Some people diagnosed with anxiety find that they also display symptoms of ADHD and vice versa. You may find yourself in a similar situation, wondering what’s actually causing your symptoms – ADHD or anxiety.
While ADHD and anxiety are very different, a few symptoms may overlap. What makes things trickier is that anxiety is often associated with ADHD, as some adults may have both conditions simultaneously.
Research shows that up to 80% of adults diagnosed with ADHD have at least one other disorder affecting their mental health, including mood and anxiety disorders. 
If you’re looking for more support while you navigate an ADHD diagnosis, check out ADDA’s ADHD resource page.
Keep reading to find out the differences between adult ADHD and anxiety, how to tell them apart, and how both diagnoses are typically treated.
ADHD vs. Anxiety in Adults
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects your behavior and ability to concentrate.
An anxiety disorder also impacts your mental health but is commonly associated with constant feelings of dread, fear, or uneasiness.
|Feelings of restlessness and trouble relaxing||✔||✔|
|Problems with sleep||✔||✔|
|Short attention span and easily distracted||✔||X|
|Being forgetful and misplacing things||✔||X|
|Inability to prioritize, organize, and plan||✔||X|
|Unable to sit still and constantly fidgeting||✔||X|
|Being unable to wait your turn||✔||X|
|Impending sense of doom or danger||X||✔|
|Constantly feeling nervous, tense, and on edge||X||✔|
|Rapid breathing or fast heart rate||X||✔|
|Sweating and trembling||X||✔|
|Trouble controlling feelings of worry||X||✔|
ADHD Signs and Symptoms in Adults
Those diagnosed with ADHD as children may notice fewer symptoms as they approach adulthood. However, some individuals continue to experience significant symptoms that get in the way of their daily tasks and activities as adults.
Trouble Focusing on a Task
A person with ADHD may constantly daydream and zone in and out of conversations. Staying focused on repetitive, boring, or routine tasks is very challenging, causing them to fall behind on deadlines.
Adults with ADHD tend to miss deadlines, meetings, and important dates. Forgetting instructions, misplacing items, and losing track of belongings may also be signs of ADHD.
Organization and Prioritization Issues
ADHD may cause a person to struggle with organizing and prioritizing tasks since the ADHD brain tends to value novelty over importance. A long to-do list can quickly overwhelm someone with ADHD up to the point they feel almost paralyzed, unable to take action or make decisions until they regain composure.
Restlessness and fidgeting
A person with ADHD may constantly move about, fidget, shift in their seat, tap their hands or feet. They may find it hard to sit still and stimming is a usual behavior to keep themselves calm and manage a flurry of thoughts.
People with ADHD can experience tics and other uncontrolled behaviors.
Someone with ADHD may find it difficult to stay focused on the conversation, especially if the topic doesn’t interest them. They may interrupt the other person, go off on a tangent while speaking, or speak too quickly or too much.
Impulsiveness may present in various ways. Individuals with ADHD may say something, purchase an item, make a decision, or perform an action without thoroughly considering the consequences.
Some people with ADHD may struggle with regulating their emotions. They may frequently start conflicts, be easily irritable, quick to lose their temper, or experience unpredictable mood changes. 
Anxiety Symptoms in Adults
Many people get anxious, worried, or afraid at some point.
But when feelings of anxiousness interfere with your social life, sleep, and daily activities, this may be a sign that you have an anxiety disorder.
The following are some common signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder: 
Many people with an anxiety disorder often find that they have trouble concentrating. Their minds may go blank or be distracted by worries and fearful thoughts.
Problems with Sleep
An anxiety disorder can make it more challenging for a person to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.
Excessive Fear, Worry, and Stress
A person with anxiety is constantly tense due to the feeling of impending doom, panic, or danger. This may lead to an increased heart rate, nausea, chest tightness, dizziness, sweating, trembling, and rapid breathing.
Someone with anxiety may be easier to upset, which means they’re more likely to lash out at friends and family.
When excessive fear or anxiety strikes, a common behavioral response in those with anxiety is avoidance. For instance, an individual with a social anxiety disorder may avoid social situations or events because of the fear of being judged or embarrassed in front of others.
How to Tell ADHD and Anxiety Apart
Though ADHD and anxiety share some similar symptoms, you may be able to tell them apart in the following ways:
- Someone with an anxiety disorder may have trouble concentrating in situations that make them feel worried or nervous. In contrast, someone with ADHD may experience difficulty concentrating even in situations where their mind is calm and quiet.
- People with ADHD may get worried and anxious, but mostly about struggles or problems brought about by their ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, a person with both a generalized anxiety disorder and ADHD may feel anxious about many different things and be in a constant state of worry and fear.
The best way to diagnose your condition is by seeking professional medical advice from your doctor. You may also get a second opinion if unsure about your initial diagnosis.
ADHD and Anxiety Treatments
The medications used to treat ADHD and anxiety are different.
Treatment becomes a little tricker if you’re experiencing both conditions concurrently, as some medications used to treat ADHD may exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Adult ADHD Treatment
The most effective treatment regimen for ADHD is a combination of medication and therapy.
Non-pharmacological methods of managing ADHD may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This talk therapy helps you identify unhealthy mindsets, beliefs, ways of thinking, and behaviors and reframe them into healthier thinking patterns and habits. CBT may also help with tackling poor time management and disorganization.
- Marriage or family counseling: This therapy empowers you and your loved ones to explore conflicts and find strategies to resolve and prevent them so your relationship can thrive.
- ADHD coaching: An ADHD coach collaborates with you to devise personalized strategies for overcoming your daily struggles, staying focused, and increasing motivation.
Stimulant medications are often the first choice for treating ADHD as they are the most effective. These medications help regulate brain activity but require close monitoring. If stimulant medications don’t work for you or lead to troublesome side effects, your doctor may recommend non-stimulant medications. 
Anxiety Disorder Treatment
The two main treatment methods for anxiety disorders are medications and therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective form of therapy for anxiety disorders. This therapy teaches essential skills and helps you change your way of thinking to help you manage your symptoms and build confidence.
There are various types of medications for treating anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the first choices for treating this disorder, as their benefits outweigh the risks in many cases. 
A Medical Evaluation is Key to Differentiating ADHD from Anxiety
Getting treatment starts with a timely diagnosis, so it’s important to seek medical advice if you notice symptoms of either condition.
Keep in mind that it’s also possible for you to have both ADHD and anxiety. You can get your symptoms assessed, even if you have a pre-existing diagnosis for either.
Proper diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your symptoms and overcome the daily struggles standing between you and your personal goals.
If you’ve noticed concerning symptoms but aren’t sure if they’re caused by ADHD or anxiety, take the ADDA adult ADHD test. This can help you decide what type of professional evaluation and support to consider. While this isn’t a diagnostic test, it’s a good starting point to gauge if you may have ADHD.
Whether or not your ADHD is complicated by an anxiety disorder, talking about it with people who understand can help. Check out our virtual ADHD support groups to connect with a group that can help you change your perspective, learn new strategies, and thrive with ADHD.
 Katzman, M. A. (2017, August 22). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach – BMC Psychiatry. BioMed Central. Retrieved 21 October 2022, from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3
 Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved 21 October 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
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