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Is it ADHD or Anxiety?


Author: Hanna Sherry, TMS Clinician and Provisional Psychologist

The increase in demand for and diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) in adults shows that many people may have started noticing some symptoms in themselves and question whether they have ADHD. When it comes to assessing for ADHD though, there is an important question that arises, "is it ADHD or another mental health condition?". There are many mental health symptoms that overlap with ADHD. Understanding these symptoms and their causes is the first step to getting the help best suited to your condition.

For example, anxiety can often look like ADHD in a multitude of ways, but the reasons for these symptoms are very different. One important difference is that ADHD is a disorder of neural development involving alteration in the growth and development of the brain or central nervous system. This is characterised by developmental deficits that produce impairments of personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning. While most people are diagnosed with ADHD in childhood (90%), symptoms continue into adulthood, however, these symptoms may fluctuate and change over time.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is understood to be the mind and body’s physical response to perceived stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It prepares the body to respond to threats by mobilising systems to help us stay alert, vigilant and energised. Anxiety can be specific to an environment or area of functioning, and individuals with anxiety disorders can recover or enter remission wherein their symptoms no longer meet the criteria for diagnosis. Interestingly, even though ADHD and anxiety disorders are quite different in their underlying processes, they do share several overlapping symptoms. 


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