to play a role. However, there is not enough corroborative evidence to say that anxiety and ADHD are inextricably linked. They often show up independently.
Anxiety disorder isn’t the only mental health condition that coexists with ADHD. Other mental health concerns tagging along or following ADHD are:
- Psychiatric disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Sensory processing disorder
ADHD and anxiety disorder could coexist simultaneously, or ADHD could usher in anxiety troubles. For instance, if you have ADHD and you miss a deadline at work or forget to study for a particular exam, you could become worried and stressed. When you become fearful of forgetting important tasks, then that could lead to anxiety.
And when these situations and feelings persist, which usually is the case for most people with ADHD, anxiety disorder could be the end result. When your ADHD causes anxiety, your ADHD symptoms could get worse, such as having major issues concentrating on things or feeling very restless.
Why Is There a Similarity Between ADHD and Anxiety Symptoms?
There are similarities in their symptoms because they are driven by alterations in the prefrontal lobe of the human brain. However, the essence of those modifications and the developments behind those variations are not the same.
The symptoms, in the case of anxiety, are entrenched in the flight or fight response. The response could be intense and enduring and could occur even if there’s zero threat and no actual need to fight or flee.
The symptoms with ADHD, on the other hand, are due to functional, chemical, and structural changes in your brain. When there are alterations in activities within the prefrontal cortex, as happens during ADHD and anxiety, symptoms could include:
- Distraction and inattention
- Hyperactivity and impulsivity
- Difficulty managing emotions
- Habits and impulses
Symptoms and Signs Shared Between ADHD and Anxiety Disorder
Differentiating between ADHD and anxiety could become difficult if the symptoms are the same across the board. Signs and symptoms common to the two conditions include:
- Difficulty socializing
- Not completing work on time or working at an excruciatingly slow pace
Anxiety signs that kids with ADHD exhibit could be:
- Being troublemaking in class
- Being argumentative or irritable
- Watching television or playing video games throughout the day
- Lying about schoolwork or incomplete tasks/responsibilities
- Withdrawing from the company of other kids
Besides the different processes driving the identical ADHD and anxiety symptoms, you should also know that not all cases of ADHD or even anxiety, for that matter, look the same. Some individuals with ADHD or anxiety may not exhibit some or all of the aforementioned symptoms.
How and Why Should You Unlink Anxiety and ADHD
If you believe your ADHD is causing you trouble, get yourself accurately assessed by a professional. Kindly note that the majority of the symptoms discussed above usually point more toward ADHD than an anxiety disorder. In certain cases, both ADHD and anxiety could be driving the behaviors.
Since an ADHD diagnosis hinges heavily on observing and interpreting behaviors, a doctor who specializes in or deals primarily with ADHD could read your symptoms as ADHD-caused.
For clarity purposes, it’s recommended you get a second opinion from another ADHD specialist and also consult with an anxiety disorder professional. If you are still not convinced by the reports, you may continue chasing information until things start making sense.
Though you would need professional evaluation to differentiate ADHD from anxiety, your friends and family could, at times, be able to discern things. The key lies in watching the form and the intensity with which your symptoms take shape over a period of time.
- If you are not able to focus on things or situations and end up feeling anxious, you may have anxiety.
- If you are finding it difficult to maintain focus but experience no anxiety attacks, you may have ADHD.
- When the aforementioned symptoms combine, you may have both anxiety and ADHD.
If you are a parent and your child has ADHD and also exhibits anxiety symptoms, then you are no less than an expert. You would know more about your kid and their responses and reactions since you spend the majority of your time with them and are witness to all the things they do first-hand.
At times, you would need professional help to connect the dots. However, the glue that would bind it all together would be the questions you put forward to specialists, the second opinions you seek, and how you process the answers you receive.
You should not leave any stone unturned until things start making sense. If you have little to no clarity on the distinction that there is between your kids’ ADHD and anxiety symptoms, seeking proper treatment could become difficult.
Treating Anxiety in Adults With ADHD
To treat anxiety disorder issues in adults diagnosed with ADHD, it’s important to address ADHD, particularly if the anxiety problem was caused by ADHD. However, treatment for both ADHD and anxiety is easier said than done. As mentioned before, ADHD and anxiety disorder symptoms could be tough to differentiate from each other.
Anxiety could complicate ADHD treatment since it has the tendency to make people paranoid about trying new things. Moreover, certain ADHD medications could exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
For instance, amphetamines and other stimulant medications used to treat ADHD could cause anxiety symptoms. And you cannot get around this by treating just one condition and leaving the other unattended.
Learning more about the differences that there are between the two conditions is important to manage either or treat them both simultaneously. Since ADHD and anxiety disorder symptoms are hard to diagnose through conventional medical tests, it’s imperative you help the doctor by letting them in on all your symptoms.
This is even more critical if you believe you have both ADHD and anxiety. Also, the treatment would be “experimental” in nature. This means your doctor would try out treatment options to find out if a particular treatment is more effective than the other at treating one or both the conditions.
Your treatment plans would vary according to your situation and the symptoms you show.
Your doctor would invariably concentrate on the condition that is causing you more trouble in everyday life. And while at it, they would also offer you suggestions to work with the other disorder. There are individuals who could benefit from getting treated for both conditions simultaneously. Your doctor would decide whether you qualify for such an approach.
The treatment for both anxiety and ADHD could consist of:
- Prescription medication
- Relaxation techniques
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Prescription medications are usually prescribed to treat ADHD. However, if stimulants are causing anxiety symptoms, non-stimulant medicines could be prescribed. Medications that treat anxiety problems could also be considered.
If you are not physiologically capable of putting up with medications to treat the two conditions simultaneously or if you would like to not be put on drugs for both conditions, your doctor could prescribe medicines for either anxiety or ADHD and employ lifestyle or therapeutic interventions to treat the other.
Relaxation Techniques and Therapy
ADHD-related anxiety could be managed better with relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is a short-term intervention that helps individuals alter their thought processes to bring about a positive impact on their behavior. It’s commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, and can also effectively treat several other conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Relaxation techniques consist of various practices, such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and visualization. These techniques can help address anxiety and stress by reducing muscle tension, slowing down your heart rate, and boosting mood and concentration.
Does the Course of Treatment Matter if the Symptoms Are Identical?
Yes, it does.
Basically, the symptoms aren’t the issue. The condition that drives them is wherein the problem lies. Ascertaining whether it’s anxiety, ADHD, or both is critical before you could move forward. Although managing both ADHD and anxiety is not too complex, you need to handle them in different ways to improve the symptoms.
ADHD is typically treated with medicines that boost essential neurochemicals and stimulates portions of the brain that must be working a bit harder. This could work out well for ADHD; however, if the symptoms are anxiety-driven, using ADHD medication could turn out to be a blunder. This also means the affected will not receive the resources or skills required to manage the symptoms.
Even if ADHD and anxiety happen concomitantly, it’s imperative you deal with them both separately. In other words, you should not be hoping to treat the conditions using an identical approach or the same set of medicines.
Things You Could Do to Manage Your Anxiety
Besides taking medication, undergoing therapy, and incorporating different relaxation techniques, various lifestyle factors could help you address your ADHD-related anxiety.
Learn Your Trigger Points
Anxiety could be triggered by certain events in some individuals, such as when talking to a person on the phone or speaking in public. Find out if there are things you could do to address these anxiety attacks. For instance, prepare notes and practice a presentation to find out if you feel less anxious when you go in all prepared.
Note down things on an actual notebook and not on your computer or smartphone since that could be distracting. If you foresee preparing multiple notes, this set of notebooks by Oxford will come in quite handy.
Fatigue or tiredness could trigger anxiety or heighten your anxiety risks.
Try to sleep at least six to seven hours every night; max it out at eight. Do not oversleep as that could open another can of worms. If you have insomnia issues, try taking a warm bath and/or meditating before bed so that your mind is relaxed. A mat, such as this tatami mattress by IKEHIKO, would offer you the right surface to sit and meditate on.
Also, be systematic about your sleeping hours. In other words, create a proper sleep and awake hour schedule and try to stick to it religiously. The goal is not just to get enough sleep but also quality sleep. In other words, there is a world of difference between heading to bed at 10 pm and sleeping for eight hours and hitting the bed at 3 am and waking up at 11 am. Needless to say, the former is healthier.
If you continue having issues falling or staying asleep, consult with your doctor. Your medication could be causing your sleep troubles. Your doctor may temporarily prescribe you a sleep aid if the ADHD and anxiety medicines are not the problem. Do not take a sleep aid without talking to your doctor since non-prescribed medicine could worsen your symptoms.
Exercise could help lessen your anxiety, according to some research studies. Though the pieces of evidence are not conclusive enough, exercising 30 minutes every day should anyway do you good physically and mentally.
If you are just starting to exercise, you may begin small. Once you’re comfortable with the small routines or you believe they are not too hard to do anymore, you may upgrade to more intense, longer workouts.
Keep a list of activities and tasks that should be finished and set realistic deadlines for each task. This would help you keep a tab on your goals and complete them within preset timeframes. And when you are able to finish your to-do tasks, you are less likely to get anxious about them. In the long run, this would help bring down your anxiety issues.
Eating balanced and healthy meals and drinking sufficient amounts of water every day could help you manage your anxiety. Cutting down on your intake of alcohol and caffeine could also be handy since both are notorious for disturbing your sleeping patterns.
ADHD and anxiety are two different health conditions, but their symptoms could, at times, overlap. Making the distinction between the two is, therefore, critical. Proper diagnosis helps with healing, and the wrong diagnosis could do just the opposite.
Learning how they look similar and understanding the telltale differences that exist between the two could play a key role in steering clear of a misdiagnosis.
When the diagnosis is not correct, the affected person not just gets subjected to unnecessary drugs, but they also don’t get the treatment or support they actually require for managing their symptoms. Therefore, a doctor or trained professional is needed to determine a proper diagnosis.