That information can be hard to hear. However, it's important to remember that you are not alone in being stressed or anxious, and there are helpful strategies for ADHDers you can use to cope.
How Stress is Affected by ADHD — and Vice Versa
The world can feel pretty stressful these days. When you have ADHD, you might find that stress a little more difficult to deal with. Many people with this condition find that stress makes their ADHD symptoms worse.
On the other hand, your stress could be caused by your ADHD symptoms. Maybe you're feeling especially restless and you're trying your best not to fidget in a work meeting, but it’s not going so well. You start feeling increasingly stressed about that ADHD behavior, which in turn makes the symptom worse.
It can be quite a vicious cycle. But it helps to understand that this stress response is happening in part due to your biology. In fact, stress is known to cause issues with executive functioning skills — the very same skills which are harder to master when you have ADHD. That's likely because stress weakens the networks in the prefrontal cortex, which is also the area of the brain primarily affected by ADHD.
These complex connections between ADHD and stress are impossible to untangle. They simply go hand in hand, which is why it’s important to learn how to deal with your stress.
The Connection Between Anxiety and ADHD
Almost half of all adults with ADHD have an anxiety disorder, making it the most common comorbidity associated with ADHD. That's a pretty staggering fact, but when you think about how the two conditions are connected, it makes a little more sense.
As mentioned above, having ADHD can make life feel more stressful. Those daily worries and stresses can contribute to growing anxiety. Think about the types of situations faced by someone with ADHD. They may forget about an important deadline or event until the last minute, and then feel panicked when trying to figure out how to fix their mistake. Perhaps they have been shopping impulsively, and they worry about being able to cover their bills at the end of the month. When you add in the fact that people are often judged or criticized for their ADHD symptoms by others, it's easy to see how everyday stresses can develop into an anxiety disorder over time.
It's important to note that an anxiety disorder is different from temporary stress or relatively brief feelings of anxiety. People with anxiety disorders generally experience persistent nervousness, worry, and fear. Some of the other potential symptoms of anxiety overlap with those of ADHD, such as restlessness, distraction, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia.
Dealing with Your ADHD Stress and Anxiety
We've established that stress and anxiety are very closely intertwined with ADHD. Now that you know what you're up against, you can develop a strategy to manage that stress and anxiety effectively. Here are some of the best methods for dealing with stress and anxiety when you have ADHD.
Get a good treatment plan in place
Anxiety and ADHD medications can be absolutely life-changing. However, it's important to make sure that the clinicians prescribing medications to you have a full picture of your health. For example, you'll want to make sure your doctor knows you have anxiety before getting treatment for ADHD since certain stimulant ADHD medications may worsen anxiety symptoms for those who already have an anxiety disorder. The good news is that there are also non-stimulant options if you find that stimulants aren't a good fit for you, and most anxiety medications are safe to take with your ADHD meds.
Develop techniques to relieve stress
Medications can make a big difference in how well you manage your ADHD and anxiety. But it's important to go beyond those treatment options and find strategies that work to minimize stress in your daily life. The more you can relieve stress naturally, the better you'll be able to handle your ADHD behaviors and anxiety symptoms. A few of the best stress-relief ideas for ADHD include:
- Exercise to relax, boost your mood, and increase serotonin levels
- Minimize distractions, like clutter in your workspace, which can contribute to stress
- Stick to a routine to limit unwelcome surprises and stay more organized
- Use deep breathing techniques and practice mindfulness or meditation
- Take breaks when you're feeling overwhelmed to take a walk, call a friend, etc.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is great for both ADHD and anxiety. If you can find a specialist who has expertise in both of these areas, they can help you recognize your triggers, reframe feelings of stress, and change irrational thought patterns.