Anxiety vs ADHD: Similarities and Differences

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

With a rise in visibility, people have been examining their own lives and seeking treatment for their mental health. While we love that people are feeling freer to speak up about their mental health, some followers may be led down the wrong path.

Self-diagnosis can be an issue when overlapping symptoms of two different disorders become conflated. Creating a misdiagnosis that could get you the wrong kind of help.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety are two different mental disorders that share some similarities. Both can make it difficult to perform simple tasks and can cause disruptions across many areas of life.


Anxiety is a normal part of living. It’s a reaction we’re meant to feel in high-stress situations to help us fight or flee. That extra hypersensitivity can be life-saving.

However, for the large number of people who face anxiety disorder, it’s a switch that’s stuck in the “on” position.


Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • A constant sense of fear, dread, and unease 
  • Avoidance
  • Irritability
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Heightened heart rate
  • Fatigue


Therapy and medication are the two common methods for treating anxiety disorder. Many different kinds of therapy are effective for anxiety, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely used.

There are also many types of medication treatments for anxiety. The most generally used are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). 

Medication and therapy can be effective on their own, but work better in tandem Typically, doctors will prescribe both forms of treatment. 


Most people with ADHD will have been diagnosed as a kid and may find fewer symptoms as they get older. However, many adults, undiagnosed or not, may still experience debilitating symptoms.


Some symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Being forgetful
  • Restlessness and fidgeting
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Easily distracted
  • Being unable to wait their turn
  • Inability to plan, prioritize, and organize

Like all mental and behavioral health disorders, ADHD symptoms vary person to person. In fact, ADHD looks very different in men and women, which can sometimes lead to misdiagnoses.


ADHD is most effectively treated with a regimen of medication and therapy. CBT, family counseling, and ADHD coaching are all therapy-focused treatments for ADHD.

  • CBT—Helps find unhealthy mindsets and reframe them into healthier lifestyles.
  • Family counseling—Involving loved ones in the process can help them cope with the stress of living with ADHD.
  • ADHD coaching—Helps people build healthy habits and improve skills such as organization.

When it comes to medication, doctors will typically prescribe stimulants to help regulate brain function. Doctors may also prescribe non-stimulant medications if a patient has troubling side effects while taking stimulants.

Is it ADHD or Anxiety?

It’s easy to see how these two conditions can be intertwined. Certified mental health specialists can help you down the right path, and unravel the web of symptoms.

Overlapping Symptoms

With some overlapping symptoms, it’s understandable why these two disorders could get confused.

The biggest overlapping symptom is difficulty focusing and trouble concentrating. Both can also lead to issues with sleep, keeping people up through the night and causing distress. 

Another complication is that ADHD can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and vice versa. These two conditions can be closely related and can play into each other. Women with ADHD tend to display more of the overlapping symptoms such as trouble concentrating and emotional dysregulation. This often leads to doctors diagnosing their ADHD as anxiety or depression.

Differing Symptoms

The largest difference between anxiety and ADHD is the level of calmness.

A big part of anxiety is a feeling of dread and fear. Someone with anxiety might not be able to complete a task, sleep, or focus due to excessive worry. 

On the other hand, someone with ADHD might exhibit similar symptoms, but they’re calm on the inside. Someone with ADHD might also be unable to sit still and have a hard time waiting for their turn. Those are not typical symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Difference in Treatments

The differences in how these two disorders are treated are not that different.

While a therapist might take a different approach based on what your diagnosis is, the overarching principles and type of therapy might look similar. Medication however will look very different.


Comorbidity simply means having two or more medical conditions at once. Similar to social anxiety and autism, it is more than possible for someone to have both ADHD and anxiety. In fact, ADHD and anxiety disorders share a 25% comorbidity rate.

Getting Help

Navigating the world of mental health can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. 

Whether it’s online or in person, connecting with a therapist will help you understand your struggles better and help you down the right path. 

Dangers of Self Diagnosis

You can’t always trust TikTok. With a rising trend in cyberchondria (a form of health anxiety that stems directly from the use of the internet), more and more people are seeking medical advice from content creators. Many of which have no medical background.

When you self-diagnose, you may be missing the bigger picture. A trained specialist will work with you to get the treatment you need. 

Take what you hear from social media with a grain of salt, and use the information gained from the internet as a motivation to ask your doctor what they think. 

Finding Help at Inner Balance Counseling

If you’re experiencing symptoms you believe are connected to anxiety or ADHD, request a consultation, and begin your journey. Our experienced team can help you identify what it is you’re experiencing, and work with you towards treatment.

Reach out. Show up. Feel better.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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