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Why does it feel like my ADHD gets Labelled as Anxiety?

A leading reason for the referral of adult clients is for support to manage anxiety.

That sounds reasonable, but many clients present believing they have ADHD, but have been told “no, it’s more likely anxiety” by other healthcare professionals.This, understandably, is hugely frustrating for the client because they feel like they are being dismissed and their concerns invalidated.So why does this happen?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It affects what we call “executive functions”, which is essentially any function and process involved in completing a task (or executing a function, if you will). This includes everything from planning, organising, short and long-term memory, allocating attention, sustaining attention, remembering things, task initiation, task follow-through, restlessness, and so on. People with confirmed ADHD will tell you that is can be debilitating and make even the most simple tasks really difficult. But what is the link to anxiety here? It’s no secret that leaving ADHD untreated can lead to anxiety and the development of anxiety disorders, because of the huge amount of prolonged stress untreated ADHD can cause. However, the let’s look more closely at anxiety and how it affects our brain.

Anxiety is classed as significant and excessive worry.But when we worry, what happens? Concentration is more difficult; we are forgetful; our minds race; we are fidgety; we struggle to complete tasks; we procrastinate.Sound familiar? When our moods are affected or we are anxious, one of the first things to be impacted are our executive functions.Therefore, anxiety in adults presents in an extremely similar way to adult ADHD.Thus, the question becomes “what came first?”With a genuine attention disorder we would expect that there would be some signs in primary school years, however this is not always the case.Diagnosis is a process if ruling out competing explanations, which means we need to look into the possibility that anxiety (or stress) is causing the difficulties.This becomes particularly important when we introduce the possibility of medication.For example, if someone has ADHD symptoms and we medicate with stimulants (i.e. Ritalin), but the cause is actually anxiety or stress, that person’s anxiety is more than likely going to skyrocket, making their life even harder than it already is. So rest assured, if you have concerns around ADHD but keep hearing “anxiety” thrown around, your concerns are being taken seriously.However, health care providers wouldn’t be doing their job correctly if they didn’t consider all the possibilities, so that the most appropriate treatment can be provided.

If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to and we will answer any questions you may have.

You Matter Psychologists can discern ADHD from Anxiety in adults


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