How to Harness Your Fidgeting to Control ADHD and Anxiety

A thumbnail of a youtube video tutorial for how to fold origami stars. Used as a demonstration for controlling ADHD and anxiety through structured fidgeting.

You can control ADHD and anxiety with structured fidgeting

Fidgeting is common among people with ADHD and anxiety problems. It used to be thought that fidgeting was a behavior that should be extinguished as much as possible, but recent studies have found that structured fidgeting can actually help people to control ADHD and anxiety. Simple, mindless, repetitive actions can help those with ADHD to focus on tasks that they would normally find difficult to pay attention to.   

In a recent study, the UC Davis MIND Institute  found that fidgeting increased concentration in kids diagnosed with ADHD. People with ADHD tend to have difficulty with “single tasking”, and feel the need to be doing multiple things at once. Through structured fidgeting, those with ADHD are able to preocupy this need for multitasking and free up other senses to focus on things like lectures and reading.

In the introduction of the book Fidget to Focus: Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living with ADD, the authors introduce the story of a woman who struggled in graduate school and found that playing a Nintendo game while listening to audio books helped her to focus and retain information from the audio books. This kind of multitasking may seem counterintuitive to those without ADHD, and in fact, studies have shown that this kind of multitasking is often unhelpful and distracting for those who do not have ADHD.

Fidgeting can also help you control your anxiety

Similarly, those who struggle with anxiety problems can benefit from structured fidgeting. Anxiety heightens cortisol levels and activates the body’s fight or flight response. This makes you feel like there is something you need to be doing, fighting, or running away from even though there may not be anything you can actually physically fight or run from. Structured fidgeting can help with this feeling by giving your body a thing to do, thereby satisfying, albeit partially, the felt need to do something about an intangible threat.

You need to find and go with what works for you

     Every individual may have a different kind of fidget that works for him/her. Some people focus better while listening to music, some do well with rocking chairs, and others do well with simple toys to preocupy their hands while they focus on listening to someone speak. I personally enjoy folding origami while I do other tasks such as reading or listening to lectures. I keep some of my origami in my offices and clients often ask me about it. There are several simple origami projects that with a little practice, one can easily do without even looking at your hands. My favorite origami fidget is folding lucky stars. I folded these throughout gradschool and I often teach kids how to make them as a fidget. Honestly though, speaking from personal experience, it may sound odd, but folding thousands of tiny stars helped me get through grad school. The following is a video tutorial for making lucky stars.

Structured fidgeting can be helpful for people of all ages to control ADHD and anxiety. If you have any questions or want to talk with me about how counseling might be helpful for you, give me a call sometime for a free brief phone consultation. For now I have filed this post in teen counseling. You can click the following link to find out more about teen counseling with me.

Joe Borders, MFT
Teen Counseling in Roseville and Sacramento
(530) 448-6602

1722 Professional Drive,
Sacramento, CA 95825
775 Sunrise Ave., suite 110
Roseville, Ca 95661

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