ADHD, anxiety, and anger: How they’re linked

ADHD, anxiety, and anger: how they're linked, angry little boy sitting slouched in a chair with arms crossed, father crouched down next to him, looking at him

Q. My child has ADHD and gets very anxious, but also has a lot of anger issues. Are these all connected?

A. The short answer is “Yes, ADHD, anxiety, and anger are connected.” Here’s how. 

Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and controlling their impulses. This often leads to instances where they become angry or begin to feel anxious.

Anxious moments can leave a child feeling overwhelmed. And that stress can lead to aggressive behaviors like tantrums or meltdowns. So, it’s not uncommon for anxiety to look more like anger than nervousness for some kids with ADHD. 

This is where trouble with self-control comes in. Kids with ADHD are more likely than other kids to react impulsively to negative feelings. They typically don’t pause and reflect on those feelings. But the ability to reflect is an essential skill for learning to manage anger in a healthy way.

As for ADHD and anxiety, the two conditions often co-occur. And they’re often misdiagnosed. That’s because their symptoms can overlap and look similar. It’s important for kids to be evaluated for each one in order to get the best treatment.

Symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and anger can feed off of one another. This may cause a cycle that can be difficult to change in the moment. For example, a child with ADHD may get negative feedback because of behaviors they can’t easily control. This feedback can result in low self-esteem. And it can leave kids feeling anxious or angry.

Helping kids manage all parts of their ADHD, anxiety, and anger is key to ending this cycle.

Luckily, there are ways to help kids. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help kids build the skills needed to manage their anxiety. Mindfulness can teach kids better ways to regulate their emotions. And ADHD medication can help kids with symptoms of impulsivity.

Learn more about ADHD and anger and ADHD and anxiety. Find out why kids with ADHD have trouble managing emotions.

About the author

About the author

Ellen Braaten, PhD is a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital where she is the Founding d Director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP). She is also an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Braaten's research focuses on ADHD, dyslexia, processing speed, and resilience in children. Her clinical work is in the field of neuropsychology, where she assesses children with learning disabilities, ADHD and developmental challenges.