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The Vicious Cycle of ADHD


ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder


It is noted that it can affect one’s emotions, behaviors and ways of learning. Many that are diagnosed with ADHD are often in childhood in which symptoms carry over into adulthood. It is noted that 10% of adolescents diagnosed with ADHD are most likely to develop depression than those that are not ADHD. It is estimated that over 60% of individuals with ADHD have a comorbid or coexisting condition. Anxiety is the one condition in which over 50% of adults and up to 30% of children have anxiety disorder. For individuals with ADHD, it may be difficult to recognize anxiety symptoms because most individuals experienced these symptoms as children.

These symptoms include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of attention
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Fidgeting and trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty organizing and completing tasks

Anxiety disorders


Anxiety disorders are more than individuals feeling occasionally anxious. This mental illness can be long-lasting and very severe. It is characterized by individuals feeling distressed, uneasy, excessively frightened in benign and/or regular situations. Anxiety disorder can cause symptoms to become heightened to a point where a person cannot study, work, enjoy relationships and/or go about normal daily activities.

What is the difference between ADHD and anxiety disorder symptoms?

ADHD symptoms primarily involve issues regarding concentration and focus. Anxiety symptoms, on the other hand, involves issues with nervousness and fear.

Listed below are symptoms involved with ADHD and Anxiety Disorder:

  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble completing tasks
  • Inability to relax or feeling restless
  • Difficulty listening to and following instruction
  • Inability to focus for long period of times
  • Chronic feelings of worry or nervousness
  • Fear without an obvious cause
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Fear of trying new things

Even though the symptoms per each condition are unique, sometimes the two conditions mirror each other making it difficult to diagnose whether it is ADHD, anxiety and/or both. The key is to watch how the symptoms present themselves over time.

How to tell the difference?

First and foremost, a professional evaluation should be implemented. If one has anxiety, one will be unable to concentrate in situations that make the person feel anxious. With ADHD, one will find it difficult to concentrate most of the time in any situation. For an individual that has both conditions, anxiety can cause even more difficulty with paying attention and follow through with tasks.


Though it is not known the exact reason of the connection between ADHD and anxiety, genetics could possibly be the reason for both conditions and/or comorbidities with other common conditions. Other causes for ADHD could be related to environmental toxins or premature birth. Comorbidities common with ADHD include:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Depression
  3. Autism
  4. Sleep disorders
  5. Dyslexia
  6. Substance abuse
  7. Bipolar disorder

Treating both conditions can be challenging. Some medications used to treat ADHD can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Some other methods to be implemented could be cognitive and behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and meditation.

To diagnose anxiety, a complete physical examination is essential. This is to help aid the physician to rule out any other conditions that may be causing symptoms or something that is being masked by the symptoms. A long personal history is also necessary to make an accurate diagnose. Other contributing factors affected by anxiety include:

  • Medications
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Hormones
  • Certain illnesses
  • Coffee Consumption

The most prominent physical symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing Heart
  • Shaking
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Hot Flashes
  • Hot flashes
  • Chest Pain
  • Twitching
  • Dry Mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent Urination

Medical conditions

Medical conditions that mimic anxiety symptoms can be ruled out by undergoing a variety of medical tests. These conditions include:

  • Heart Attack
  • Angina
  • Mitral Value Prolapses
  • Tachycardia
  • Asthma
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Adrenal gland tumors
  • Menopause
  • Side effects from prescription drugs used for high blood pressure, diabetes, and thyroid disorders
  • Withdrawal from medications that treat anxiety and sleep disorders
  • Substance abuse or withdrawal

Anxiety is apparent in several various disorders

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by high amounts of anxiety as well as physical stress for a short period of time. The physical stress can come in forms of dizziness, high heart rate, numbness, etc.


Phobias are anxiety triggers due to a specific thing or situation that is not necessarily harmful or dangerous. These can include animals, heights, riding in cars, etc.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is anxiety expressed as obsessive thoughts or as compulsive behaviors that are acted upon repeatedly to relieve stress.

Social phobia

Social phobia is anxiety that is experienced in interpersonal situations such as during conversations, large social groups, speaking in front of people, etc.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is the broadest anxiety disorder which differs from the conditions above. GAD does not necessarily relate to a specific cause or behavior. With GAD, individuals tend to worry about many different things at one time or over long periods; the worries are constant.



Depression can also be associated with ADHD. ADHD and depression both involve issues related to concentration, motivation, and mood, however, they do differ. A person with ADHD tend to experience temporary mood lability steering all the way back to childhood. A person with depression tend to experience mood episodes that begin in their teen or later, and that last for weeks or months.

Because children and adults with ADHD struggle with focusing, organizing tasks, and feeling restless, they might experience sadness, guilt, irritability, low self-confidence, and helplessness. In some cases, these symptoms can signal depression. Some experts assert that up to 70% of people with ADHD will seek treatment for depression at least once.

Depression can manifest in a variety of symptoms:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and/or emptiness
  • Frequent feelings of anxiety, irritability, restlessness and/or frustration
  • Loss of interest in things one use to enjoy
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue

Restlessness and boredom are symptomatic of both ADHD and depression

The Vicious Cycle

Based on the individuals that have in therapy for ADHD, it is in my experience that each person suffers from underlying depression and anxiety. In most cases, the individual gets very anxious when it comes to work duties, home duties, parenting, being a student, etc. Each person at some point in their childhood whether they were diagnosed or not, has been made to feel that they have not at some point met expectations whether it be their parents, teachers, spouses, etc. This inadequacy tends to make one unmotivated to endure various tasks because they have a history of feeling “not good enough” or they did not “do it right”. This cycles over into one experiencing anxiety when it comes to performing tasks. To another person, this lack of motivation tends to be perceived as the individual with ADHD being lazy, not caring, being stubborn and just not cooperating. When the non-ADHD person witnesses this, he/she get frustrated, angry, and tend to voice comments that only reiterates the low self-esteem/confidence that has been instilled into their inner core belief system only solidifying what the individual already thinks of their” not good enough” self. When this is pointed out in therapy, a light bulb tends to go off and the individual for once feels like someone can understand them. Communication with family members, spouses, friends and loved ones is key to helping the individual cope with life. Teaching ways to restructure speaking patterns and reframing negative thought patterns is key to helping one proceed in life knowing that their brain functions differently than one that does not have ADHD. The notion that they “are not normal” but like many others in the world, tends to be key in breaking down negative core beliefs and bringing and internal peace to the ADHD diagnosis.

Animo Sano Psychiatry is open for patients in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and New York. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, please contact us.

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