Thursday, September 27, 2012

ADHD and Social Anxiety

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, renowned doctor of nutrition and advocate for increasing micronutrient intake to support both physical and mental health, recently published an article about preventing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

I was stunned to read the following: "Between 2003 and 2007, there was a 22% increase in ADHD prevalence in the United States - today, about 9.5% of school-age children have ADHD."

A 22% increase in only four years.  What could possibly be contributing to this increase?  

Fuhrman identifies risk factors for children, many of which apply to adults, including poor nutrition, excessive television watching, and inadequate omega-3 intake.  

But what about the psychological contributors to ADHD?

A Deficit of Attention

Many of my clients who have ADHD received a deficit of attention from their parents early in life.  

They may have grown up in chaotic environments where mom abused alcohol or dad raged violently.  Or maybe mom and dad were so busy working, they simply never spent time together as a family.  Whatever the reason, they didn't have mom or dad there to teach them important emotion- and attention-regulation skills.  

And without these skills, it's hard to succeed in life.  Perhaps most significantly, those with ADHD struggle with relationships.  They often have a hard time reading other people and, though they seek stimulation, they may feel overwhelmed and anxious in social situations.  They may sweat, blush, and shake when faced with group situations or public speaking.  And they may worry and even obsess about how others perceive them, often assuming the worst.

Wait a I talking about ADHD or social anxiety?

Double Winners

As a specialist in social anxiety, I've seen a signficant overlap (what we call "comorbidity" in psychobabble terms) between ADHD and social anxiety.  

It turns out that 30-40% of those with ADHD also struggle with an anxiety disorder, according to

There are a number of potential reasons for this overlap, including:
  1. Genetics.
  2. The stress and social impacts of one condition causing the other to develop.  For example, being teased in school for being forgetful or easily distracted could cause one to feel socially anxious around peers throughout life.
  3. Heightened sensitivity, e.g. a tendency to become overwhelmed in social situations due to anxiety, leading to forgetfulness and distractability.
  4. An "atypical" brain structure, i.e. both ADHD and S.A. contribute to and develop from brain wiring that's different from the "neurotypical" population.
Two Birds, One Treatment

Living with both ADHD and social anxiety ain't easy.  But here's the good news -- many treatment methods address both issues.  

Let's look at treatment through the lens of interpersonal neurobiology, which looks at the way our mind (i.e. thinking and feeling patterns) and relationships actually alter the structure of our brains.  In recent years, science has discovered that, contrary to what we once thought, the brain is plastic and changes throughout our lives in response to our experiences.  

What does this  mean for ADHD and S.A. treatment?  Essentially, we have the power to alter the connections in our craniums so that we are calmer and more attentive.   And what's good for the goose is good for the gander -- working on increasing attentiveness conveniently strengthens the part of the brain -- the insula -- that soothes anxiety.

Brain tools we can use to live more fully in spite of ADHD and S.A. include:
Despite the rise in ADHD and prevalence of S.A., there are solutions.  Feel free to contact me or join one of my monthly workshops if you would like help putting these tools into practice.

  1. Randy McCommons, personal communication, 2012
  2. "When Anxiety and ADHD Occur Together" by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
  3. "More About Interpersonal Neurobiology" by Daniel Siegel.


  1. Something distressing happened to me in the past, and I was unable to deal with my emotions at that time,so now i have become anxious about facing similar situations again in case they stir up the same feelings of distress. My friend have suggested me a platform where according to her i can overcome my problem,because currently its not in severe condition.

  2. Well, social anxiety anti-depressants not works in long run. One of my friends who is doing his post-graduation these in psychology, suggested me to visit Here, I found psychological therapy known as CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There are many types of methodologies of this therapy. Not every therapy works for everyone.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Elma. I've seen anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications work wonders for some while others find them ineffective or troublesome. Each person is different! Same with therapies. I like to work with my clients to find what works for them and I encourage others to do the same.

  3. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comOctober 25, 2014 at 10:18 AM


    Healthline just published this infographic outlining ADHD statistics and numbers in a visual guide. You can see the graphic here:

    Our users found this info very useful as it showcases the high cost of ADHD and which states ADHD is most prevalent in, and I thought it would be a great resource for your page:

    Please take a look at the guide and consider adding it to your page. The graphic is also embeddable, so you can embed just the images if you choose to do so.

    Thanks again and let me know if you have any questions.

    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us:

    1. Thanks, Maggie! Great information, much appreciated.