In the 21st century, it is hard to avoid chronic stress conditions due to the nature of our lives. As a result, more people suffer from mental illness than we realize. Many of us are prone to developing an anxiety disorder during our lives. Unfortunately, a significant majority of people suffering from such disorders or conditions go undiagnosed due to stigmas surrounding mental health.
Both ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and anxiety disorders tend to share similar features. In order to understand the correlation between the two, we need to know what exactly ADHD and what ADHD symptoms are.
1. What is Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)?
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), also sometimes known as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) refers to a neurodevelopmental condition that causes the person to experience difficulty functioning the same way as a neurotypical person. ADHD is usually diagnosed during childhood by a licensed psychiatrist. Psychiatrists and psychologists are certified mental health professionals.
Like all mental illnesses, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder disrupts the daily functioning of the affected person. Diagnosing ADHD involves noticing difficulty focusing, an inability to pay attention to designated things, and trouble sitting still. ADHD harms decision-making skills, and results in poor time management and planning.
Telltale symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder start showing between the ages of 3 to 12 and manifest in physical symptoms such as hyperactivity, restlessness, inattention, hyperfixation, and impulsivity. It is a debilitating mental illness that impairs the person’s efficacy when it comes to learning, socializing, general functioning, et cetera. On a secondary note, people with ADHD tend to experience high rejection sensitivity, lack self-esteem, and motivation, have bad emotional regulation, and generally procrastinate on important tasks.
It is more likely to be diagnosed during early childhood and is often treatable or the symptoms can be managed through appropriate medical and therapeutic assistance. Without treatment, stress can make ADHD symptoms worse which can have severe consequences on learning, professional, academic, and interpersonal relationships. With age, it can be difficult to get a proper diagnosis as adults subconsciously learn to mask their symptoms.
The American Psychiatric Association estimates that ADHD affects 8.4% of children and for adults, it amounts to 2.5%. A child with ADHD may be marked as inattentive or careless in school, or a troublemaker. They may struggle with conventional learning methods and may perform badly.
1.1 Types of ADHD
ADHD is predominantly categorized into three types: Inattentive-ADHD, Hyperactive-ADHD, and Combined ADHD. Statistically, girls are likely to be diagnosed with Inattentive-ADHD. For boys of the same age groups, Hyperactive-ADHD is more common.
Although ADHD is commonly associated with hyperactivity, people can also have Inattentive-ADHD which predominantly involves spacing out, extreme levels of inattention, and a general lack of focus. Hyperactive ADHD, on the other hand, may involve fidgeting, unnecessary movements, and excessive activity levels. Combined ADHD, as the name suggests, is a combination of the two.
1.2 Why Does ADHD Exist?
Science isn’t exactly sure about what causes ADHD but research has its leads. With children in account, MRI scans of their ADHD brains revealed that there are anatomical differences that exist. Their brains have different proportions and volumes of grey and white matter, as well as a differently functioning pre-frontal cortex. Alongside hereditary contributors, the gestation period of pregnancy if imbued with stress or inadequate nutrition, may also contribute to the child developing ADHD. Premature birth can also lead to ADHD.
Research in ADHD has also proven that these people tend to have lower levels of dopamine in their brains which causes mood instability, procrastination, and an inability to focus.
Children in high-stress environments such as abuse are also susceptible to developing ADHD. Exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants during childhood or infancy could also cause ADHD.
2. What Determines an Anxiety Disorder? How Does it Affect Us?
Regardless of living conditions, we have all experienced anxiety, in one way or form. Anxiety disorders refer to a frequent and prolonged mental state of extreme dread, fear, and high stress. Stress itself refers to the heightened state of our minds and senses. It is meant to prepare our bodies for a difficult environment, for a short period of time and evoke a flight or fight response. When stressed, we are alert, quick to respond, and adapt better. Stress, at normal levels, helps us perform better.
2.1 Anxiety Versus Stress
Chronic stress can lead to anxiety. Frequent anxiety which lasts for over a period of 6 months takes a toll on our body and starts diminishing our performance. At this stage, we refer to it as an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders fall under the category of mental illness according to the DSM-5.
Anxiety disorders are debilitating and can have a severe impact on the daily life and functioning of the person. Like all mental illnesses, they can ruin interpersonal relationships, and career life and make life unbearable, in the worst cases. Day-to-day tasks may seem impossible to accomplish, due to the sheer and unreasonable levels of stress and dread. Anxiety starts off as overthinking and then causes the individual to spiral into mental torment. It can lead to panic attacks. Symptoms of anxiety are easy to recognize.
If left untreated, an anxiety disorder with its symptoms of anxiety can get worse to the point that the individual is unable to function or deal with simple daily tasks anymore. Common signs of severe anxiety include isolation, avoidance, excessive worrying, dissociation, panic attacks, lack of motivation, and task impairment. Anxiety can also lead to depression and depressive spirals. Anxiety is also comorbid in the sense that it can be found in co-occurrence with depression.
2.2 Types of Anxiety Disorders and Symptoms
Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders that include GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Panic Disorder, Phobias, and Separation Anxiety. Of these, Generalized Anxiety disorder is the most common type. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is also a mental health disorder under this category of clinical anxiety disorder.
We experience anxiety and have anxiety symptoms which include physiological symptoms such as feelings of nausea, breathlessness, restlessness, body pain, feelings of being overwhelmed, panic attacks, muscle tension, and palpitations. Chronic stress can also lead to heart disease and increase the chances of stroke or developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, et cetera. Anxiety symptoms, if left unmanaged can make anxiety worse.
3. The Correlation Between ADHD and Anxiety
Studies in psychology reveal that around 50% of people with ADHD also exhibit signs of an anxiety disorder. People with ADHD are more likely to undergo high stress or anxiety due to the nature of their disorder. ADHD symptoms are such that they overlap with the symptomatic nature of an anxiety disorder. Behavioral traits of a person with ADHD can also contribute to rising levels of anxiety. Statistics say that ADHD-Inattentive types are more likely to have comorbid anxiety. We must understand how ADHD causes anxiety.
3.1 Comorbid Anxiety Due to ADHD
A major part of ADHD revolves around impaired executive functioning and difficulty with commitment to tasks, emotions, or habits. Managing executive functioning is integral to treating ADHD and anxiety.
People with ADHD can procrastinate heavily until the very last minute. Research reveals that over 50% of people with ADHD have an underlying anxiety disorder too. Severe anxiety symptoms can also result in clinical implications such as difficulty concentrating and sleep disorders. A thorough clinical history reveals that comorbid disorders have been shown to worsen anxiety symptoms. This is true for ADHD and anxiety but also in similar cases such as anxiety and depression association.
3.2 Causes for Comorbidity
We can understand this from different angles – comorbidity of anxiety and ADHD. One explanation reveals that both disorders share a few similar underlying brain mechanisms and neurological processes. A pre-mentioned example of this is executive dysfunction. This refers to the amount of control one has over impulsive behavior, attention span, and focus.
Symptoms of anxiety and ADHD influence each other; a person with ADHD struggles can have a low attention span, which can lead them to forget things and tasks at hand, leading them to procrastinate and worry and therefore experience anxiety. In effect, the person’s life is plagued with anxiety.
Vice versa, anxiety can cause ADHD. An anxious person, or someone with anxiety, usually has trouble focusing on the task at hand due to excessive anxiety. This can manifest in ADHD symptoms.
4. How Do You Manage Symptoms?
With consistent treatment and management of symptoms, a person with ADHD, anxiety, or both, can go through their day and be productive and function properly without having to experience severe distress. Treatment for anxiety, ADHD, distressed mental health conditions, and other coexisting disorders can range from advice from a medical professional to self-care, depending upon the severity. Treatment involves advice, guidance, and medication from a licensed mental health professional.
Patients can go for therapy, especially CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This helps them to notice maladaptive patterns and habits and develop a healthy approach to fixing them. Therapy can also help them become more efficient in the long run and regulate emotions. Therapy can also help to reduce anxiety and ADHD symptoms.
Medication for anxiety and ADHD include Adderall, benzodiazepines, Fluoxetine, Sertraline, et cetera. They can only be recommended by licensed medical professionals. Medication helps ADHD brains regulate dopamine pathways. Without an opinion in clinical psychiatry, fulfilled diagnostic criteria, and a treatment plan, self-medicating is dangerous and is not encouraged. Taking medication should be done in a responsible manner with formulated treatment plans to reduce ADHD and anxiety.
4.3 Changes in Lifestyle
Changes in lifestyle can greatly improve and help control ADHD and anxiety symptoms. For example, maintaining a journal, getting regular exercise, adequate nutrition and sleep, receiving supportive care, and scheduling daily activities and tasks are greatly beneficial. One can also maintain a routine and try to follow habit formation. This helps reduce anxious feelings and manage anxiety. ADHD treatment also requires an active change in lifestyle. Talking to close friends or family members and exercising regularly also benefits the person experiencing ADHD and anxiety.
5. The Need for Support
Both ADHD and anxiety are mental disorders that require support and consistent care for betterment. As one can induce comorbid symptoms in the other, it is important to reflect and notice patterns early on. Alongside appropriate medical help from mental health professionals, caregivers must exist to provide support and encouragement. By all means, it is also important to step back when things get too overwhelming in order to control ADHD and anxiety.
Detaching from stressful situations helps as well. Building up a healthy lifestyle with a well-managed routine is the key approach to an individual’s needs and control of ADHD and anxiety.