Anxiety Disorders and ADHD

(Causes, Symptoms and Treatment)

By Bob Gottfried, PhD

Anxiety can generally be defined as a reaction to unwanted circumstances.  These circumstances can be either real or imagined.  In both cases, the response can be identical.  Although most people experience some level of anxiousness, fear or nervousness at different times of their lives, when these feelings escalate to severe anxiety, it can adversely affect a person’s quality of life.

Anxiety disorders include conditions such as panic disorders, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)




Symptoms associated with anxiety include both physical as well as psychological symptoms.  Physical symptoms include dizziness, unexplained   pain, shortness of breath, accelerated heart beat, nausea, numbness, muscle tension, excessive sweating and disturbed sleep. 

Psychological symptoms include fear, panic, negative thinking, nightmares and even depression. 




Anxiety can develop as a result of accumulated stress or it can appear “out of nowhere.”  It can also be a result of traumatic experiences such as is he case with post-traumatic stress disorders.  It can be a general reaction such as generalized anxiety disorder or specific anxiety; for instance, social anxiety or anxiety related to flying or heights fear and phobias).  Anxiety can also manifest itself in repetitive negative thinking, and repetitive behaviour as is the case with obsessive compulsive disorder.

The cause of anxiety is still not well understood.  However, it is known that anxiety may have a genetic predisposition; however, exposure to anxious parent/s can also contribute to the development of anxiety later in life.  It can also be the result of a chemical imbalance, and in many cases, and the result of ongoing stress or negative experiences.  

The reaction to negative experiences can be immediate, such as after a traumatic event or it can be delayed.




There are two approaches to treating anxiety disorders:  the first one includes anti-anxiety medication and the second one involves counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that can address the root cause of the anxiety, as well as improve management skills.  In many cases, a combination of the two is needed.  Biofeedback, which is a method of controlling the autonomic nervous system, has proven to be very useful in the treatment of stress and anxiety disorder.

Learning stress management techniques, understanding the connection between thoughts and emotional reactions can be very helpful in improving symptoms associated with anxiety.


Anxiety Disorders and ADHD


Individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be more prone to experience anxiety disorders.  The reason for that has to do with imbalance in the brain wave activity.  Generally speaking, normal focus is established when low Beta waves are produced. They, in turn, enable the frontal cortex to engage in any cognitive function properly.  However, when there is a lower than required production of the low Beta waves, the brain compensates by producing high Beta waves.    These waves also allow focus, only that this type of focus is not as effective compared to low Beta waves activity.  In addition, high brain activity is associated with high arousal  including anxiety, which makes a person with ADHD significantly more prone to experience anxiety disorders. In such cases, retraining the brain to move from high brain activity to lower brain activity will reduce the high Beta waves, and will allow a person to calm down.


Anxiety – primary or secondary


Because anxiety can cause many symptoms that mimic ADHD, for instance, reduced ability to focus and remember as well as compromised executive functions, many individuals (especially adolescents and adults) believe that they have attention deficit problem of some type. In their case, the cognitive deficiencies are secondary to anxiety.

On the other hand,  individuals with ADHD are much prone to experience anxiety because of a variety of reasons. In their case, the anxiety is secondary to their condition,

It is therefore very important to identify the real cause of anxiety in order to determine the best course of treatment.

We have treated many individuals who received different types of treatment for anxiety but could only resolve their anxiety related problems completely. Once the neuro-cognitive problem was addressed, anxiety symptoms disappeared or were significantly reduced.

We offer Neuro-cognitive training and advanced biofeedback that can significantly reduce the of your anxiety. Please contact us for more information,





Anxiety disorder can be very debilitating.  However, neurofeedback combined with biofeedback and proper counselling can enable the individual to resolve his anxiety disorder, and be able to conduct a more productive life.


Bob Gottfried PhD is the clinical director of ACEclinics, specializing in assessment and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD, ADHD), learning disorders (LD), non-specific neuro-cognitive deficiencies and memory disorders, located in Toronto, Canada.



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