ADHD and anxiety as co-existing conditions
While attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety are separate conditions, many people experience both as co-occurring disorders. Priory Group’s specialist consultants who are trained in managing ADHD also have the appropriate skills and experience to manage co-existing anxiety when it is present.
Anxiety symptoms in a person with ADHD
People with ADHD can be anxious for several reasons:
- Their anxiety may be an adverse effect of stimulant or non-stimulant medication
- The stimulants prescribed to them may be too low in dosage or may be being taken at the wrong times, leading to stimulant withdrawal anxiety
- They have anxiety, which is secondary to ADHD
- They have primary anxiety, or anxiety that is secondary to depression
It is common for someone with ADHD to feel anxious and worried. ADHD can cause people to have troubles with organisation, forgetfulness and time management, which can all contribute to them dealing with numerous stressful scenarios.
This chronic stress and worry can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is more than just experiencing occasional transient worries. Anxiety disorders can have a big impact on a person’s relationships, wellbeing and work or school life, affecting them as they attempt to navigate through life.
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Long-lasting and excessive fear
- Extreme stress
- Anger, irritability and impatience
- Fatigued, tearful and emotionally tired
- Headaches and tension
- Difficulty sleeping
A person may also have physical symptoms such as a sinking feeling in the stomach, tingling in their fingers, feelings of shakiness and feeling breathless.
Information for parents concerned about ADHD and anxiety
Also, check in with your child to find out the following:
- If your child is anxious, what have they been worried about?
- Do they feel worried constantly or from time-to-time?
- Have they been able to get to sleep when they go to bed?
If you do believe that your child has ADHD and anxiety, book an appointment with your doctor to talk through the symptoms that you have seen. They will be able to refer you to a specialist, such as those at Priory Group, who will assess your child and recommend the best form of treatment. Alternatively, you can start your journey by contacting Priory for advice and information.
Treatment for both ADHD and anxiety
Adjusting or changing ADHD medications can be helpful. Adding another medication such as an SSRI antidepressant may be another option that is discussed with your doctor.
Psychotherapeutic interventions can also be effective for people with anxiety and ADHD. At Priory, we provide people with access to the following:
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help to change the irrational thought patterns that are apparent in both ADHD and anxiety. A person with ADHD may be self-critical as a result of setbacks that have been caused by their symptoms in the past. CBT can help the person to identify these demoralising and distorted beliefs, and replace them with more logical and rational thoughts.
CBT works in a similar way with anxiety. It helps a person to identify the deeply-ingrained thought patterns that are causing them excessive worry, and challenge these dysfunctional beliefs so that they can view situations in a healthier way in the future.
Both ADHD and anxiety can cause a person to become preoccupied with worried thoughts about the past and future. These anxieties can take a person away from enjoying and living within the present moment.
Mindfulness teaches a person to observe their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations moment-by-moment. It can help people to recognise and move beyond anxious thoughts about the past or future before they take hold and impact how they feel and behave. The skill gives people the opportunity to control their attention, focus on themselves and prevent impulsivity as they introduce it into their day-to-day life.
If you’d like to find out more information about the therapies that our teams make use of at our hospitals and wellbeing centres, read our page dedicated to Priory Group’s treatment programmes.
This page was reviewed by Dr Leon Rozewicz (MBBS, FRCPsych, MRCGP, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Priory Hospital North London