Your question: How do I know if my anxiety is actually ADHD?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Having doubts about health is quite common, that’s why, through this article I’m going to explain the main differences between anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as patterns you can identify in yourself. It should be noted that this article does not support self-diagnosis, and does not propose that by reading it you determine which psychological condition you have. It is always advisable to see a mental health professional.

Seeking a psychological diagnosis is a stressful experience. We constantly need to give a name or label to your symptoms, and when you look them up on the internet, the answers are often vague and leave you with more questions than answers.

Let’s start by saying that anxiety is a part of life, and in and of itself, does not represent a diagnosis or disorder. Anxiety is a psychological and physiological response to external demands, be it work, college or personal life. When anxiety becomes recurrent and intense, and makes it difficult for you to function daily, there’s a chronic anxiety problem.

On the other hand, ADHD is commonly associated with children, although there is a significant percentage of adults who also have it. It is a more complex manifestation of anxiety as it requires a specialized diagnosis and treatment, often accompanied by pharmacology.

How is anxiety characterized?

The common symptoms of anxiety are accompanying disturbances of sleep, concentration, social and/or occupational functioning. The anxiety is associated with restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty in concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, and irritability (1).

Anxiety itself can be a helpful emotion, as it can help you to prepare for events ahead as well as improving your performance. However, anxiety can become so severe and intense at times that it becomes debilitating and starts to restrict daily routine and life as a whole.

An anxiety problem is identified by

  • An intense and uncontrollable feeling of distress.
  • You feel like running away in times of stress.
  • You avoid social encounters for fear that an episode of anxiety will appear and others will judge you.
  • Your breathing becomes agitated and you feel that you are going to die even if there is no real danger.

How is ADHD characterized?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts an individual’s daily life. The ADHD symptoms people experience may depend on the type of ADHD they have (2).

In some cases hyperactivity predominates (defined as recurrent restlessness, inexhaustible and disorganized energy), in others attention deficit predominates (difficulty in concentrating and carrying out daily tasks), and in others both elements are present with the same intensity.

People with ADHD are usually easy to identify from childhood, and some characteristics are:

  • Inattention and distractibility.
  • Difficulty listening to others and following instructions.
  • Postponing tasks and activities that never get done.
  • Impulsive acts without measuring consequences.
  • Psychomotor agitation in quiet moments.
  • Difficulty waiting in line or sitting.

how do you know if you have anxiety or ADHD?

ADHD and anxiety symptoms can be similar. Both conditions can cause difficulty concentrating in certain situations. In addition, in both there may be associated physical symptomatology. A person can have both conditions at the same time, but the keys to differentiate them are as follows:

  • People with anxiety do not usually have attention problems unless they are going through an anxious episode, people with ADHD constantly have difficulty paying attention.
  • People with ADHD tend to interrupt conversations and forget where they left personal things, people with anxiety do not.
  • People with anxiety tend to feel intense fear and have unwarranted thoughts of danger, people with ADHD do not.
  • Psychomotor agitation in people with ADHD is related to restlessness and hyperactivity, in people with anxiety psychomotor agitation is related to the feeling of fear or panic in an anxious episode.

In my experience…

It is worth remembering that no diagnosis defines you as a person, and therefore, regardless of your condition there are strategies you can implement by seeking professional help. Only a qualified therapist can give you a valid diagnosis and fruitful solutions.

I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that you can improve, although sometimes your mind makes you believe that you have no solution. It was a pleasure to write to you.

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