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Is Anxiety Neurodivergent? What The Science & Research Tells Us

Last Updated: November 7, 2022

Neurodivergence was first identified by an Australian sociologist called Judy Singer in the late 90s. It refers to the idea that differences in the human brain are natural & normal and, in a lot of cases, can lead to meaningful and positive insights and abilities. The question is commonly asked about anxiety: is anxiety neurodivergent? In this article we look at what Neurodiversity and neurotypical are, what the benefits might be and finally figure out whether anxiety is neurodivergent or not.

Anxiety is an emotion experienced by most people at some point in their lives. For some, however, anxiety can be more than just an occasional feeling of worry, slight despair or stress.

For some, anxiety is a chronic condition interferes with daily life. While there may not be one definitive cause for anxiety; it is generally believed to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Recent research is also suggesting that anxiety may be neurodivergent, meaning that it may stem from differences in the brain. This theory is supported by the fact that anxiety disorders are often comorbid with other conditions, such as ADHD and autism.

While more research is needed within this area, the neurodivergence theory provides a potential explanation for why some people are more susceptible to anxiety than others.

Neurodivergence, or Neurodiversity, is quite a new concept within the mental health space itself. In this article we are going to look into what neurodivergence is, what the benefits & symptoms of neurodivergence are, and answer the question once and for all: is anxiety neurodivergent?

What is Neurodivergence?

The term “neurodivergent” was first coined by the Australian sociologist, Judy Singer, in the late-1990s and it refers to the idea that differences in the human brain are natural and normal and, in many cases, can lead to meaningful and positive insights and abilities [1]. People are described as neurodiverse when their thought patterns, behaviors, or learning styles fall outside of what is considered “normal,” or neurotypical.

Neurodiversity is:
– a state of nature to be respected
– an analytical tool for examining social issues
– an argument for the conservation and facilitation of human diversity

~ Judy Singer 2020

According to the Syracuse University National Symposium on Neurodiversity, neurological differences that fall under the banner of Neurodiverse include [2]:

  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyslexia
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Autistic Spectrum
  • Tourette Syndrome

You may notice that anxiety isn’t on that list, but we’ll return to that point later.

Although Neurodivergence is a growing idea in mainstream science, it does not (yet) receive official recognition in scientific and diagnostic circles. But it’s still become an important term, particularly for those within the neurodiverse community.

What is Neurotypical?

As an inverse to neurodivergence, the word “neurotypical” may be used to describe individuals whose brain develops and functions in ways that are considered usual or expected by society. This term may also be used to refer to those who do not have developmental disorders, like autism or the conditions in the list above [3].

This typically means that neurotypical individuals are:

  • May not have cognitive, learning, or social difficulties that necessitate coping mechanisms
  • May have lack of speech or certain motor impediments
  • May have the ability to readily identify and respond to social cues
  • May not experience sensory issues
  • May hit all mental (and some physical) developmental milestones

What Is It Like to Be Neurodivergent?

There is no single, all-encompassing answer to what it’s like to be neurodivergent. There isn’t even an answer to what it’s like to have any kind of specific neurodivergent diagnosis as people are too individual and unique; in the same way that it doesn’t feel the same for all people to have bodies, it doesn’t feel the same for all people with different neurodivergent diagnoses.

Life is experienced differently by all humans, whether their brains function very similarly to the majority of people, or very different [4].

What Are The Benefits of Being Neurodivergent?

There are many people who are neurodivergent who are also quite accomplished and successful. Obviously “correlation does not imply causation” as the saying goes, but it seems clear that there can be benefits to being neurodivergent.

More and more people who are neurodivergent are talking about their experiences on public platforms, some examples of famous and successful people who are neurodivergent including [5]:

  • Animal scientist and author Temple Grandin
  • Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins
  • Musician and singer Florence Welch
  • Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles
  • Climate activist Greta Thunberg

Experts also believe several accomplished historical figures were neurodivergent based on evidence from their lives, including:

  • Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie
  • Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein
  • Artist Vincent Van Gogh
  • Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla
  • Author F. Scott Fitzgerald

Business leaders also have a growing understanding of the value of being neurodivergent. In 2017, the magazine Harvard Business Review published “Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.” The article details the benefits of hiring people who are neurodivergent and why more businesses are doing so.

That same article noted that several major national and international corporations have hiring processes that can accommodate people who are neurodivergent [6]. Those corporations include some of the largest names in information technology, the automotive industry, the banking sector and more.

Is Anxiety a Form of Neurodivergence?

Anxiety is not technically a form of neurodivergence because people can have it whether they are neurodivergent or not. However, statistics from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) show how neurodiverse people can experience anxiety [7]:

  • 1 in five autistic adults, or 40% of them, may have an anxiety disorder. They are 5 times more likely to have it than non-autistic adults
  • 50% of adults with ADHD have a co-occuring anxiety disorder
  • 49% of adults with Tourette syndrome may experience anxiety problems

Final Thoughts

As our understanding of mental disorders and traits has grown, the concept of Neurodiversity has woven deeper into the mainstream.

While it is not (yet) recognized officially, the word has found itself in scientific studies, special education, medicine, counseling, and more. This has led to a greater understanding of what we once considered disorders, as well as the importance of such traits in past, present, and future society.

Take a look at our other guides

What is Performance Anxiety? What causes performance anxiety, what are the symptoms, and can you overcome performance anxiety?
How the singer Adele manages her stage fright
The Science of Stage Fright - how to understand & conquer stage fright
How to Overcome Audition Anxiety
Glossophobia or the Fear of Public Speaking
How to overcome extreme golfing nerves

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PerformanceAnxiety.com Owner & Lead Writer

Anita is the owner and lead writer for PerformanceAnxiety.com. A seasoned musician and public speaker herself, she is no stranger to the very real fear and anxiety that can strike right before a high-pressure situation. That's why Anita is passionate about writing content that helps people learn about and overcome their anxieties & social fears so that they can perform at their best when it counts and live anxiety-free lives.