Could anxiety in girls actually be ADHD?

Q. My daughter was recently diagnosed with anxiety. But I wonder if it’s a sign of ADHD. Should I look into an ADHD evaluation to be sure?

A. This is a great question, and I appreciate that you’re digging deeper and looking to advocate for your daughter. I encourage parents to trust their instincts. As a parent, you’re the first and best expert on your child. If you have questions, further evaluation for your daughter is completely reasonable. Especially since she’s been diagnosed with anxiety. Here’s why.

ADHD in girls: Overlooked and misunderstood

ADHD has long been overlooked and misunderstood in girls. While awareness is growing, girls are still diagnosed only half as often as boys. There are a few reasons for this.

First, if you ask someone to close their eyes and picture a child with ADHD, one image will likely come to mind. It’s a boy running, jumping, or climbing, as if he’s driven by a motor. 

Many people don’t realize that ADHD can exist without any hyperactivity. This is the “inattentive” type of ADHD that’s more common in girls. Kids with this type aren’t hyperactive. But they still have other symptoms of ADHD — like being disorganized, losing things, and forgetting information.

While these symptoms are challenging and stressful, they aren’t all that disruptive in school or similar settings. So girls with ADHD often fly under the radar. Teachers and other adults may describe them as “a daydreamer” or “sweet and smart but scattered.”

Girls are expected to be well behaved, polite, organized, and cooperative. And kids pick up on the expectations we have for them. That’s why girls develop strategies to keep ADHD-related challenges hidden. 

For example, they might nod along when someone is speaking, even if they’re having trouble paying attention. Covering up might help in the moment. But it makes their struggles even more invisible.

The anxiety-ADHD connection in girls

What does this have to do with anxiety? Girls with ADHD are often diagnosed with a mood disorder like anxiety before they’re identified as having ADHD. These two conditions frequently co-occur. So it’s not unusual for girls to be diagnosed with both.  

There are also cases of mistaken identity. Girls may be diagnosed with anxiety but not ADHD, even though they have it. That’s because there’s some overlap in the signs and symptoms of anxiety and ADHD, signs like:

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Feeling restless

One trend we see now is many women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s getting diagnosed with ADHD for the first time. These women often speak about having been misdiagnosed and overlooked for years. They wish they’d had an advocate who had just dug a little deeper or had asked a few more questions. Knowing they had ADHD would have allowed them to better understand and work with their unique brain wiring.

I can’t tell you if your daughter has ADHD. And certainly, having an anxiety diagnosis doesn’t mean she does. But I can tell you that advocating for your daughter, asking more questions, and getting further evaluation will help you understand and address all of her needs.

Hear personal stories from women with ADHD on the ADHD Aha! podcast, including this episode about ADHD, anxiety, and perfectionism. You can also learn more about:


Read next