We all feel anxious at times, but according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (DSM-5), anxiety disorder can be diagnosed when an individual experiences excessive levels of worry that continues for at least six months, and is experienced in a diverse range of situations and events. Attention deficit disorder (ADD), without the ‘H’ in ADHD for hyperactivity, is the term commonly used to describe symptoms of difficulty in focus and attention, distractibility, and poor working memory.
Having either of these diagnoses, or both comorbidly, can make it harder to cope in social situations. While mental health conditions alone cannot make or break a relationship, if symptoms are not appropriately recognised and managed, they can lead to tensions between partners.
Here are some issues that may arise, and shares practical strategies that may be helpful in promoting a happy and healthy relationship.
Issues with relationships
Symptoms of ADD may involve:
- Difficulty paying attention
- Being forgetful
- Being poorly organised
- Emotional outbursts
Cameron reflects that, as an ADD sufferer with recurrent anxiety and depression, he has experienced first-hand; the detrimental effect it has had on his interpersonal skills throughout his life as a 35-year-old male. Regrettably, many friendships – platonic and romantic alike – have ended due to a relative inability to interpret social cues appropriately. For example, Immediately assuming that people do not like him; consequently, he becomes more guarded and closed off to relative strangers; thus a perfect storm of alienation occurs.
One common ADD symptom, ‘imposter syndrome’, which refers to feelings of being unworthy, underqualified or undeserving of a status or situation. may be present; resulting in a profound sense of unworthiness of career successes or even happiness in relationships, impeding an individual’s ability to form lasting relationships with friends and partners alike.
Another symptom Cameron is trying to be more mindful of, is a tendency to interrupt people in mid-sentence; giving an undesired impression of disengagement, or appearing uninterested in what the person is saying. He can also exhibit the common ADD symptom of having difficulty in maintaining eye contact – with persons familiar/unfamiliar alike – specifically so; when experiencing anxiety or low mood, or both.
Another crucial element of Cameron’s experience, with regards to interpersonal skills/- relationships, is how he handles rejection. He states that he already has a self-critical aspect to his thinking, but that it is a vicious circle when someone rejects him. It confirms his self-doubts, and can further increase a profound sense of loneliness and alienation. ADD persons can experience rejection on a seemingly deeper level; owing to these negative inclinations.
Strategies to help
- Tackle your anxieties. Consider why you may be feeling anxious in a relationship or about starting a new relationship; is this anxiety based on past failed relationships or are you suffering from Imposter Syndrome and worried you are not worthy of love? Question and acknowledge the origins of your anxiety and speak about them to help put them in perspective.
- Tell your partner how you feel. Rather than letting the anxiety overwhelm you with worries about things that may never happen, communicate with your partner about how you are feeling. Share your plans and goals for the future, and be honest with your partner about things that worry you. Anxiety is often triggered by the unknown, so communicating openly and honestly about your feelings can help you to stay in control.
- Ask how your partner is feeling. Remember that your relationship depends on the feelings of your partner, too, as well as how you are feeling. It is easy to misinterpret people’s signals or actions, so the best thing to do is to find time to ask them how they are feeling. Listen carefully and repeat the words they use, and ask for clarification if anything is unclear. You may wish to write down key points that your partner makes so you remember these after the conversation. Then you can speak about your emotions, and your partner can repeat back. This shows you have heard each other.
- Stay in the moment. In relationships, we never know what is around the corner. Instead of worrying about how or when your relationship may end, try to be mindful and stay focused on the present. Regularly speak to your partner about how you are feeling and remember that your partner has selected you as the one to spend their time with.
- Seeking further help. It is important to note that sometimes our anxieties cannot be managed independently; you may wish to speak to your GP about if therapy may help support you with negative thinking and attitudes towards yourself and your partner. Some useful links available for further support include Samaritans, Breathing Space, and Better Help.
Dealing with anxiety and ADD can make relationships difficult to manage at times. Distraction, procrastination, and other ADHD symptoms can stir anger, frustration, and hurt feelings for both the person with ADHD and the partner. The most important thing is to communicate with your partner about how you are both feeling, and ensure you have an appropriate network of support around you to manage your daily well-being.
Poppy Gibson, EdD currently leads the innovative Blended Accelerated BA Hons in Primary Education Studies at Anglia Ruskin University (Essex).
Cameron J. Taylor holds a BA (Hons) in Media, Culture and Society. He is diagnosed with anxiety and ADD; he is interested in exploring interventions in these areas.