The Link Between ADHD and Social Anxiety

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adhd and social anxiety

ADHD and social anxiety can sometimes co-occur, causing impairment in functioning. Some may equate social anxiety with shyness, but it is more than just being a shy person.

Someone with social anxiety has an irrational fear of being out in public where they might be judged by the way they look, behave, speak, or even eat. Some may even avoid public restrooms because they are so self-conscious. Learn about these mental health challenges and how treatment can help you manage them.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

If a person has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) they may also struggle with anxiety, including social anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety involves intense fear of being judged, ridiculed, or criticized in public. Someone with social anxiety may have a certain trigger, such as fear of speaking in public or fear of competing with others. They will avoid any situation where they might be triggered.

But it is just this isolating behavior that is so harmful to someone’s life. The social anxiety might be so extreme that the person misses out on life events or career opportunities. Therefore, the treatment goal for someone that struggles with social anxiety is to help them overcome the irrational fear.

Symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Being afraid of social events or settings where you don’t know other people.
  • Thinking that people will notice your anxiety symptoms.
  • Dreading events that are looming in the future.
  • Intense fear of being embarrassed.
  • Being worried that others will judge you.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Racing heart.
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Avoidance behaviors.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a type of neurodiversity that is a chronic condition in an estimated 5% of children and 2.5% of adults. ADHD features inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While these are common traits in most people, in someone with ADHD they are more pronounced. The symptoms occur more often than what is thought of as normal, and can interfere with daily functioning.

Some of the risk factors for ADHD include:

  • Genetics, or family history of ADHD.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Brain injury.
  • Exposed to alcohol, drugs, or nicotine in utero.
  • Exposure to lead, pesticides, PCBs, or other toxins.
  • Faulty brain chemistry signaling through neural pathways.

Symptoms of ADHD

Where children with ADHD may struggle with behavioral issues, adults with ADHD affects struggle with job performance and relationships. An adult with ADHD may forget project due dates or miss meetings at work. They may become easily overwhelmed or confused, or make errors on the job due to poor listening skills. They may have a hard time following instructions. The adult with ADHD may have trouble managing stress or keeping a healthy work/life balance.

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More symptoms of adult ADHD might include:

  • Low tolerance for frustration.
  • Chronic boredom.
  • Loses items.
  • Has trouble delaying gratification.
  • Forgets to pay the bills.
  • Easily distracted.
  • Has a hard time staying organized.
  • Fails to complete work.
  • Struggles to sustain mental focus.

ADHD and Social Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are common among adults with ADHD. In fact, about 30% of those with ADHD have a co-occurring social anxiety disorder. One theory as to why ADHD and social anxiety co-occur is that the symptoms of ADHD lead to being bullied or teased, or socially rejected. These cause the person to withdraw or avoid social situations in order to not suffer this rejection or humiliation.

In certain ways, these two disorders can have common traits. Some signs of both ADHD and social anxiety:

  • Trouble completing tasks. ADHD may cause the person to forget to complete an assignment or have poor time management. The social anxiety may prevent the person from asking for help out of fear of being ridiculed for looking stupid.
  • Trouble paying attention. People with ADHD and social anxiety may appear to struggle with paying attention. ADHD causes inattention. Someone with social anxiety may avoid connecting with others, and seem like they aren’t paying attention.
  • Trouble making or keeping friends. Both ADHD and social anxiety make it hard to make and keep friends.

Helpful Hints For Handling Social Anxiety

Someone who struggles with both ADHD and social anxiety can try some strategies that help them manage the social aspects of these disorders:

  1. Rehearse. Picture yourself in an upcoming social setting, and imagine yourself making eye contact and greeting others.
  2. Take a friend along. Having a friend attend a social event with you can take some of the attention off yourself.
  3. Watch your body language. Avoid having eyes downcast and arms crossed so you will appear to be more open to connecting.
  4.  Role-play. Practice in the mirror offering a compliment, smiling at someone, or greeting someone.
  5. Don’t automatically decline. Instead of declining an invitation right away, take a pause and then push through the decline reflex and accept the invite instead.

How is Social Anxiety Treated?

If you have ADHD you are likely familiar with coping skills, such as time management tools. Regular exercise and avoiding stress are also helpful.

To treat the social anxiety will involve the following:

  • CBT. CBT helps you shift away from negative self-talk and avoidance behaviors.
  • Prolonged exposure therapy. PE helps to desensitize you from things you are afraid of.
  • Psychodrama role-playing. This group therapy technique is based on using psychodrama to practice social scenes.
  • EMDR. This helps you become desensitized to irrational fears.
  • Medication. Antidepressants, beta-blockers or benzos may be helpful for treating social anxiety.

Once you are aware of the link between ADHD and social anxiety, it will help you move forward in the quest for treatment. Both ADHD and social anxiety are highly treatable. Reach out and get the help you deserve today.

Mental Health Hope is an Online Resource for Mental Health Guidance

Mental Health Hope offers free guidance for people struggling with ADHD and social anxiety. If you or someone you care about is finding these co-occurring issues to be disruptive, reach out to our team for support. Call us today at (877) 967-9274.

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