ADHD + Masking Anxiety

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    • #50733

      Hi! I’m a 22-year old male attending my second year of college.

      I’ve experienced inattentive traits of ADHD throughout my whole life, including difficulty focusing, short attention span, and poor organizational skills, but I don’t struggle with hyperactive traits of ADHD. Instead, I have had a lot of (undiagnosed) social anxiety. Because of this, I try really hard to avoid making mistakes and to avoid drawing attention to myself. I find it really hard to make friends, and people frequently comment that I’m a quiet person and that I must not like being around them. So I don’t really look like your hallmark example of ADHD.

      I recently did a formal evaluation for ADHD at my university’s Accessibility Office, but I got a negative diagnosis. My counselor told me that I didn’t exhibit enough hyperactive traits to be ADHD, even though I still feel like ADHD explains many of my behavioral patterns–like a tendency to “hyperfocus” on things I find interesting and procrastinate things that I don’t, or finding it really hard to transition between activities in general. I think that one of my coping methods to manage my social anxiety is to mask or repress the symptoms of hyperactivity that I would otherwise exhibit.

      The anxiety and ADHD symptoms are prominent enough for me that I’m considering looking into another diagnosis for ADHD and also one for social anxiety disorder.
      I’m wondering if anyone else has a similar set of symptoms and whether they actually got it diagnosed as ADHD.


      • This topic was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by jayvfair.
    • #50780
      Penny Williams

      I have significant social anxiety, as does my teen daughter. She tries really hard to avoid mistakes, as you described, so much so that it becomes paralyzing. We have found medication helpful for general anxiety, but it really doesn’t help social anxiety. What has been shown to help social anxiety is CBT (which also helps ADHD).

      How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works

      As for the ADHD, the clinician who evaluated you desperately needs an update on ADHD. You can absolutely have ADHD without any hyperactivity. It’s called ADHD, Inattentive Type in the Diagnostic Manual (DSM-V).

      ADHD vs ADD: The Three Types of Attention Deficit Disorder

      It sounds like you should absolutely pursue a 2nd opinion. Try to find someone knowledgable about all 3 types of ADHD.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #50819

      My son, also in college, has the exact same symptoms and struggles – so you are definitely not the only one! If only you were attending the same school……………

    • #50844


      I totally agree that a second opinion is in order and that your first evaluator seems to be misinformed. Sigh. It seems to me that you strongly identify with a profile of ADHD and describe a lot of prevalent symptoms accurately. So, yeah, try to find another diagnostician and see what they say.

      Regarding ADHD with anxiety, I can personally relate. Social situations and speaking in public in particular make me anxious. One other topic you might want to read about is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which basically means being extremely sensitive and anxious about rejection. My understanding is that being very sensitive to rejection is a very common aspect of ADHD, and that people with ADHD are apt to experience rejection very strongly. That means we might become anxious when rejection is simply a possibility, and want to avoid that kind of situation, as with meeting a new person or being in a group. Some people have extreme RSD, which can be debilitating. Sometimes people try to overcome their rejection sensitivity by being perfect and above reproach. Boy, that sounds like a good time!

      Good luck getting the information and answers you need and don’t stop until you are satisfied you know what you are dealing with!


    • #50845

      Thank you, all of you, for your perspective.
      My individual therapist first suggested I’m ADHD about two years ago. I would have never attributed it to myself, but as I’ve learned more and more about ADHD the more I can relate to it.
      I really appreciate the wide spectrum of resources that are available for ADHD and I’ve recently started to apply them to how I approach my condition, with growing success. I’m less worried how I’ll manage the ADHD and more concerned about the anxiety, since the struggles with finding a reliable support system greatly exacerbate my ADHD symptoms. My therapist introduced me to CBT, but she doesn’t live in the same city I currently live in. I think I will definitely look more earnestly for a therapist in the area that can help me practice CBT.

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by jayvfair.
    • #50857

      I have the same set of symptoms, as did almost everyone in my first ADHD group session. We did a lot of talking and theorizing after our sessions too. We were all mid- to late 20’s at the time. We were all struggling with school and our careers even though we were all very intelligent and highly creative. We were all extremely shy, withdrawn and reserved around new people. But once we felt comfortable we could jabber on for hours. The theory we put together was this: children that have ADHD (and especially those with above average intelligence) realize that they are different from others at a very early age. They are often criticized and teased. Those who are especially sensitive to this go to great lengths to control and repress their hyperactive and impulsive behavior. Eventually, this becomes second nature and manifests itself as social anxiety. We become overly-sensitive to non-verbal social cues and have a deep-seated fear of being rejected. In short, you are not trying to manage your social anxiety by masking or controlling the hyperactive symptoms you would normally exhibit. Your social anxiety is a defense mechanism that you use to manage and control those symptoms that you were constantly being criticized for as a young child. Your hyperactivity isn’t gone, it’s been internalized. Instead of releasing your excess energy into the world, you’ve turned it on yourself. While ADHD is a neurological issue, your social anxiety isn’t. It’s the result of years of mostly self-inflicted trauma. Maybe you can take drugs to mask it. Most of us are pretty successful at drinking it away. But it’s obviously better to deal with the root of the problem. You should talk with a therapist and especially other ADHDers about it. That changed a lot for me. I doubt that I’ll ever be completely free of the social anxiety, but I understand it now. I can actually remember how it developed (or rather, I developed it) over the years. Over the course of my first year or two of school I changed from an bright eyed enthusiastic little girl into a much more sullen, withdrawn version of myself. I really wanted to fit in and be liked. But in order to do so I more or less paralyzed myself socially. Too afraid to show anyone my real personality, I I eventually became more of an outsider than ever. Remembering this helps me identify my social anxiety for what it is and deal with it rationally whenever it clouds my judgement. I’m a lot better at accepting myself more and worrying less about what others think, but too some degree I’ll always be damaged. This is why it’s essential that ADHD children be raised with a lot of positive re-enforcement. They need to be understood and accepted and not criticized.

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by highlyadhd.
    • #50876

      Question for anyone.
      Doesn’t the anxiety generate a excess of worried thoughts, which then go on to cause poor focus, or distractibility?

    • #50996

      I take anxiety meds along with zoloft and Adderall. I still wake up every morning with anxiety. My Doctor has cut my zanax to .5 because he said that soon only a Psychiatrist will be able to prescribe it. Not doing well on the .5. The adderall was great at first but now @ 30 mil per day I am back in my slump. I was out of debt but now back in because I have a compulsion about spending. I buy things and afterwards get depressed because of my debt. Ive had problems since childhood but was was not diagnosed with ADD until last year. I am now 62 but have lived in a panic state all my life. Men are not supposed to be depressed or have anxiety or have ADD but I realized something was not right and talked to my Doctor and was tested and found to have severe ADD. I cant take anymore than 30 mg of Adderadd per day because of heart problems but I JUST WANT TO HAVE SOME PEACE IN MY HEAD! So tired of worrying about every little thing, the anxiety and the million thoughts per minute going thru my head. Is there hope or relief in sight? How do I control my debt issue? HELP

      • #51030

        Hello Cluttered —

        First I want to acknowledge your struggles and the magnitude of what you’ve been up against all these years. I was diagnosed at the age of 45, which is hard enough! You have suffered an awful lot.

        Is it correct for me to infer from what you say that you are not seeing a Psychiatrist but rather a personal physician? Given the severity of your ADHD, your anxiety, and spending “compulsion,” it seems that it would be perhaps crucial to be seeing a specialist in these areas and for being on the best medications at the optimum doses to take priority over who is prescribing. It seems that more specialized support is in order here.

        Saying that men are “not supposed” to have ADD or depression and anxiety is a negative self-judgment. Is it really true? What informed person says those things? It’s a fact that millions of men have ADD and the anxiety and depression that often comes along with that. It’s a physiological, genetically influenced condition like being tall or good at playing a musical instrument. We have a choices about how to deal with the condition and we have choices about how we feel about ourselves, but not whether or not we have ADHD. I happen to love my brain. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good at a lot of things and it’s also the only one I’ve got! If someone wants to try and judge or stigmatize me because of my brain, well I won’t let them do that. They don’t control how I feel about myself. I do.

        I can share a little about my experience with the thoughts in my head and how I was able to get my very active “stream of consciousness” to settle down a lot. First, I learned that I am not the thoughts in my head. I am more like the Consciousness that can observe all those thoughts. Second, I stopped identifying with the content of those thoughts, which for me and many people are highly self-critical, ego-driven, judgmental, repetitive, and fear-based. We think in words, and our thoughts in our heads cause emotions — and anxiety — in our bodies. It gets to be a vicious cycle — critical and fearful thoughts lead to anxiety which leads to more thoughts and on and on. The trick is to disrupt this pattern. When I stopped identifying with the thoughts and paid attention to what I was telling myself and how untrue the chatter was, that helped. Then, I started choosing to think positive and affirming thoughts. I started to feel better. Another thing, I got in the habit of observing my mind work — and over-work. Through mindfulness and meditation, I practiced slowing and temporarily stopping the flow of thoughts. After a while, my mind stopped racing and settled. I found that for myself mindful observation is an irreversible process — once I caught on to it, it was like a light went on and a process started that helped me a lot. So, by becoming observant, more self-aware, dropping self-judgments, and adopting self-nurturing and affirming habits of mind, life got a lot better. I hope this is helpful. Andrew

    • #51004

      I can relate to the social anxiety issue. With just a few people around I can be funny, tell jokes and be ok but when its a larger crowd I cant get up in front of anyone because the fear of making a mistake is overwhelming. I have even slipped out of the back door on many occasions when I was supposed to make a speech or sing in front of a crowd and it has hurt my career tremendously as well as my social life. I have had this problem since I was a teen and I am now 62 and still have it!

    • #51102

      Thanks Afavory (Andrew)
      You are correct in saying I need a sa specialist rather than my PC.
      I was diagnosed by test and evaluation by a Psycologist. In my early years thru my teens I did very poor in school due to my lack of concentration and not being able to pay attention for any significant time. I kept all of this bottled up until recently. I had a rough childhood because at that time my Dad was a severe alcoholic. I thank God that he stopped drinking and became a better man. When I was not at home all I could think about was what will it be like when I get home. Many times as kids we would climb out the window and go to a neighbor’s house because my Dad would shoot through the house. I was always in constant panic. Didn’t learn much in school but there are very few things that I can’t build or repair with my hands. By God’s grace I landed a job at 19 and stayed just over 30 years and retired with a pension at age 49. I haven’t stopped working since I retired because that’s all I know. I have no social life,never go out to eat and avoid conversation with my neighbors because after a few minutes of talking to them it’s like I have no clue what were talking about.ang like my compulsion to spending I also act on impulse without thinking things thru and my decisions sometimes come back to bite me in the rear end! I am just so tired of the UPS and downs,the anxiety and depression and I feel like I can’t learn anything since The things I want to do I start out great but I get to a point and I hit a brick wall and just can’t comprehend it any further. Kind of like my brain says this is as far as as you can go and just waiting time. Sorry to bore you with all of this but like I said earlier, I’ve never talked about it for fear of being thought of as stupid. Sometimes I wonder if I will get better and often wonder why I continue to live this way. I guess I’ve made this far so I just hang on for the ride!

      • #51118

        That’s quite a harrowing story you tell. I have an older brother — 18 months older — who has been a lifelong addict (alcohol and drugs), and I realized at one point that I had always been afraid and anxious about what might happen to him. That’s been bad enough, but I’d take that any day over being a little kid and fearing for my own safety.

        I wonder where you find things like joy, happiness, and fulfillment in life. It sounds like through work, at least to some extent. That’s big.

        I acknowledge you for getting past keeping the story of your life, your feelings, etc. “bottled up.” For most of my life, I was terribly ashamed of myself and felt like there was something wrong with me. Well there’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing wrong with you either. Opening up about shame is a good way to take the power away from it.

        Take Care,


    • #51216

      Rather than write you a book here, I would simply encourage you that your ability to self diagnose may be your biggest asset.
      My definition of self diagnosis is being a life long learner (all sources) about your concerns.
      Be unafraid to adapt as your body changes and as you learn and try new things.
      Even though we usually question what we read, what we think, what we are trying, etc., our efforts at this build in us self confidence, foundational to the success of any treatment(s) we apply.
      Help from all directions should be considered, but you are a very valuable source of information about yourself.
      Trust that person.

    • #51234


      In elemenary school my teacher advised my parents to test me for ADD but my parents refused.
      In highschool I often needed to go to the schools psychologist but she didnt recognise it. Same as with college.

      I worked 4 years as EMT and loved it, the rush, crazy situation, creative solutions to problems.

      When I started entrance exames for traindriver the psychologist said i am unintellegent. ( while I graduated top of class). After 2 years I changed train company amd again was told “unintellegent and can’t improve that”.
      After 4 years my wife said i had ADD. Then I remembered about my elementary teachers advising to do the test. I checked the internet. Bought dr Adams book. And what I read was perfectly my life. I cried because my ADD has troubled my amazing wife so much and I am not unintelligent.

      Long story short: don’t trust one test or one psychologist. Follow your gut feeling and check with different specialist.
      Study AD/HD yourself, know your limits and especially your strong point.

      (Sorry for my bad English, I’m not a native speaker)

    • #51245

      Hi. I have many of the same issues. I think I have ADHD, but that is not my true challenge. I discovered by working with an OT who specializes in sensory issues that it was a sensory processing disorder and it was causing my anxiety and the hyperfocus was a coping strategy for the SPD and anxiety. The treatment is ironically the same as for ADHD, for me, and I am finding great success with it finally!

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Jn185.
    • #51247

      I’m a counselor who has ADHD, inattentive type. I am not hyperactive, other than I sometimes fidget, and am bored easily.
      When I was growing up, neither my parents nor my teachers had heard of ADHD or ADD (the older name.) It was called laziness, irresponsibility, not trying and not caring. I bought the story, and always tried not to be those things, and nearly always failed. The treatment for this was yelling, berating and threatening.
      Even after I got my master’s degree, I didn’t recognize my own diagnosis, and simply attempted to conceal my condition, as always before. I had strategies for compensating, such as sitting on a front row, asking questions, and taking notes.
      In one case, I had to read an extremely boring book, and my son had given me a watch with a stopwatch function. I didn’t know how I would get through it, but I set the stopwatch again and again, and discovered that at exactly 4 minutes, my eyes would be going over the words, but I would be thinking about something else. The alarm would ring, and I would resume reading until it rang again. I got through the whole book in that way.
      I had been counseling for several years, and had diagnosed a lot of people with ADHD, when one day I said, “I do that, too.” And then I started noticing that I did most of the things on the list.
      I went to a doc and got a prescription for Stattera, but after four months I discontinued, because it was expensive and I couldn’t see that it was doing anything for me.
      Later I attended a seminar in which it was stated that the stuff doesn’t start working until about four months had passed. I then got another prescription, and noticed that it was hard to tell if it was working, because I didn’t feel anything, and just felt “normal.” However, when I would get off of it I would notice the symptoms again.
      So now I just trust that, when I don’t notice anything, that means it’s working.

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by genedoug.
    • #51249
      Uncle Dharma

      My guess is that you have ADD, and not ADHD. Many people seem to think that the hyperactivity is a required symptom.

      Do some online tests yourself. I reckon that you will score high on ADD but low on the Hyperactive part.

      A second diagnosis is needed.
      The psychiatrist who did my first diagnosis concluded that I “just operate with a high level of stress”.

      As for being ‘unintelligent’ as someone mentioned, a psychologist friend suggested that I do a Weschler IQ test. I scored 135+ using the 15 minute version. That surprised me, so I will do the longer test soon. >>

    • #51273

      I take sertraline -generic for Zoloft and adderall and use cbt and breathing techniques The BEST anxiety management technique from relaxation stand point is the 5x5x5 breath. Innhale through nose for 5 seconds, hold the breath for 5 and exhale through nose for 5 , pause and then repeat. Diaphragmatic breathing first then 5x5x5. If you want more specific books on any of these topics -cbt, anxiety etc let me know. I wrk in psychiatry and obviously use these on myself. Last but not least -learn about the skill of self compassion. This my add friends -is the KEY to self acceptance -absolute life changer!!!!!!! Self esteem book by Mathew McKay -chapter called compassion among many others are the anecdote to the inner critic’s attacks that make us nervous to make mistakes and feel self conscious in social settings. Good luck -and good for you for looking for answers -they exist I promise !!!!

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