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Anxiety in people who learn and think differently

By Understood Team

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Many people have anxiety at some point in their lives — including kids. But people who learn and think differently are more likely to have anxiety than other people. 

There are different reasons for that. First, the stress of facing ongoing challenges can lead to anxiety. But there may also be a genetic link between certain learning and thinking differences and anxiety. 

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For example, many people with ADHD also have anxiety. In fact, kids with ADHD are up to three times more likely to have anxiety than kids who don’t have ADHD. Anxiety also often occurs with dyslexia, slow processing speed, and sensory processing issues.

Dive deeper

What is anxiety?

The term anxiety is broad. People might use it to describe feelings of worry that come and go. Most people experience this type of anxiety at some point. It usually doesn’t last long or spill over into every aspect of their lives.

Or people might use the word anxiety to talk about an anxiety disorder, which is a more serious problem. With an anxiety problem, the feelings are intense and frequent. They get in the way of everyday functioning. People with this level of anxiety might be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety isn’t the same thing as stress. Stress is a response to a challenge, and it’s usually temporary. The feelings go away once the challenge has passed or the situation is over. But when stress is ongoing, it can lead to anxiety. 

Learn about the difference between being anxious and having an anxiety problem . Then find out about the connection between stress and anxiety .

Signs of anxiety

Anxiety can show up in various ways. And the signs can look different at different ages. But here are some common behaviors you might see in someone with anxiety:

  • Has angry outbursts

  • Is very sensitive

  • Has pressing fears or phobias

  • Can’t handle criticism

  • Has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

  • Has panic attacks

  • Is fidgety or restless

  • Avoids social situations

Find out about signs of anxiety in kids and in tweens and teens .

Types of anxiety

Anxiety can be short-term and related to specific situations. Or it can be a long-term problem that affects many aspects of life. 

A common type of anxiety is performance anxiety. People get nervous about doing something they don’t think they can handle, whether it’s a math quiz or a job interview. People who learn and think differently often have this type of anxiety.

There are also more serious anxiety disorders that have a much greater impact on daily living. These include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

  • Social anxiety disorder

Learn about social anxiety in kids.

Anxiety and specific learning and thinking differences

The symptoms of anxiety and learning and thinking differences can look similar. That can make it hard to know if a symptom is due to anxiety, a learning and thinking difference, or both.

Learn more about the connections:

What can help with anxiety

There are many ways to treat anxiety and to keep it from getting in the way of everyday functioning. Different types of anxiety require different types of support.

Therapy and medication can help some people manage anxiety. 

Kids might get accommodations for anxiety at school through a 504 plan. Adults might be able to get accommodations at work.

For families: Download an anxiety log to track signs of your child’s anxiety .

For teachers: Learn about classroom accommodations for anxiety .

If you have anxiety: Read what a college student recommends for managing anxiety .

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Stress and anxiety

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