The statistics concerning Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety are concerning. About one-third of children who have ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. About half of adults who have ADHD also have an anxiety disorder.
ADHD is a neurological condition. Research has shown structural, functional, neurochemical, and electrical differences in the brains of children with ADHD. The differences are mainly in the areas of executive functioning (memory, attention, inhibition, attention, planning, flexibility, and problem-solving).
How anxiety and ADHD influence each other
The presence of anxiety is associated with more severe ADHD. Anxiety and ADHD can influence each other in a bidirectional manner each disorder can make the other disorder’s symptoms worse. Anxiety exacerbates ADHD, and when ADHD symptoms cause even more struggle in your life due to unfinished tasks, disorganization and forgetfulness, anxiety becomes worse. The situation can lead to difficulties sleeping which in turn, make it even more difficult to focus and to concentrate.
If anxiety reaches levels of fight or flight, the ability to concentrate or think clearly becomes virtually impossible. When the reptilian brain becomes activated in response to intense anxiety, our behavioral response, to freeze and react without thinking is similar to symptoms of ADHD.
People who struggle with anxiety, have a difficult time focusing and following through with their activities of daily living. They are often so focused on a specific phobia or a general fear of things going wrong, that they become unable to redirect themselves to the obligations at hand.
How to ease both ADHD and Anxiety
Activities such as mindfulness meditation and deep breathing decrease anxiety are fast acting.
Mindfulness meditation incorporates the quality of being present. When we take time to sit, breathe, and experience the present moment, it is as though we are literally shifting gears in our brain and nervous system. Long slow deep breaths work to immediately shift the nervous system into a state of calmness. The ongoing practice of this, even just 11 minutes each day can have an enormously beneficial effect.
Keep in mind that many children with ADHD seem to grow out of the disorder. Symptoms lessen as we get older and the development of executive function abilities seems to catch up. The biggest take-home message is, the brain is plastic, with skill training and anxiety management, your ADHD and anxiety diagnosis can be improved. Teaching your children skills to manage anxiety and practice focus and attention can provide a pathway to greater health and well being. These same skills and techniques apply to teenagers and adults as well.
Ugo Uche is a psychotherapist and expert in anxiety and related disorders. If you would like to learn more, you are welcome to call and book your first appointment or fill out my contact form and click Send.
Ugo also provides Online therapy for those who cannot travel to his office.