With global stressors at all time highs, psychologists report increasing numbers of new patients with a range of mental health conditions. Among them, two of the most common diagnoses are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety.

Each of these conditions has its own set of symptoms (as we will discuss below). When you think of someone with ADHD, you might imagine impulsive behaviour, fidgeting, or difficulty focusing on a given task. When you think of someone with anxiety, you might envision the opposite: extremely cautious behaviour, a deer-in-headlights vibe, or fixation on a particular topic.

However, there are a number of ways the two conditions overlap – for example, an inability to focus. So if you’ve been struggling with your mental health and wondering about the difference between ADHD vs anxiety symptoms in adults, read on and we’ll explain how to distinguish the two as well as strategies to cope with – and treat – each one.

With global stressors at all time highs, psychologists report increasing numbers of new patients with a range of mental health conditions.
A mental health condition thought to impact around 3 percent of adults world-wide, ADHD can be characterized by three main features

What Is ADHD?

A mental health condition thought to impact around 3 percent of adults world-wide, ADHD can be characterized by three main features:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsive behaviours
  • Inattentive behaviours

Since these behaviours can be caused by other issues, their presence is not a guarantee of an ADHD diagnosis. However, people with ADHD usually experience problems in various realms of their personal and or professional, due to these symptoms.

ADHD symptoms fall on a spectrum, from barely noticeable too deeply disruptive. They can be intensified by a range of factors, including comorbidities (other health conditions) and lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and sleep. As a neurodevelopment disorder, ADHD starts in childhood and, therefore, is more commonly associated with children. However, since people rarely outgrow their symptoms, ADHD can also be found in the adult population.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

People with ADHD may experience only one of the main symptoms, but it’s also possible to struggle with two or even all three.

You might be experiencing inattentive behaviour if you:

  • Struggle with organization, focus or detail
  • Wander off
  • Make careless mistakes
  • Have trouble listening, even when someone is speaking to you directly
  • Avoid activities that require mental effort
  • Often lose things or are forgetful
  • Struggle to decide the best way to perform a task or follow through on instructions
Since these behaviours can be caused by other issues, their presence is not a guarantee of an ADHD diagnosis.

You might be experiencing hyperactivity/impulsive behaviour if you:

  • Struggle with organization, focus or detail
  • Wander off
  • Make careless mistakes
  • Have trouble listening, even when someone is speaking to you directly
  • Avoid activities that require mental effort
  • Often lose things or are forgetful
  • Struggle to decide the best way to perform a task or follow through on instructions

What is Anxiety?

There’s nothing wrong with anxiety on its own: It’s our body’s natural way to say, “Warning! Danger!” However, that evolutionary hold-over can sometimes get rewired and be set off too easily. When everyday situations start to trigger an anxiety response that impacts your ability to live life to the fullest, you start to cross into the realm of anxiety disorders.

What are the symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety symptoms run the gamut from physical to emotional. They can come and go throughout your lifetime, getting more or less intense depending on what else is going on. You might be experiencing anxiety if you:

  • Experience persistent fears, intrusive thoughts, a feeling of doom
  • Suffer from physical symptoms such as: fatigue, digestive issues, heart palpitations, muscle tension, chest pain, teeth grinding, excessive sweating, hyperventilation, trouble sleeping or lower libido
  • Struggle with decision making and uncertainty
  • Engage in excessive planning
  • Have difficulty concentrating
Anxiety symptoms run the gamut from physical to emotional. They can come and go throughout your lifetime, getting more or less intense depending on what else is going on.
When getting started with a new therapist, ask them:

ADHD vs Anxiety symptoms – How do you know the difference?

A common reason people wonder if they have ADHD or anxiety is that they feel easily distracted. Whether you’re trying to focus on an important presentation at work or attempting to listen to a loved one share their day, you might find your mind wandering off.

The next time that happens, try to catch yourself and ask yourself why. The answer will be your biggest clue in distinguishing whether your symptoms are caused by ADHD or anxiety.

If you have trouble concentrating because your worries are intruding on your thoughts, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Instead, if you’re lying on a beach with a good book and not a care in the world, but still have trouble focusing, you may have ADHD.

However, it’s not so cut and dry: If you’re wrestling with a possible ADHD diagnosis, you may start to become anxious because of your difficulty to focus, particularly if it impacts your performance at work.

When you start asking yourself these questions but only end up with more questions, that’s a sign you might benefit from a professional evaluation.

I think I have ADHD or Anxiety – Now what?

If you’re at a point where your symptoms are getting in the way of your life, it’s time to a mental health professional about how to deal with your condition, whether it’s ADHD, anxiety, both – or none of the above.

The good news is that there are a variety of approaches to treating ADHD and anxiety that are quite effective at reducing or eliminating symptoms, including medication, therapy and lifestyle changes.

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The most common type of ADHD medication is known as a stimulant.