Managing Anxiety with ADHD

Anxiety with ADHD

Complex and Complicated

It's no great secret that I have an ADHD++ Family of 5. Truth is, our lives are much more complicated than that. As it is with most families with complex issues, there are many co-existing medical conditions in the T-K house. But the one that seems to rule the roost – the one that is often calling the shots – is actually not the ADHD. It's Anxiety (with a capital “A”).

We are not alone, of course. Nearly 30% of kids these days are now thought to be functioning with “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” We live in a culture of stress, and fear, and it takes its toll. Expectations are high – and so is unemployment. We live in interesting times.

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Anxiety: The Sneaky Demon

It's taken me years to really understand the pervasive nature of Anxiety. Anxiety is every bit as widespread as ADHD, because it takes its toll in every aspect of our lives. But it is less obvious. It's a sneaky little demon that creeps in through cracks and crevices, going unnoticed for long periods of time.

Frankly, Anxiety and ADHD have a lot in common.

    • Impulsivity
    • Procrastination
    • Disorganization
    • Inattention
    • Frustration Intolerance
  • Much like inattentive ADHD, Anxiety can dominate a child's life and go unidentified for years, even lifetimes.  Kids tend to fly under the radar screen for years before we identify an underlying explanation for their behaviors.
  • Like ADHD, Anxiety takes many forms, so it can be hard to identify because it looks so different in different people. For example, “OCD” characteristics are one form of Anxiety (yes – it's about control); and phobias are another variation on the theme (behaviors of avoiding). Anxiety can motivate us to take action, or it can stand in our way.

Not Just Talking About Nervousness

“But aren't we all a little high-strung these days?” I hear you ask. Isn't a touch of “Woody-Allen-style neuroticism” a defining feature of our times? True. We live in a world where expectations and pace are excessively high. There are too many things to do, and not enough time to do them all. The sheer volume in our lives, alone, is enough to make the best of us nervous – and that's before you add the complications of ADHD.

But being a bit nervous or controlling is one thing; suffering from Anxiety is another.

And suffering is the right word, here. Anxiety, unchecked, can rob us of joy, and connection. It makes it difficult to play, which is critical to our emotional well-being. Anxiety can cause us to work too hard, or to avoid work altogether. It can send us to our beds, to our screens, to tears, to tearing our hair out, to escaping our lives… you get the point.

Too often, as I listen to parents tell their stories, it is clear that there is an undiagnosed Anxiety influencing the family dynamic. It may not yet be clearly identified, but that doesn't prevent it from dominating the playing field. Sometimes it is a situational Anxiety – a response to a phase of life, or a set of circumstances. Other times I can tell that it is a more clinical form, an ongoing challenge that shows up even in the best of times. Either way, it's the pink elephant in the room.

So how do you handle the double-indignity of ADHD and Anxiety?

I've come to view Anxiety with a healthy amount of respect – similar to the power of waves in the ocean. You gotta respect them, because they can knock you on your tush in an instant, and you may not even know what hit you.

As you might imagine, there are no simple answers for managing Anxiety. But here are 2 things that can help you recognize the waves and ride them with greater ease, instead of constantly feeling pounded by them.

1. Learn to identify signs of Anxiety …

… someone constantly feels “stressed out” (often the apple doesn't fall far from the tree).

… children have otherwise unexplained physical symptoms like stomach complaints and headaches.

… students avoid schoolwork because they don't want to do it wrong, or are afraid they won't do it well enough.

… someone is generally referred to as “a nervous” person, and she or he is always worrying about something.

… a person NEEDs to be in control.

2. Take it seriously. You can start to Manage Anxiety by…

…  Getting an accurate diagnosis.

… Paying attention to proper nutrition, sleep and exercise.

… Practicing mindfulness, and other forms of stress reduction.

… Engaging in Meditation and other ways to find peace and balance.

… Considering therapy or coaching to establish healthy behavioral responses to the challenges of anxious thoughts.

… Considering medication, neuro-feedback other ways to influence the brain.

Most of all, once you recognize and accept that Anxiety may be part of the challenge you're dealing with, you'll be well on your way to managing it. Anxiety is like a giant bully in the brain; and like any bully, you can learn to stand up to it. Awareness is crucial to effectively re-framing thoughts that are not helpful or constructive. So brace yourself, and get ready to ride the waves. You might even notice that it's an absolutely beautiful day at the beach.

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