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3 Reasons ADHD and Anxiety Often Go Together

People often know they have anxiety before they know they have ADHD. Anxiety symptoms are visceral, obvious, often even physical. The way ADHD works is more subtle, intricate and complex.

Anxiety and ADHDThat’s one reason I went to get professional help for my anxiety before my ADHD. Only in the course of treating anxiety and depression did I get diagnosed with ADHD.

Some people with anxiety and ADHD only find out about ADHD by working backward from anxiety symptoms with the help of a professional. On the other hand, other people with anxiety and ADHD never find out about their ADHD and spend their time wondering why none of their anxiety treatments are working, not realizing they haven’t gotten to the root of the problem.

Since I learned I had ADHD and found that treating my ADHD had the secondary effect of also treating my anxiety, I’ve thought about why it is that ADHD seems to be causally linked with anxiety. Some possible reasons I can see are:

  • ADHD makes it harder to manage your emotions: If you think about it, not being anxious is partly about focus. When you’re anxious, you calm yourself down by directing your attention to other things or choosing to look at whatever’s making you anxious from a different perspective. However, people with ADHD aren’t good at choosing what we focus on or deliberately stopping spirals of negative emotions. We’re often a little lacking on the executive skill of slowing ourselves down, so we’re more likely to let anxious thoughts run through our minds unchecked. Basically, we don’t self-regulate well.
  • You’re used to things unexpectedly going wrong: The thing about inattention is that you don’t always know you’ve missed some important detail until it’s too late. If you have ADHD, you probably know what it feels like to have things go wrong at any time out of nowhere for no good reason other than a careless inattentive oversight on your part.
  • Life pre-diagnosis is about always messing up without knowing why: Forget about treatment – just getting diagnosed with ADHD was the first thing that started to chip away at my anxiety after years of things getting worse or, at best, staying the same. When you have a diagnosis, you have an explanation. Before you have a diagnosis, you still have all the symptoms of ADHD, but you don’t know they’re symptoms of ADHD – you just know that you apparently can’t do some things other people can, but you don’t know why. This feeling of constantly doing things wrong without even having a good reason adds to the uncertainty and anxiety of life with ADHD.

It’s kind of too bad that ADHD often leads to anxiety, because ADHD on its own is plenty enough to make life interesting. Really, I appreciate the offer, but one disorder is enough for me! I wouldn’t want to be greedy.

However, there’s an upside to ADHD and anxiety being interlinked: treating ADHD will also help with treating anxiety. In fact, it might be necessary. ADHD and anxiety are very different beasts in many ways, but you might find that you can gain a lot of insight into both of them by looking at how they interact.

Do you have anxiety with your ADHD? Do you experience ADHD and anxiety as separate or related to each other? Please share your experience!

Photo Credit: Cures

3 Reasons ADHD and Anxiety Often Go Together

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). 3 Reasons ADHD and Anxiety Often Go Together. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Jul 2016
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