The Connection Between Anxiety And ADD: What You Need To Know

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) * are two common conditions that might significantly impact a person's daily life. Understanding the nature of these conditions and identifying available treatment options might help those experiencing difficulty managing their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Acknowledging the possible connection between these two conditions might also be beneficial. This article examines the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for both.

*The term ADD is no longer used by mental health professionals, and is instead referred to as ADHD in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There are three specific subtypes of ADHD; predominantly Inattentive, predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, and combined. What was previously called ADD is now considered the inattentive presentation of ADHD. BetterHelp strives to use current terminology to accurately discuss mental health; we will use the updated term “ADHD” to explore this topic instead.

Discover practical solutions for anxiety and ADHD

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety might be a typical emotional response to stress and danger, but it could also become persistent and overwhelming, disrupting daily life. People with anxiety might experience physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shaking, for instance, as well as psychological symptoms such as excessive worry, fear, and panic. There are several different anxiety disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, including social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Potential causes of anxiety could include genetics, environmental factors, and life events.

What is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?

On the other hand, ADHD might be a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects attention and behavior and could be characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. People with ADHD might have difficulty staying focused, controlling impulses, and managing emotions. In this article, we will be exploring the presentation of ADHD that stresses difficulty paying attention rather than overactivity. ADHD might be diagnosed in childhood, but its symptoms could persist into adulthood.

Can you have an anxiety disorder and ADHD?

The connection between anxiety and ADHD can be complex. It is common for individuals to display symptoms of both ADHD and anxiety. According to a study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, anxiety disorders are among the most common comorbid mental health conditions for those with ADHD. A large body of evidence supports this assertion. In one clinical trial—published in the Journal of Attention Disorders—researchers found that 31% of participants with ADHD also experienced generalized anxiety disorder.   

People with ADHD may be more likely to develop anxiety than those without the disorder. This might be due to the difficulties they experience in managing their attention and emotions, which could increase stress and trigger anxiety.

The symptoms of ADHD could also mimic those of anxiety, making it challenging to distinguish one condition from the other. For instance, inattention, restlessness, and impulsiveness are common symptoms of ADHD and anxiety. As a result, many people with ADHD might be misdiagnosed with anxiety or vice versa.

Understanding anxious ADD 

Anxiety and ADHD symptoms can impact an individual’s daily life and well-being in various ways. Understanding the symptoms of these conditions might be crucial for finding the proper treatment and support. One framework for understanding ADHD was proposed by Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and ADHD expert. According to Dr. Amen, there are seven types of ADHD, one of which is anxious ADHD. For an individual with anxious ADHD, struggles with social situations and the physical effects of anxiety may exacerbate ADHD symptoms like difficulty focusing. Those who experience anxiety and ADHD may be fearful of the worst, conflict avoidant (fear of perceived judgment can lead to difficulty resolving disagreements), and excessively nervous speaking in social situations.  

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety symptoms may vary from person to person. Still, some common symptoms may include excessive worry, fear, and panic as well as physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shaking. People with anxiety might also experience sleep disturbances, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Severe anxiety symptoms might include panic attacks, which are sudden and intense episodes of fear.

ADHD symptoms

The symptoms of ADHD might also vary, but primary symptoms could include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. People with ADHD might have trouble paying attention, following instructions, and completing tasks, for example. They might also be easily distracted and forgetful. In addition, people with ADHD might have difficulty controlling their emotions and managing stress. Hyperactivity and impulsiveness might manifest as fidgeting, interrupting others, and acting without thinking.

It might be essential to note that other conditions might also cause these symptoms. It could be best to get a proper evaluation by a mental health professional to make an accurate diagnosis. A mental health professional could also help determine the best course of treatment.

Impact of ADHD on daily life

People with ADHD might face numerous challenges in their daily lives due to their symptoms. Difficulty staying focused and controlling impulses could make it challenging to complete tasks, follow instructions, and pay attention in school or work. This could lead to problems in academic or occupational settings and negatively affect a person's performance. In addition, hyperactivity and impulsiveness might cause a person to interrupt others, act without thinking, and have trouble controlling their emotions, which could hurt relationships.

Impact of anxiety on daily life

The symptoms of anxiety could also impact daily life and well-being. Intense worry, fear, and panic might cause a person to avoid certain activities or situations, for instance, which could limit their ability to engage in work, school, or social activities. Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and sweating might be disruptive and interfere with everyday tasks. In addition, anxious feelings could lead to sleep disturbances, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, which may affect daily functioning.

Discover practical solutions for anxiety and ADHD

Getting the right treatment for anxiety and ADHD

The symptoms of both anxiety and ADHD can be managed with proper treatment. Medication may be used in some cases to manage symptoms, but psychotherapy could also be beneficial in treating both conditions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that might help people with anxiety and ADHD manage their symptoms. This therapy focuses on helping the individual recognize and change patterns of thought and behavior that cause distress or interfere with their daily functioning.

Benefits of online therapy

Individuals can learn to identify and manage their symptoms effectively by working with a mental health professional. Still, those individuals who have severe symptoms of anxiety or ADHD may find it challenging to make it to appointments. These symptoms can cause fear of social situations (e.g., meeting a therapist for the first time) or forgetting appointments, for example. 

Thus, online therapy can be a valuable tool for individuals experiencing anxiety and/or ADHD since sessions can be taken from home.  This type of remote therapy can provide a relaxing web-based environment where individuals with anxiety and ADHD can develop coping strategies and techniques for managing their emotions and reducing stress, thereby improving their overall quality of life. 

In addition, therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can work through their experiences and feelings, allowing them to gain insight into their thoughts and behaviors. This can lead to a greater understanding of the underlying causes of their symptoms, which can help to reduce the impact of anxiety and ADHD on daily life.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Going to therapy can be helpful for individuals with anxiety and inattentive presentation of ADHD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), research has shown that therapy can be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders and that therapy combined with medication can be even more effective. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) also states that therapy can be beneficial for individuals with ADHD since it can help them learn coping strategies and improve their overall functioning. Moreover, research indicates that online therapy, particularly internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy, can effectively treat anxiety disorders


Knowledge may be the key to understanding and managing the impact of anxiety and ADHD in daily life.

The connection between anxiety and ADHD might be complex and poorly understood, but the conditions can co-occur. Therefore, it may be essential to understand the symptoms and treatment options available. With the proper support, people with anxiety and ADHD can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. To connect with an online therapist who specializes in one or both of these conditions, reach out to BetterHelp today.

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