Anxiety in children with ADHD is shockingly common. It is estimated that anywhere from 25 to 50% of those living with ADHD have anxiety, compared to only about 10% of non-ADHD children. That means that any child that has ADHD is living at risk of developing or nurturing their anxiety.
Since estimates show that as many as 50% of children with anxiety will go on to become adults with anxiety disorders, it's important that you learn what it means for children with ADHD and what you can do to control it.
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ADHD Children and Anxiety Development
Anxiety is incredibly complicated, and it's very difficult to say exactly what causes anxiety and what doesn't. My anxiety test is an interesting place to start to learn more about your anxiety or your child's anxiety, but there is no way to ever fully know the causation.
There are several likely links between anxiety and ADHD, and none of them are clearly understood. They include:
- Excess Energy The main word with ADHD is "hyperactive," and the cause of that hyperactivity is not entirely clear. But it is known that excess energy does develop into anxiety when it goes unused. That can be a problem since those with ADHD cannot use that energy in modern society without being reprimanded. Excess energy can be a problem with all children but may be a slightly bigger problem with ADHD children.
- Mental Stress ADHD's neurological component is still not widely understood. But it's possible that the same mental factors that lead to ADHD may also be causing mental stress, and one of the most interesting things about mental stress is that it can also lead to excess anxiety. When neurotransmitters, hormones, or other connections affect the brain it can cause the brain stress, and the brain translates that stress to anxiety.
- Reprimanding ADHD children get reprimanded often. No matter how strong a child appears, it can be hard to deal with being in trouble or "abnormal" with each passing day. Human beings are very sensitive to acceptance, and acceptance can be very hard for the child with ADHD.
These are of course a few of the most basic reasons. It's likely that many little things play a role - such as how other children interact with them, what they do in their free time, their relationships to authority figures, and more. Medications can also affect anxiety, and anxiety itself may be one of the causes of their restlessness/unease.
Tips to Reduce Anxiety in ADHD Children
ADHD children may have some special anxiety needs, but anxiety is still anxiety. The ability to overcome that anxiety is still based on learning better coping tools and behavioral strategies for controlling and managing anxiety. Some examples include:
- Regular Exercise Regular exercise is crucial for all children, especially those with anxiety and ADHD. Exercise burns away excess energy, releases endorphins that calm the mood, and ensure that hormones are properly balanced. All children need exercise in order to control their mental health, and ADHD children may be especially in need.
- Work on Your Anxiety Parents of ADHD children often experience anxiety themselves, as raising a child with ADHD is not always simple. Unfortunately, that can be a problem for your child, because children often mimic the feelings and behaviors of their parents. If you're struggling with anxiety, then it's more likely that your child is going to also develop the same anxiety issues. Work on your anxiety as well to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
- Hobby Options Distractions can be a problem with ADHD, but they can also be a solution for anxiety. It may be hard to find the delicate balance between a healthy distraction and an unhealthy distraction, but healthy hobbies and activities that your child can enjoy when they are stressed or anxious can be very valuable.
You're also going to want to teach your children the same anxiety reduction tips that they would need to learn regardless of their ADHD.
My anxiety test is a great place to start. Take my anxiety test now to learn more about your anxiety, your child's anxiety, and what you can do to help control it.
Pliszka, Steven R. Patterns of psychiatric comorbidity with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America (2000).
Pliszka, Steven R. Effect of anxiety on cognition, behavior, and stimulant response in ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 28.6 (1989): 882-887.
Jensen, Peter S., et al. ADHD comorbidity findings from the MTA study: comparing comorbid subgroups. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 40.2 (2001): 147-158.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jun 06, 2018.