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Why do anxiety and ADHD co-occur so often?

Growing up with ADHD means that you are more likely to be impulsive, distractible, and emotionally dysregulated. In childhood, this results in receiving a lot of corrective feedback from adults. Perhaps you often forget your homework and your parents do much of the remembering for you. Parents might track and remind you of important deadlines and keep up with your long-term assignments, resulting in a lot of verbal reminders. Or perhaps you struggle to complete your chores, get out the door, transition away from play, or any number of difficult scenarios in childhood. This may result in adults around you giving you a lot of feedback and support on a nearly constant basis. All this feedback might make you feel like a spotlight follows you around as you notice your peers seem to have a different experience.

As one young person (age 5) recently told said, “I’m always doing something other people don’t want me to do.” Constant feedback so often results in a very natural questioning of oneself. The conclusion children with ADHD come to is that something is wrong with them. They are somehow inherently flawed or bad. This shameful experience often results in low self-esteem, depression, and … of course…anxiety.


Anxiety is a natural response to feeling as though something is off, or a conditioned response in anticipation of something being wrong. It makes sense that children growing up with ADHD are at an inherently increased risk of developing mental health conditions later in life. This is especially true for those who don’t know the root of their dysregulated behavior, or don't have a diagnosis. These children grow up to be adults with ADHD who have the same negative beliefs about themselves.


Perhaps, if we could find a way to support children with ADHD in a way that builds upon their self-confidence, highlights their strengths, and encourages their unique way of learning, we would see different outcomes in adults.

 

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