Have you ever felt like your brain is buzzing with a million tabs open at once? Or perhaps you're seized by that tightening grip of unease in the pit of your stomach that makes focusing on even one of those tabs nearly impossible? If so, you’re not alone. For many women, anxiety and ADHD often go hand-in-hand making it feel like a dizzying dance in our mind. It's energizing, complicated, and sometimes incredibly exhausting.
Is It Just Butterflies or Something More? The Symptomology of Anxiety
Anxiety, at its core, isn’t just that rush of nerves you feel before a big presentation or first date. It’s a lingering worry, an inexplicable fear, a racing heart, and sometimes even physical symptoms like tremors, sweat, or an upset stomach.
Here are some of the classic tell-tale signs of anxiety:
Persistent, excessive worry about various parts of life.
Restlessness or the feeling of being on edge.
Fatigue, muscle tension, and disturbed sleep.
Difficulty concentrating or having a mind that keeps going blank.
Experiencing panic attacks – sudden episodes of intense fear.
Avoiding situations that might trigger anxiety.
The Subtle Nuances of ADHD in Women
ADHD is often mischaracterized as just a ‘hyperactivity disorder,' especially in boys. However, in women, the symptoms can manifest quite differently:
Inattention: Forgetfulness, losing items frequently, struggling with organization or following detailed instructions, becoming easily distracted.
Hyperactivity: Feeling restless or having a hard time sitting still, excessive talking, or feeling internally restless.
Impulsivity: Making hasty decisions without much thought, difficulty waiting one’s turn, or frequently interrupting others.
What makes ADHD particularly elusive in women is that they often internalize these symptoms. Instead of overt hyperactivity, a woman might experience intense feelings of restlessness or rumination, all these things happening inside our mind.
Walking the Tightrope: Challenges of Having Both Anxiety and ADHD
Now, imagine having both anxiety and ADHD. Your mind is a whirlwind of thoughts, constantly shifting from one thing to another. Simultaneously, a persistent undercurrent of worry anchors you, making you second-guess your decisions, actions, and worth.
Some overlapping challenges include:
Amplified Overwhelm: ADHD can make life feel chaotic. Add anxiety to the mix, and it can feel paralyzing. It can really play with our responses to stress and just tackling everyday tasks.
Self-doubt and Rumination: ADHD might cause forgetfulness or missteps. Anxiety can then magnify these moments into sleepless nights of overthinking. You might have negative thoughts about yourself because of this, feeling “stupid”, embarrassed, and so forth.
Avoidance: Due to the fear of failure or the overwhelming nature of tasks, women might avoid tasks, exacerbating symptoms of both disorders.
Strategies to Use to Find Some Balance
Life with anxiety and ADHD is like you are at an intersection but both directions keep switching from red to green making it confusing what to do. But with the right steps and rhythm, it's possible to find harmony:
Recognize and Find Acceptance: Understand that it's okay to have these feelings and challenges. Awareness is the first step towards healing. Acceptance decreases the value of those negative thoughts, shifting your perspective on your anxiety and ADHD.
Structure and Routine: This can be a lifeline and may need a change or “tune up” occasionally. You may get tired of your routine so you need to change it up, which is okay, you want to have it so you can be successful. Designing a daily routine can reduce the chaos ADHD brings and the uncertainty anxiety feeds on.
Mindfulness and Meditation: Grounding exercises can help center your thoughts and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
Professional Help: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can offer tools and coping mechanisms to handle both disorders.
Peer Support: Joining a support group can offer understanding, camaraderie, and shared strategies for coping.
How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Help Me?
CBT hinges on the principle that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are intricately linked. For a woman with ADHD, a thought like, "I forgot to send that email; I'm so careless" can lead to feelings of worthlessness and subsequently, avoiding work-related tasks. CBT helps in identifying these negative thought cycles and offers techniques to challenge and replace them with more rational, constructive ones.
Skill Development for ADHD Challenges
Time Management and Organization: CBT can provide strategies to improve time management, prioritize tasks, and create routines, making daily life more navigable.
Attention Training: Techniques such as mindfulness can be integrated into CBT to improve focus and reduce impulsivity.
Task Initiation and Completion: CBT helps to address procrastination, a common ADHD symptom, by teaching women to break tasks into manageable steps and use positive reinforcement.
Addressing Anxiety-Inducing Thought Patterns
Cognitive Restructuring: By helping women recognize and challenge distorted thinking patterns (e.g., catastrophizing or black-and-white thinking), CBT aids in developing a more balanced perspective.
Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is a form of CBT. For those who avoid certain situations due to anxiety, it will provide gradual, controlled exposure to these situations, decreasing avoidance over time.
CBT often incorporates relaxation training, teaching women with anxiety and ADHD how to use deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization to manage symptoms.
Enhancing Self-esteem and Self-worth
Many women with ADHD and anxiety suffer from a battered and skewed self-image due to years of struggles and perceived failures. CBT focuses on rebuilding this self-worth by highlighting strengths, successes, and unique qualities.
Out of Appointment Practice (aka Homework)
Unlike some therapeutic methods, CBT is active and directive. Clients are often given tasks or assignments to complete between sessions, promoting the application of learned strategies in real-world settings. The goal is to transfer skills from the therapist to you, the client, so you can manage the challenging times the way you want to and feel confident in doing so.
Validation and Empowerment
Given the often-understated presentation of ADHD in women, many grow up feeling misunderstood. CBT provides a validating environment where their challenges are acknowledged and addressed. This validation, combined with the active skills acquired, fosters empowerment.
In essence, CBT does more than just treat symptoms for women with anxiety and ADHD. It empowers them with tools to reconstruct their worldviews, develop coping mechanisms, and, most importantly, rediscover their inherent value. When the weight of both conditions threatens to drown you, CBT emerges as a life raft, guiding you to calmer waters.
The entwining of anxiety and ADHD in women creates a unique challenge. However, with understanding, support, and strategic steps, it's possible to navigate the labyrinth of emotions and experiences, finding not just an escape but also a profound appreciation for the journey.
Are you looking for a therapist near you to treat anxiety and ADHD? Cause what can be closer to you than online therapy?! Better Minds Counseling & Services specializes in treating adults with anxiety as part of their virtual mental health services. Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP is a mental health therapist and can help you start to find relief from spirals of anxiety and the challenges of ADHD with it. You can schedule a free introductory meeting with her today!
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.