Can Anxiety Be Mistaken for ADHD? Exploring the Overlap Between Symptoms

When it comes to mental health conditions, there can be a lot of overlap between symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose an individual accurately. Two conditions that are often confused with one another are ADHD and anxiety. In some cases, anxiety can be mistaken for ADHD, and vice versa.

Can Anxiety Be Mistaken For Adhd? Exploring The Overlap Between Symptoms

Understanding the difference between ADHD and anxiety is crucial to ensure that individuals receive the appropriate treatment. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual's ability to concentrate and control their impulses. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a mental health condition characterized by excessive worry and fear. While both conditions can cause restlessness and difficulty concentrating, there are distinct differences between the two.

Key Takeaways

  • ADHD and anxiety are two separate conditions, but they can share similar symptoms.
  • A correct diagnosis is crucial to ensure that individuals receive the appropriate treatment.
  • Treatment options for ADHD and anxiety can vary and may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both.

Understanding ADHD

Defining ADHD

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by symptoms such as restlessness, impulsivity, and difficulty concentrating. It is typically diagnosed in childhood and can persist into adulthood.

Symptoms of ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD can be disruptive to daily life and can include interrupting others, being easily distracted, and blurting out inappropriate comments. Children with ADHD may have difficulty completing tasks and following instructions, and may struggle with organization and time management.

ADHD in Adults

While ADHD is often associated with children, it can also affect adults. Adults with ADHD may have trouble with time management and organization, and may struggle with completing tasks. They may also experience restlessness and impulsivity, and have difficulty concentrating.

ADHD is often treated with stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall, which can help to improve focus and reduce impulsivity. However, it is important to note that not all cases of restlessness, impulsivity, and difficulty concentrating are due to ADHD. Other conditions, such as anxiety, can have similar symptoms and may be mistaken for ADHD.

It is important to receive an accurate diagnosis in order to receive appropriate treatment. Individuals who are experiencing disruptive behaviors or difficulty concentrating should speak with a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause of their symptoms. Undiagnosed ADHD can lead to difficulties in academic and social settings, as well as in the workplace.

Understanding Anxiety

As someone who has studied mental health, I know that anxiety is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It is a normal and often healthy emotion. However, when a person experiences excessive anxiety or worry, it may become a disorder.

Defining Anxiety

Anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by excessive worry, fear, or nervousness. It can interfere with a person's daily activities, relationships, and quality of life. There are different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobia, and social anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety symptoms can vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder a person has. However, some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance

Anxiety in Adults

Anxiety can occur at any age, and it is not uncommon for adults to experience anxiety symptoms. In fact, according to WebMD, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States, affecting about 40 million adults each year.

Anxiety can also be associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In some cases, anxiety symptoms can be mistaken for ADHD symptoms. It is important to distinguish between the two conditions to ensure proper treatment.

Overlap Between ADHD and Anxiety

As someone who has worked in the mental health field for years, I have seen firsthand how ADHD and anxiety can share similar symptoms. Here are some important things to keep in mind when considering the overlap between these two conditions.

Similar Symptoms

Both ADHD and anxiety can cause restlessness and difficulty concentrating, which can make it challenging to diagnose these conditions accurately. According to Healthline, anxiety can make it hard to identify that you also have ADHD since the symptoms may overlap. ADHD can also mask the symptoms of anxiety. For example, someone with undiagnosed ADHD may appear anxious due to their difficulty concentrating, but the root of the problem may be ADHD.

Diagnosis Challenges

Because of the overlap in symptoms, healthcare professionals may have difficulty diagnosing ADHD and anxiety accurately. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and anxiety are different, but there can be subtle differences that can make it challenging to distinguish between the two. It is crucial for doctors to conduct a thorough evaluation to ensure that the correct diagnosis is made.

Co-Existing Conditions

It's not uncommon for people to have both ADHD and anxiety at the same time. According to Psych Central, ADHD and anxiety are unique conditions with distinct symptoms, but it's common for the two to exist at the same time. In some cases, anxiety can mimic ADHD symptoms, making it even more challenging to diagnose accurately.

Overall, it's important to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional if you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of ADHD or anxiety. A thorough evaluation can help ensure that the correct diagnosis is made and that appropriate treatment is provided.

Treatment Options

When it comes to treating ADHD and anxiety, there are a variety of options available. Treatment options can include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Here are some of the most commonly used treatment options:


Stimulant medication is often prescribed to treat ADHD. These medications can help improve focus and reduce hyperactivity. However, they are not typically used to treat anxiety. In fact, stimulant medication can sometimes make anxiety worse. Nonstimulant medication, on the other hand, can be effective in treating both ADHD and anxiety. Prescription medication may also be prescribed to treat anxiety, such as anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that is often used to treat both ADHD and anxiety. CBT can help individuals learn coping strategies and improve problem-solving skills. It can also help individuals identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones. Other types of therapy that may be used to treat anxiety include meditation and mindfulness-based therapies.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medication and therapy, lifestyle changes can also be effective in treating both ADHD and anxiety. Exercise has been shown to be particularly effective in reducing symptoms of both conditions. Getting enough sleep is also important, as sleep disorders can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD and anxiety. Other lifestyle changes that may be helpful include improving diet, reducing stress, and increasing motivation.

It is important to note that treatment options may vary depending on the individual. Genetics can play a role in how an individual responds to medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. It is also important to work with a healthcare professional to determine the best treatment plan for your specific needs.

Managing ADHD and Anxiety

Living with ADHD and anxiety can be challenging, but there are ways to manage both conditions effectively. In this section, I will discuss coping strategies, support systems, and self-care tips that can help individuals manage their ADHD and anxiety symptoms.

Coping Strategies

To cope with ADHD and anxiety, it is important to develop effective coping strategies. Some strategies that can be helpful include:

  • Creating checklists or to-do lists to stay organized and on track with tasks.
  • Breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Developing a routine and sticking to it.
  • Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
  • Identifying triggers that can cause overwhelm and developing a plan to manage them.

Support Systems

Having a support system in place can be crucial for managing ADHD and anxiety. Support can come in many forms, such as:

  • Working with a therapist or counselor to develop coping skills and manage symptoms.
  • Building relationships with family members or friends who understand and can provide emotional support.
  • Joining a support group for individuals with ADHD or anxiety.
  • Seeking support from a doctor or mental health professional who can provide medication or other treatments.

Self-Care Tips

Taking care of oneself is important for managing both ADHD and anxiety. Some self-care tips that can be helpful include:

  • Prioritizing sleep and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet and staying hydrated.
  • Engaging in regular exercise or physical activity.
  • Practicing self-compassion and avoiding perfectionism.
  • Keeping a journal to process thoughts and emotions.

Overall, managing ADHD and anxiety requires a multifaceted approach that includes coping strategies, support systems, and self-care. By developing effective strategies and seeking support when needed, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can anxiety symptoms mimic those of ADHD?

Yes, anxiety symptoms can mimic those of ADHD. According to ADDA, anxiety is often associated with ADHD, and up to 80% of adults diagnosed with ADHD have at least one other disorder affecting their mental health, including mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability can be present in both conditions.

What are the key differences between anxiety and ADHD?

The key differences between anxiety and ADHD lie in the nature of the symptoms. Anxiety is characterized by excessive fear, worry, and apprehension, while ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. People with anxiety may experience physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, and rapid heartbeat, while people with ADHD may have trouble completing tasks, forget things easily, and have difficulty following instructions.

Is it possible to have both ADHD and anxiety?

Yes, it is possible to have both ADHD and anxiety. In fact, it is common for people with ADHD to also have anxiety or other mental health conditions. According to Healthline, people with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing anxiety, and the two conditions often coexist.

How can a professional differentiate between anxiety and ADHD?

A professional can differentiate between anxiety and ADHD by conducting a thorough evaluation and assessment. This may include a clinical interview, psychological testing, and observation of the individual's behavior. According to Psychology Today, timing of symptoms is also an important factor in distinguishing between the two conditions. ADHD symptoms typically begin before the age of 12, while anxiety can start at any age.

What are some treatment options for someone with both anxiety and ADHD?

Treatment options for someone with both anxiety and ADHD may include a combination of medication and therapy. Stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall may be prescribed to manage ADHD symptoms, while anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines may be prescribed to manage anxiety symptoms. Therapy options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be recommended to help individuals develop coping strategies and manage their symptoms.

Can misdiagnosis of ADHD as anxiety lead to ineffective treatment?

Yes, misdiagnosis of ADHD as anxiety can lead to ineffective treatment. According to ADDitude, misdiagnosis of ADHD is common, and symptoms such as rejection sensitivity, poor focus, and stress are often diagnosed as depression, anxiety, and even bipolar disorder. It is important to receive an accurate diagnosis to ensure appropriate treatment and management of symptoms.