Anxiety and ADHD (or ADD) may seem like completely different disorders, but they actually have a lot of symptoms in common. In both, people suffer from restlessness, distractibility, difficulty concentrating, disturbances in sleep, and hyperactivity. Because of the overlap in symptoms, it’s sometimes difficult to determine if ADHD or anxiety is causing symptoms in you or your child.
If you’re trying to sort out whether the cause of you or your child’s symptoms, think about when they occur. Anxiety symptoms tend to occur in response to life events; for example, your child may have symptoms when she has a test coming up or in social situations or your symptoms might flare when you have a stressful project at work. You may not always know what the triggers are for your symptoms, but frequently there is a pattern to when they occur. When an attention disorder is the culprit, symptoms tend to be more consistent, not varying much from setting to setting. You might notice that your son has just as much trouble doing homework as he does cleaning his room or you might realize that you struggle to sit still in meetings and at a PTA meeting in equal measure.
But one important thing to realize is that anxiety and attention disorders frequently occur together. In fact, studies have found that up to 30% of children and 25-40% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. Treating anxiety and ADHD can significantly increase happiness, well-being, and quality of life. Both anxiety and ADHD can be treated with medication, but they can also be treated effectively in therapy. A psychologist can help you or your child learn strategies to figure out what underlies obsessive thoughts, look at anxiety-provoking situations in a new way, learn strategies for combating anxiety, calming yourself, and relaxing, and developing better coping skills. Therapy can also help you learn ways to structure you and your child’s environment to manage ADHD symptoms effectively, and learn strategies to better plan, organize, and break down tasks.
Therapy has been shown to be effective at managing the symptoms of both anxiety and ADHD; if you’re not sure which you or your child is suffering from, a therapist can help you determine what is causing symptoms and create a treatment plan.