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Five Links Between Anxiety And ADHD

It can feel unjust, but mental disorders often occur together, leading to the dreaded comorbid diagnosis. In the case of anxiety and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), this relationship is particularly pronounced, with the two occurring in tandem roughly fifty percent of the time. As the Covid-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear, comorbidities are not something to be desired.


Fortunately, knowledge is power, and recognizing the relationship between disorders can provide the information needed to combat and potentially even overcome them. The following five links between anxiety and depression help to underscore some of their common roots and serve as a roadmap on the path to a better life:

  1. Uncertainty

  2. Inconsistency

  3. Issues with Implementation

  4. Catastrophizing

  5. Emotional Regulation



Uncertainty

For a person with ADHD, uncertainty is a hallmark of daily life. The difficulty of retaining focus and follow-through can lead to many disruptions, from being late to an appointment to failing to meet a deadline to forgetting an important birthday. These disruptions lead to uncertain interactions, and feelings of uncertainty are a fundamental component of anxiety; since not knowing what’s going to happen often makes people feel out of control.


Inconsistency

Lack of predictability is yet another keystone of anxiety and a trademark attribute of those with ADHD. When your behavior is erratic, it can lead to problems at work and in relationships. This discord heightens feelings of not being safe, which promotes anxiety. So begins a vicious cycle wherein people become frustrated with you because you fail to perform in reliable ways, and then you feel attacked or unaccepted and become fearful and increasingly inconsistent.


Issues With Implementation

Knowing what needs doing but doubting your ability to follow through is frequently a component of ADHD. This experience often leaves the sufferer mistrustful of themselves, uncertain, and hence more likely to succumb to inattention, lack of clarity, and feelings of overwhelm. Anxiety is a result of these behaviors. Again, this single issue is a driver of both disorders.


Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing, or assuming the worst will happen, is a common component of anxiety.In addition, attention issues are exacerbated when you’re in a state of upheaval that is out of proportion to the situation. When your heart rate increases and you feel like the sky is falling, it’s exceedingly difficult to remember things, stay focused, and remain functional.


Emotional Regulation

Both anxiety and ADHD share the trait of difficulty with emotional regulation. By nature, anxiety stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight), compelling the sufferer to try and protect themselves. In this state, it’s difficult for the person to accurately assess risk, and find their way back to equilibrium.

Similarly, those with ADHD tend to have heightened emotional reactions to situations which contributes to avoidance, procrastination, and other behaviors that also increase anxiety. Naturally, this makes regulating emotions difficult and perpetuates both conditions.


The Path Forward

Anxiety and ADHD are often treated with medication and/or therapy. In addition to these options, there are many other methods for improving both conditions. These naturally include the lifestyle solutions of eating whole, unprocessed food, having healthy sleep hygiene, drinking adequate water, and getting regular exercise but go a step further.


Common to each of the links we’ve discussed are issues around control: feeling out of control of your behavior, struggling to control emotions, lack of control over how you perceive the world (seeing the world through dark lenses), etc. However, the truth is, that control is something we can never actually possess, given that the world is continually in flux. For example, we can’t control the weather, the economy, the behaviors of others, or the emergence of a highly contagious virus. What we can control is our responses to those things.


Some of the most tried and true ways to seize control of your internal landscape are through mind/body modalities such as meditation and breathwork. Other tools that assist in reframing a situation such as hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming unearth patterns that no longer serve and offer better solutions. Common to each of these approaches is that they place the locus of control in the hands of the individual, helping them to gain mastery over their mind and body.


The point is, that there are methods for creating a more functional operating system that can help you overcome anxiety and ADHD. It takes commitment, and perhaps a guide, but the improvement in quality of life is worth every effort. Remember you’re not alone and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

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