The difference between ADHD and anxiety isn’t so much a difference between two similar disorders that get somehow confused, but rather a comparison that I have rarely heard of.
ADHD, or Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a very common disorder.
According to data, about 8.1% of people have a lifetime prevalence of it. Diagnosis also seems to be more common in children than adults.
ADHD actually has plenty of symptoms, but it is generally associated with the inability to sit still or focus on a single thing at a time.
But what does it actually have to do with anxiety, aside from them being mental disorders?
At first, I couldn’t tell the difference
Back when I was a kid I used to be very hyperactive.
My teachers and classmates disliked my energetic and bubbly attitude. It was pretty annoying.
In later life, I also was very hyperactive, but for an entirely different reason.
I couldn’t focus on any one thing, I couldn’t sit still and I was overflowing with energy. The wrong kind.
During 9th grade, I had one of my teachers call my mom and tell her that she strongly believed that I had a learning disability.
She advised us to get professional help, and we did.
I went to a special center that evaluated children and any learning disabilities that they might have had.
It was determined that I did have a learning disability, and I got certain recommendations accordingly.
But why am I telling you this?
Believe me, it’s not a pointless story.
Recently I had a job interview, and it has gone pretty well.
The manager liked me, as did most of the stuff that I interacted with, but he did point out one issue in particular.
You see, the job that I was interviewing for involved a lot of sitting time, and he was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to sit down for so long.
It struck me as odd.
At the time I was suffering from anxiety and had lots of nervous energy all around me because of that.
So when I tried to suppress it, I got people thinking that I have some sort of a hyperactiveness problem.
This got me thinking: Is the only difference between anxiety and ADHD is intent?
As in, both cause you to be hyperactive, one is caused by nervousness and the other is mostly genetic, and as such, lacks a reason.
The answers that I came up with shocked me.
So what’s the comparison?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-V, is the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) standard tool for mental health evaluation.
The fifth edition, which was updated in 2013, has a not very particular description of the symptoms of ADHD.
Overall, you would need anywhere between 6 (in most cases of young teens and children) to 5 (in older teens and adults) of all symptoms to be diagnosed as an ADHD-sufferer.
The thing is, there are a lot of these symptoms that are very similar to the ones that anxiety-suffers experience.
ADHD is all about lacking focus and having your thoughts scattered around everywhere.
You are fidgeting and seem to fail at all matter of mentally-straining activities.
People who suffer from anxiety have very similar symptoms.
They too lack focus and have their thoughts scattered around, they struggle with mentally-straining tasks in particular.
They are just “out there”.
And the best part? There is a vast statistical correlation between anxiety and ADHD, too!
According to data collected by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 50% of all adults who suffer from ADHD also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
This number is decreased to 30% in young teens and children.
As you can see, this relation isn’t just a coincidence.
Their behaviors are similar
The reason for these struggles is that people with ADHD and people with anxiety function in a very similar way.
Both struggle with multiple thoughts that seem to cloud their judgment and are restless.
They lack focus.
Would it be too much of a stretch to say that people with ADHD can get more easily overwhelmed than your average person?
People with ADHD have a very large array of thoughts. Would it be too much of a stretch to assume that they can’t fully comprehend these thoughts?
It really isn’t.
But aren’t identical
So yeah, ADHD and anxiety are very similar, but they aren’t really the same disorder.
In fact, differences can be quite obvious to spot.
First of all, most cases of ADHD are genetic, and as such are noticeable ever since early childhood.
This is vastly different from anxiety, which does have a genetic basis to it but is more of an environmental disorder.
There is also the fact that people with anxiety experience lots of nervous energy, marked by their excessive worry.
People with ADHD are just overenergetic.
The two disorders are very much different, and that’s a huge problem even if most don’t realize it.
So what can be done?
As I’ve said before, despite having multiple symptoms that are very similar, ADHD and anxiety are two different disorders.
This makes having both of them at the same time a huge struggle.
After all, medication that works well for anxiety might be damaging to people with ADHD and vise-Versa.
Not only that, but this also applies to many practices that therapists recommend.
So what do we do from here? Well, I normally avoid talking about medication, especially as a cure-all resource, and this time there’s no exception.
Instead, here are some ideas that might be worth trying:
Plan your time
One recurring theme for people who suffer from either anxiety or ADHD is the inability to focus.
Their thoughts are a mess, and they seem to fail at most tasks because of that.
Since you can’t quite force yourself to be focused, the next best thing is to manage your time.
You see, when left on its own, your brain tends to roam around and search for meaning.
Your thoughts are going to all “out there”, which is a bad thing.
On the other hand, if you are constantly engaged, you are going to have far less time to get distracted.
This is actually one recurring theme that I’ve experienced during boot camp.
We woke up at 5 A.M and had an extremely busy schedule until about 10 P.M or so.
Even when we really didn’t have anything to do, our commanders would find one excuse or another in order to keep us busy.
This was done on purpose, and it was pretty effective too.
Plan your days as much as you can, keep yourself busy and in action, you will thank me later.
We all know that working out is good for you, yet very few of us actually keep at it and exercise regularly.
Regular exercise sessions are pretty much a cure-all in our modern lives, and for people with ADHD and anxiety, this is not the exception.
You see, ADHD-sufferers, as well as anxiety sufferers, have excessive amounts of energy, be it nervous or otherwise.
It might be a good idea to try and burn off some of that energy in regular exercise sessions.
I personally found that taking fast-paced walks (I struggle with running due to a medical condition) helped me tremendously.
Exercising in groups might be even better.
Spend time with other people if at all possible.
You see, while some people actually get far more stressed around groups of people, some thrive in such situations.
To those who don’t mind hanging out with people I would advise doing so.
These interactions might be a bit off-putting to them (which is a downside), but they would also let you thrive.
You see, people don’t really need to focus when making friends with other people, yet other people require plenty of your attention.
If you can find like-minded people then it’s even better.
People with ADHD and Anxiety might come across as impatient, and to a degree they are, but it’s important to remember that solving these issues takes time.
Even when aided with both therapy and medication, mental disorders can often time be an entire lifetime of struggle.
taking it slow and noticing an improvement over time is a much more preferable approach.
After all, you are in far too much of a hurry to begin with for the most part, right?
Is that really it?
I can already hear some of you asking yourselves if this really all that is to it.
The answer is no.
These practices that I recommended have helped me, and some of my acquaintances in the past.
Treating two disorders at the same time is a very difficult thing to do, more so than one might think.
After all, for people with ADHD, there is now the added “benefit” of excessive worry to go alongside your typical problems.
The simple solution is to try and slow down, all the while looking for solutions from experts.
I wouldn’t pretend to be nearly as knowledgeable in ADHD as I am in anxiety and depression, yet my recommendations wouldn’t do you any harm – even if they might end up failing in your case.
After all, there is no such thing as a perfect solution.
Before you leave, however, here’s a question that might be worth considering.
If you have ADHD, did people ever tell you that you seem really nervous or stressed out?
Make sure to write down your answers in the comment section below, I read every single one of them.
If you got any questions you would like to address to me directly then please send me an email, I would love to hear from you!