ADHD and Anxiety

Does ADHD Make Anxiety Worse?

ADHD and anxiety disorders tend to have more severe anxiety symptoms than do those without ADHD.

ADHD, which may cause time blindness, poor working memory, and exaggerated emotions, among other anxiety-producing symptoms

Other ADHD Symptoms That Exacerbate Anxiety

“Consistent Inconsistency”

“Consistent inconsistency” is knowing, for example, that a task needs to be accomplished but not having the ability to get it done.

ADHD as a “doing” problem( implementation) and not a knowledge deficit problem

Individuals with ADHD know what they need to do, but they have problems with implementation – a tension that creates anxiety. Barriers to implementation include the following:

Self-control efficacy: “I know I can do this, but I’m not sure if I can resist distraction or focus.

Wild optimism “I work best at the last minute.”

Apparent perfectionism “I have to be in the mood/have enough energy to do something.” 

Emotional control.  Although not often recognised as emotional intensity is a central feature of ADHD. Part of managing anxiety is changing and controlling our emotional states so that we can readily engage in a task. Failing to manage discomfort effectively can lead to avoidance and procrastination, which exacerbates and is exacerbated by anxiety.

How Do You Treat Both ADHD and Anxiety?

Both ADHD and anxiety are treated through medication and/or psychosocial therapy. Often, the treatment that focuses on one condition actually improves symptoms in both, though that depends on the individual. Still, clinicians always attempt to treat the most severe condition first.

Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD generally do not worsen anxiety symptoms, and non-stimulants are considered second-line pharmacological treatments for comorbid ADHD and anxiety. A combination of medicine and therapy, however, has been found to be most beneficial for individuals with ADHD and anxiety.

General feelings of anxiety can also be quelled through healthy coping mechanisms.

ADHD and Anxiety During the Pandemic

Develop skills to effectively manage anxiety and achieve resiliency

Regulate Emotions, Behaviors & the Mindset

  • What am I feeling?
  • What is the problem?
  • What was the trigger?
  • Is the problem really a problem? If so, how can it be managed?
  • What’s the issue’s best, worst, and most likely outcome of the issue?

Making notes on your phone or computer is fine, but there is something more therapeutic and engaging about using pen and paper to write out stressors and worries. Either way, moving the issue out of your head and seeing it take shape as text can help you clearly see what’s in your control, and what’s not. The exercise is also one of exposure – coming face-to-face with the problem.

Self-medicating through binge eating and excessive screen time.

Coping Mechanisms for ADHD and Anxiety Today

Structure unstructured time. Creating a routine is a must, especially one that’s highly visible.

An appointment planner, a calendar on the wall, or a digital planner kept open on a tablet.

Think of planners as time machines that allow us to look hours, days, and weeks into the future, priming us for what we plan to do. 

Breaks must be worked into any schedule, including making room for…

Exercise and movement. We underestimate the loss of “stealth” movement during the course of the traditional workday (walking down hallways, to the parking lot or train station, etc.). As basic as it sounds, movement helps. This is especially true when cooped up and working from home. Movement can be its own form of meditation, allowing us to remove ourselves from work or home and reset.

Maintain healthy habits. Many individuals, ADHD or not, are experiencing chronic stress and general feelings of overwhelm with no one particular stressor. Better exercise, sleep, and diet — like limiting physical anxiety triggers like caffeine and alcohol — are effective at reducing overall stress.

Organize physical spaces. Define where work, leisure, sleep, study, and other activities will be done around the home to help with behavioural priming and habit formation. Combat “sight pollution” by resetting and preparing your spaces for the next day, which also helps with transitions.

Stay on ADHD medication and continue to attend psychotherapy sessions if applicable. Medications help reduce ADHD symptoms and improve coping and functioning, helping adults with ADHD feel more efficacious and, overall, less anxious. The same goes for psychotherapy, now widely available remotely.

Lower the bar on expectations. We can’t expect the same performance in this pandemic world as before. That’s a recipe for entrapment. Instead, we can reframe tasks into do-able terms and take on a sufficiency mindset. Being good enough is better than expecting to be perfect, and this mentality alone can get you unstuck and to a less anxious state. Now’s probably not the time to embark on radically new endeavours, but it can be for new opportunities, like attending to deferred projects around the house.

“Zooming out.” Maintaining perspective and practising gratitude is needed to get through this, even if a loss has touched the household. One way to modify thoughts is to disengage with the inflexible “should” mindset, as things like “should” only work out one form and are no good if they don’t. We can also “defuse” by accepting some negative thoughts for what they are.

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