Could My Feelings of Anxiety Be ADHD in Disguise?

ADHD vs Anxiety
Woman is handed an ADHD questionnaire while she takes off her anxious face.

Although some patients have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, sometimes feelings of anxiety can instead be a symptom of ADHD

Albert Hernandez

October 30, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  5 min read

October 30, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  5 min read


You do some searching online, and it seems clear to you that you have an anxiety disorder--maybe generalized anxiety disorder? Or could it be panic disorder? Either way, it seems like a benzo, like Xanax, will get you sorted out. Now you just have to find a trusted behavioral health provider, get your Xanax prescription, and everything will be okay. Right?

I have the privilege of seeing patients from many areas of the US, including El Paso, TX, and Albuquerque, NM. I have had patients from the Southwest and other areas of the country come to me after doing their internet research, sure that they have an anxiety disorder and that they need a benzo for treatment. And to be sure, some of my patients are correct: they do have generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or panic disorder.

But many of my patients don’t know that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be misdiagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). That is, ADD/ADHD can look like anxiety to a patient or even to a medical provider.

Why would the symptoms of Adult ADHD look like an anxiety disorder? Because the stress and strain that come from a person managing undiagnosed ADHD can produce feelings of worry and anxiety. 

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People who find that their worrying and other symptoms are interfering with their life may seek treatment from their family doctor or from a mental health professional. When determining what condition to diagnose a patient with, a provider may examine the patient, ask questions about current symptoms, and find out more about the patient’s history.

A face mask that depicts anxiety.

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America says, “GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months and has three or more symptoms.” Symptoms of GAD can include:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Feeling worried and nervous
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Having an upset stomach
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thinking that something bad is going to happen

If your mental health provider determines that you have an anxiety disorder, what are your medication options? Although you may think that a benzo like Xanax will be your best option, due to the risk of tolerance and addiction, benzos might not be the right fit for long-term treatment. Instead, you and your behavioral health provider might work together to find a Selective serotonin reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) or a Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) that works for your panic disorder, GAD, or other anxiety disorder. SSRIs and SNRIs can have less disruptive side effects than benzos, and patients are not at high risk of becoming addicted to SSRIs/SNRIs.

Symptoms of ADHD

When people have ADHD, they experience symptoms relating to inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, or both. These symptoms can show up as:

  • Being unable to follow complex instructions
  • Losing important items
  • Making mistakes on tasks at work
  • Being disorganized at work, at home, and/or at school
  • Talking too much or talking over people
  • Being fidgety and having trouble sitting down

An Adult ADHD checklist that is ready for review by mental health expert.

Adults with these symptoms of ADHD often have to spend large amounts of energy trying to create systems and ways they can complete daily tasks. People with ADHD are frequently in a rush, and they feel anxious because they can’t accomplish things. They can have difficulty sleeping because their mind races. They are often stressed about work and finances due to being unable to complete projects. Adults with ADHD can feel exhausted due to all of the effort they are putting into “holding it together.” 

This stress, anxiety, and sleep disruptions can look like an anxiety disorder. However, if an adult has ADHD, treating ADHD is what will bring relief to these symptoms.

ADHD is usually treated with stimulant medication. When a person has ADHD, the neurons in their brain can have trouble passing messages along to each other, and this disruption causes the symptoms of ADHD.  Stimulant medication helps the neurons in the brain transmit their messages more efficiently.

Stimulants come in short-acting formulations and long-acting formulations. Ritalin is an example of a short-acting stimulant. Vyvanse, Concerta, and Adderall are examples of long-acting stimulants. Due to convenience of dosing and lower risk of misuse, many adult ADHD patients and their mental health providers will determine that a long-acting stimulant will be best for them. 

How Can I Know If I Have an Anxiety Disorder or ADD/ADHD? 

If you’re experiencing symptoms like nervousness, anxiety, and trouble focusing, a visit with a board-certified behavioral health expert can help you determine what condition you are dealing with. An expert who specializes in treating both anxiety and ADHD is ideal, because they will have the experience to help you determine exactly what disorder you have. 

From there, you and your provider can find the best treatment for you. If you and your behavioral health provider determine that you have an anxiety disorder, together you may decide to treat it with an SSRI like Paxil or Lexapro or an SNRI like Cymbalta. If your provider diagnoses you with Adult ADHD, he or she may treat you with a stimulant like Vyvanse, Concerta, or Adderall.

At Upper Valley Behavioral Health, we treat patients with anxiety and ADHD in El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque and many other areas of New Mexico. Click here to fill out our short application for treatment today so that you can start feeling better as soon as possible. 

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not replace instructions from your licensed prescriber. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on your specific medication regimen.

Tags: living with adhd, generalized anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety, anxiety, adhd, mental health awareness, mental health, anxiety vs adhd, anxiety relief, anxiety awareness, anxiety support, living with anxiety

Get Started

Join our Newsletter