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ADHD and anxiety

By Peg Rosen

At a Glance

  • The challenges that come with ADHD can create stress and lead to anxiety.

  • Many people with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder.

  • There are effective treatment options for both ADHD and anxiety.

It’s common for people with ADHD to have anxiety. In fact, they’re more likely to struggle with anxiety than other people. That’s partly because the challenges that come with ADHD can create frequent problems — in school, at work, and at home.

People with ADHD have trouble with executive functions — a group of skills we rely on to get tasks done. These skills help us to get organized, plan, manage time, and follow daily routines. They also help us manage our emotions. 

Struggling with executive skills day after day can be overwhelming and stressful. And chronic stress can lead to anxiety.

Typically, anxiety isn’t constant. It comes and goes and may be limited to specific situations. But when the feelings are more frequent and start to take over, people may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. 

Many people with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. At first glance, it may be hard to tell whether a person has one condition or the other or both. Not only do the two disorders co-occur, but their symptoms can look the same. So, it’s important to be evaluated for both, and to treat each disorder individually.

Dive deeper

What anxiety may look like in kids and adults with ADHD

Whether it’s short-term or long-term, anxiety can show up in different ways. And the signs can look different at different ages. Here are some behaviors that may be signs of anxiety in kids and adults with ADHD. 

In kids:

  • Seems irritable or argumentative

  • Withdraws from people, maybe by retreating to the bedroom or bathroom

  • Has intense fears about situations like being separated from parents or specific things like dogs or insects

  • Worries about the present or future, or about something bad happening

In adults:

  • Has angry outbursts

  • Can’t handle criticism

  • Has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

  • Is restless or fidgety 

  • Avoids social situations

Learn more about signs of anxiety in young kids and in tweens and teens .

Why anxiety is sometimes misdiagnosed as ADHD

On the surface, ADHD and anxiety can look similar. It’s not uncommon for people with anxiety to be misdiagnosed with ADHD, or vice versa. 

Take trouble with paying attention, for example. Both anxiety and ADHD can cause people to tune out and get caught up in their emotions — just for different reasons. People with ADHD have trouble paying attention because they have trouble focusing. People with anxiety have trouble paying attention because they’re distracted by worries and fears. 

These two conditions are both caused by differences in the brain, but they’re not the same. And they may require different treatment. So if there’s any question, it’s important to be evaluated for both.

Learn about comprehensive evaluations and how to request a free evaluation at school .

Ways to help

Anxiety can be a lifelong struggle for some people with ADHD. But there are many things that can help. First, there are effective medication options for each of these conditions. There are also different types of therapy that can help people deal with emotional issues. 

ADHD and anxiety disorders often co-occur, but it’s important to treat these conditions individually. That’s why proper diagnosis is key. 

There are also strategies for reducing stress and feeling calmer. For example, deep breathing and mindfulness exercises can help both kids and adults with ADHD remain calm when they feel overwhelmed. 

For people who have ADHD and anxiety: Learn about treatment for ADHD and treatment for mental health issues

For parents and caregivers:  Get tips for managing stress in kids and in tweens and teens

For educators: Explore classroom accommodations for anxiety  and for ADHD .

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  • Facebook
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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom