Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
September 2, 2021
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

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Many people with ADHD or anxiety wonder if they have the other or a combination of both. “Do I have ADHD or anxiety?” or “Am I anxious or just hyperactive?” These are some of the most common questions we get.

In this post, we’ll go over the difference and similarities between ADHD and anxiety, as well as how to know for sure which one you might be experiencing.

So, let’s get started.

What is ADHD?

ADHD, also known as ADD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a mental disorder characterized by problems paying attention and/or excessive activity. 

People with ADHD have a tough time focusing and tend to get distracted quite easily.

They might also sometimes struggle with staying organized or completing tasks, especially ones that require them to sit down for long periods of time.

3 Different Types of ADHD

There are three different types of ADHD, each one with its own set of symptoms:

Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive

People who experience this type tend to be really restless and impatient, always fidgeting or moving around even when sitting still (for example, during a class).

They also often make careless mistakes at work or school not because they don’t know the answers but rather that they lose interest in a task and stop paying attention.

Predominantly Inattentive

People who experience this type tend to get distracted easily, forget things, and struggle with following instructions and completing tasks.

They also often make careless mistakes at work or school without realizing it (even when they are paying attention) because their mind wanders off.

Combined Hyperactive/Impulsive and Inattentive

People who experience this type have symptoms of both previous types of ADHD, meaning that they might be restless or fidgety but also tend to lose focus easily. 

They often struggle with all the previously mentioned tasks plus things like organizing or planning.

Symptoms of ADHD

While ADHD is typically associated with children, it can also be diagnosed in adults.

However, the symptoms might look different for an adult than they do for a child because children are naturally hyperactive and have trouble focusing. In contrast, adults tend to focus on one thing at a time more easily but get distracted by other things around them.

The symptoms of ADHD in adults include:

  • Fidgeting a lot with your hands or feet even when you’re sitting down.
  • Having trouble paying attention to one thing at a time and getting easily distracted by things around you (such as the TV, other people talking nearby, etc.)
  • Forgetting things from time to time, especially ones that are usually easy for you to remember.
  • Struggling with organizing or planning ahead.
  • Having trouble following conversations or keeping up with what other people are saying.
  • Making careless mistakes at work, school, etc., even when you’re paying attention.
  • Losing focus easily and getting bored quickly by tasks that would be interesting to you if your mind wasn’t wandering.
  • Speaking impulsively without taking the time to think about what you’re going to say before doing it.
  • Struggling with completing tasks that require a lot of sitting still (such as writing an essay or reading a book) and/or losing focus after starting them.

If this sounds like you, then ADHD may be the reason for your struggles.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental disorder that often manifests with excessive fear and worry.

People with anxiety are often overly concerned about things that might go wrong or become afraid of specific events, objects, places, etc.

Their worries can be so intense at times that it becomes difficult for them to focus on anything else other than thinking, “what if this happens?” or “what if that happens?”.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms in addition to mental ones.

When people experience anxiety, they might feel sick to their stomachs, have trouble breathing normally, tremble or shake a lot (even when sitting still), and more.

3 Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

People experience different types of anxiety disorders, each one with its own set of symptoms:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

As the name suggests, this type is characterized by excessive and persistent worry about a variety of things such as your health, money, family problems, issues at work or school, etc.

People with GAD also tend to be irritable and restless because they struggle with sitting still for long periods of time.

Individuals who experience this type might have trouble concentrating on other things or finishing their daily tasks because it’s hard for them to not think about the possible negative outcomes that could occur in all areas of their lives (and what they can do to try to prevent them from happening).

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This type of anxiety is characterized by unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, or behaviors that seem impossible to stop even when the person wants them to cease.

People with OCD can also have trouble letting go of routines or habits no matter how much they want to stop doing them, even if they’re causing a lot of stress and difficulties in their lives.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This type of anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms that come from experiencing or being exposed to something extremely traumatic such as war, abuse, death of someone close to you, etc.

People who experience PTSD often suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety when reminded of the traumatic event.

This type can also cause people to avoid places or things that remind them of what happened in case they experience a flashback, or their mind starts wandering back to it for no apparent reason (which usually happens).

Symptoms of Anxiety

Like ADHD, people with anxiety disorders can have a hard time concentrating and focusing on specific tasks.

In addition to this, they might experience the following symptoms:

  • Feeling restless or being unable to sit still for long periods of time.
  • Fatigue even when you’re not doing anything strenuous.
  • Experiencing changes in appetite and digestion (such as feeling sick to your stomach or having trouble keeping food down).
  • Having problems with memory.
  • Sleeping for very short periods of time even if you don’t feel tired due to the racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating on sleep.
  • Experiencing heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, etc.
  • Having trouble breathing normally.
  • Experiencing muscle tension and pain in your body even if you’re not physically active or doing anything strenuous.
  • Being easily startled by loud noises, sudden movements, etc.
  • Feeling angry or irritable more often than usual for no apparent reason (or at least that they can think of).
  • Having a hard time relaxing or feeling calm no matter how much they try to relax.

In addition, people with anxiety can also suffer from depression and other mental health problems such as ADHD (which is why it’s always best to consult a mental health professional if you think that this might be the case).

The Relationship Between ADHD and Anxiety

A person with ADHD might experience anxiety because they can’t seem to relax and calm down.

This is often due to the fact that someone who has ADHD usually always feels like there’s something important they should be doing even when they know deep down that it isn’t true (this happens as a result of brain chemical deficiencies).

This can cause them to feel extremely anxious and worried about things even when they know that there’s nothing specific for them to be concerned about.

People with ADHD might also struggle with focusing on tasks because it makes their symptoms worse (it causes their mind to wander off into other projects or thoughts), which is why many people often find themselves procrastinating and putting off tasks until it’s too late.

For example, someone who has ADHD might feel extremely anxious about something that happened in the past even though they weren’t worried when it was happening (and they know that nothing really bad occurred).

In other cases, people with ADHD might experience panic attacks because of how their mind is always racing with thoughts, which are often negative.

Do I have ADHD or anxiety?

If you’re wondering if you have ADHD or anxiety, it’s important to know that both of these disorders can cause people to feel extremely anxious about things even when there’s nothing specific for them to be worried about (and it’s not due to a traumatic event).

In addition, they can both cause people to have trouble concentrating and focusing on specific tasks.

These two disorders also tend to go hand in hand with mood swings or other mental health problems such as depression or bipolar disorder.

If you think that you might have one or both of these disorders, it’s best to go see a doctor as soon as possible so they can help you figure out what exactly is going on.

You can also try reading up more about ADHD and anxiety if you’re curious because there are tons of resources on this website (such as this blog post).

In the end, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and there are always people who can help.

For example, if you don’t have ADHD or anxiety but know someone who does (or think they might), be supportive in whatever way is best for them, so they feel less of a burden.

There are also online communities where people with ADHD and anxiety can talk to others who understand what they’re going through. 

So no matter what, people with ADHD or anxiety know that they always have a place where they belong.

Join The Mental Health Community You've Been Dreaming Of

This discord family is a safe place where we can all (anonymously if we choose) talk about and seek help for what is going on in our heads.

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