Anxiety Disorders and ADHD: Mapping the Similarities (Part 1)

Anxiety Disorders and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may at first appear to be an unlikely pairing.

Consider this: The hallmark of ADHD is acting before thinking. In contrast, a person with an anxiety disorder tends to think too much before acting. Based on this understanding, the two conditions seem unlikely to coexist.

However, as millions of Americans know, opposites can attract.  The norm is for ADHD to be accompanied by at least one other psychiatric condition. Research suggests that up to 28 percent of people of all ages with ADHD will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder and ADHD.

What to do if you suspect you have both conditions?

First, it is important to understand the difference between normal anxiety and problem anxiety.

People experience normal anxiety in their daily lives that can be inherently stressful. For example, almost all Washingtonians have experienced a beltway-related traffic jam that has made them late for work. While this inconvenience may make a person feel stressed or anxious, it typically does not derail the rest of the day.

Anxiety reaches clinical significance when it begins interfering with the things a person typically enjoys, or when it creates considerable distress. Someone can be stressed by hitting morning rush hour traffic without that stress being classified as anxiety. However, if he or she starts to avoid driving altogether, or experiences extreme panic at the thought of traffic, it is time to seek treatment.

The goal of therapy in anxiety treatment is to help reduce naturally-occurring alarm systems that provoke panic and anxiety and heighten emotion. Emphasis is placed on regulating a person’s reaction to circumstances, enabling him or her to function without interference from anxiety.

Join us for the next post, in which we delve further into the discussion of the relationship between anxiety disorders and ADHD.

Are you experiencing symptoms of anxiety or ADHD? Contact us at Georgetown Psychology Associates today to schedule an evaluation or intake session.