Unlocking ADHD writer, Li Song Heng, explores the relationship between Anxiety and ADHD.
We’ve all experienced anxiety to some degree or another, be it during a presentation, or while trying to meet a deadline. However, what if it was a persistent feeling? This is what 2.5% to 7% of the world’s population experiences — a whopping estimated 284 million people are diagnosed with anxiety disorders globally.
Those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) also tend to be prone to anxiety as a comorbid condition with around 30% of the general ADHD population, and almost 50% of the adult ADHD population experiencing this. These figures could very well be higher, due to the fact that some symptoms of anxiety may look like those of ADHD, and vice versa.
Differences between ADHD and Anxiety
So how do you differentiate ADHD and Anxiety? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists the conditions below as symptomatic of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
- Excessive worry about a variety of topics and activities over a period of six months or more
- Difficulties in controlling worries
- Getting tired easily
- Impaired concentration
- Muscle aches/soreness
- Difficulty sleeping
The first two are the requisites and of the remaining five, at least three are needed for a diagnosis in adults. Only one is required for a diagnosis in children.
ADHD is often associated with hyperactivity/impulsivity and difficulties in paying attention. Let us look at the symptoms of GAD again. Don’t ‘restlessness’ and ‘impaired concentration’ sound like symptoms of ADHD?
What are the differences then? To put it simply, ADHD can be considered a lack of inhibition, whereas the reverse can be said of anxiety, where there is too much inhibition. The two symptoms of GAD mentioned earlier, restlessness and impaired concentration, may sound similar to those of ADHD but they arise from different contexts.
Comorbidities between ADHD and Anxiety
There is a high prevalence of anxiety amongst those with ADHD. Why is this the case? As of now, there isn’t a definite explanation. However, one possible explanation may be that symptoms of ADHD may actually lead to anxiety.
Problems linked with ADHD such as procrastination, messiness, and the risk of stigmatization could all possibly exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. In addition, living with ADHD could lead one to build up a sense of uncertainty and self-doubt, due to issues such as inattention. This could then lead to a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities.
Imagine that you have an assignment due in a few days, but you can’t even bring yourself to write a single sentence because you don’t believe you can do a good job. Wouldn’t you feel anxious? You are aware that the task has to be completed, but you doubt your own ability to complete it. This is called “consistent inconsistency“. Scenarios such as the one described can repeat and slowly build onto each other.
ADHD and anxiety disorders are highly interlinked. If you suspect that you may have anxiety, ADHD or another comorbidity, there are various strategies that you can employ. Look out for the next article that discusses this.