What Is Anxious ADD?
By Jon Jaehnig
Updated February 13, 2020
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
Are you frequently distracted and always worried? Does your mind jump from one concern to another? Do you feel buried by tasks but seem unable to complete them? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, you could have Anxious ADD.
Haven't heard of it? It's a fairly recent diagnosis. It turns out that many of the symptoms of anxiety disorders and ADD are very similar. Anxious ADD is a recognition of that concern by naming a specific disorder with the flagship symptoms of both disorders.
Here, we'll discuss anxiety and ADD separately as well as anxious anxiety specifically. We'll also talk about being diagnosed with anxious ADD, living with the condition, how to manage it, and when to find help.
Everyone feels anxiety from time to time. It's a natural and healthy response to things that stress you out.
However, some people seem to be stressed out by everything. They may feel anxiety during normal, everyday events, or they may feel anxiety constantly worrying about things that they think may happen in the future, even though they probably won't. Individuals who frequently experience high levels of anxiety to the point that it impacts their everyday life may have an anxiety disorder. These are usually diagnosed in the teen years or later.
There are a large number of recognized anxiety disorders based on the symptoms experienced by the individual and by the triggers of intense anxiety. The most common kind of anxiety, "generalized anxiety disorder" is a sort of general anxiety about everything. Phobias are also forms of anxiety, as are social anxiety and panic disorder, which is feeling anxiety about feeling anxiety.
A symptom of every type of anxiety disorder, Panic attacks involve a rapid heartbeat, quick, shallow breathing, and feelings of helplessness. People with anxiety disorders may experience panic attacks seemingly out of the blue, or any stress at all may trigger a panic attack over the fear of experiencing a panic attack.
Experts are split over the causes of anxiety. Some believe that it is caused strictly by an imbalance of neurotransmitters - the brain chemicals responsible for our emotions. Others believe that anxiety is caused by life experiences. Still, others believe that it is a combination of the two, namely that some individuals have a biological predisposition to anxiety disorders, which is then activated by life stress.
Regardless of the cause, anxiety disorders are generally treated through medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Depending on the treatment method and the individual, treatment can last months or may continue indefinitely. Some people eventually learn to control their anxiety disorders on their own, while others may depend on medical intervention for their entire lives.
"Attention Deficit Disorder" is the common name used for the condition first recognized in 1980. As of 1994, however, the official full name is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
Everyone with ADD/ADHD has some problem with keeping their mind on a given task or line of thought. Some also have trouble remaining physically still for long periods.
Just like not everyone who feels anxiety has an anxiety disorder, not everyone who gets distracted on occasion has ADD/ADHD. People with ADD/ADHD may have trouble doing well in school, holding down jobs, or even maintaining healthy relationships if they go untreated.
Some people still hold that ADD/ADHD is just an excuse to medicate people who can't sit still, but the vast majority of the medical community recognize it as a neurobiological condition rather than a simple inability to focus or a lack of discipline as was once widely believed. ADD/ADHD is usually diagnosed in school-age children, but the diagnosis can be made at any point in life. Since the recognition and codification of ADD/ADHD almost forty years ago, a growing number of adults are being diagnosed with the condition.
Like anxiety disorders, ADD/ADHD can be treated through talk therapy, medication, or a combination of the two, and the length of treatment depends on the case and the individual.
What Is Anxious ADD?
Just like there are several different types of anxiety disorders with some common but some specific symptoms, there are multiple different subcategories of ADD/ADHD. Most experts recognize at least three distinct kinds of ADD/ADHD, though some experts recognize as many as seven of which Anxious ADD is the seventh.
Essentially, Anxious ADD is a diagnosis for people who have symptoms of both ADD/ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder. People with Anxious ADD have the same symptoms as those with other forms of ADD/ADHD but are more likely to experience anxiety. Further, while people with ADD/ADHD are likely to seek out excitement and even engage in risky or impulsive behavior, people with Anxious ADD usually avoid risks and unfamiliar situations.
Part of the reason that Anxious ADD was so late in being named and so slow to be adopted is that ADD/ADHD and anxiety have many similar symptoms. Many experts were, and are, simply ready to accept that. Others were quick to diagnose ADD/ADHD and anxiety as comorbid conditions without recognizing a single condition that combined the two disorders.
The diagnosing criteria for Anxious ADD are the same as those for diagnosing ADD/ADHD and anxiety disorders independently. Whether you are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD with anxiety or with Anxious ADD depends on your care provider, but they are both treated in the same way: with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two.
Living With Anxious ADD
Dr. Daniel Amen, the doctor who named Anxious ADD, calls it "the mother of perpetual worry."
People with Anxious Anxiety may experience fear over future events, or about things going on around them and things that they need to do as their mind jumps from one concern to another. Of course, to complete tasks, an individual needs to spend time working towards the completion of each one. This becomes difficult in people with Anxious ADD because they are continually distracted by other concerns. They may find themselves always working but unable to complete anything as their lives turn into endless and frantic multi-tasking. They may spend so much time worrying about their obligations that they are unable to keep any of them.
Further, because people with Anxious ADD are often conflicted avoidant and dislike social situations, they may have trouble maintaining healthy relationships or getting the most out of their occupations. For example, they may be unlikely to talk to their significant other about relationship problems or concerns, bring issues up with their employers and ask for raises, or engage in social or professional networking.
Managing Anxious ADD
There are some steps that you can take to manage symptoms relating to Anxious ADD on your own. However, if you do believe that you have the condition, you should reach out to a healthcare professional for help.
Both symptoms of ADD/ADHD and symptoms of anxiety can be helped through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice that only takes minutes per day, but that helps individuals learn to clear their heads, increase their focus, and decrease their anxiety.
Mindfulness has two main modes of operation. The first is meditation. In mindfulness meditation, the goal is to clear your mind. This is less an exercise in having a clear mind and more a tool for understanding the kind of things that cloud your mind. It operates on the idea of the "monkey mind" - the activity that your brain goes through when you are doing things that don't actively require your full attention. An overactive monkey mind is a problem for people with both ADD/ADHD and anxiety disorders. If your monkey mind is overactive and pessimistic, it could be part of the cause for your Anxious ADD.
A simple mindfulness meditation exercise is to sit or lie down comfortably, close your eyes, and try to focus on your breathing. When a thought distracts you, take note of it and try to get back to your breathing. After a couple of minutes, you should have noticed some trends with regards to where your monkey mind tries to take you. Maintaining this practice can make you more aware of what your monkey mind is up to during the day so you can notice when it is unproductive or making you worry too much and redirect your thoughts to more practical things.
The second key part of mindfulness is breathing, which we talked a little about already. Focusing on your breathing is a good way of clearing your mind, but it's also a good way to actively combat the stress response. There are several breathing exercises, but Dr. Amen specifically recommends diaphragmatic breathing. These exercises emphasize taking long, slow, deep breaths so that you feel it in your belly instead of in your chest. This kind of breathing is helpful because it prevents the oxygen/carbon dioxide imbalance that can happen when you hyperventilate.
Further, this kind of breathing activates a nerve called the Vagus Nerve that helps to control your stress response on a biological level. In essence, your breathing is controlled by both your conscious and unconscious nervous system. When you panic, your unconscious nervous system tells you to breathe fast and shallow. By making the conscious decision to breathe slowly and deeply, you are telling your unconscious nervous system that everything is okay.
When To Seek Help
As mentioned above, mindfulness and other tools can be a great way to ease symptoms of Anxious ADD. However, if Anxious ADD is a problem for you,, you really should seek the help of a healthcare professional. Consider reaching out to your primary care provider for a diagnosis. If your healthcare team hasn't subscribed to the idea of Anxious ADD, that's okay as long as they are helping you to solve your problems and live your best life. Just make sure that all of the members of your healthcare team are on the same page. That's especially important if your treatment options involve medication. ADD/ADHD, and anxiety disorders have similar symptoms and causes but the medications used to treat them aren't always the same so be sure that everyone you see for your health knows about all of the medications that you are taking to prevent dangerous interactions.
Finally, if you pursue talk therapy, it is important that you know and explores your options. Your healthcare provider should be able to point you in the direction of therapists and counselors in your area. If your options are limited, however, you should know that you can also go through therapy or counseling online. For more information about whether online counseling or therapy is right for you, visit https://www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy/ .