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What Is the Connection between Anxiety and Attention?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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The connection between anxiety and attention problems is more common than psychologists and researchers previously thought. In fact, researchers have determined that individuals diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are likely to be diagnosed with a corresponding attention disorder as well, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Even those who are not diagnosed with one disorder or the other may find that anxiety and attention are negatively correlated, and that problems in one area of life will cause problems in another. This can make certain activities much more difficult, particularly in work or school.

The fact that many people diagnosed with anxiety disorders can also be diagnosed with attention disorders, or vice versa, has led psychologists and psychiatrists to reconsider the way they treat these conditions. One of the most common ways to treat attention disorders, for example, is the use of stimulants. However, the link between anxiety and attention disorders means that the traditional stimulant treatment can actually worsen the individual's anxiety, and thereby worsen both conditions. This makes treatment for these combined conditions a lot more complicated overall.

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Sometimes attention disorders are closely related to social anxiety disorders, but this is not always the case. Other types of anxiety disorders may be correlated with poor attention as well, including everything from a panic disorder that causes panic attacks, to post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. It is important for an individual experiencing this problem to talk with a psychologist in order to discuss symptoms and determine if there is in fact a link between his or her anxiety and attention issues. A psychologist may also be able to provide strategies for dealing with these problems, sometimes without the use of medication.

Of course, sometimes anxiety and attention go hand in hand even without the presence of any sort of psychological disorder, as one can beget the other. An individual who is prone to becoming stressed and anxious in his or her everyday life may have trouble with focus and concentration, for instance. Or, an individual who is easily distracted or finds it difficult to complete tasks may find that this causes anxiety. Practicing some strategies to overcome feelings of anxiety, as well as techniques to focus more intently on the task at hand, can sometimes help to alleviate these problems and prevent them from worsening.

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