Do you Experience this ADHD trait? "Fidgeting"

Harnessing ADHD Fidgeting to Enhance Focus

Fidgeting in ADHD is often an unconscious response to increased needs for stimulation. Strategically used, fidgeting can help improve focus by providing a mild sensory input, which can be particularly beneficial during tasks that require extended periods of attention. Choosing the right fidget tool that does not distract others is key to turning fidgeting into a helpful focusing strategy.


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ADHD Fidgeting: Little Motions to Ease Our Emotions

Have you ever wondered why some people fidget so much more than others? What if I told you that fidgeting could be more than just a habit? It’s actually a coping mechanism, especially for those with ADHD. 

Today we’ll explore the fascinating neuroscience behind why people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder fidget (or stim), how it can help improve focus, and when it’s time to stop. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of what we’ll cover:

  • The aspects or symptoms of ADHD cause someone to fidget more often.
  • The benefits of fidgeting for ADHD focus and management.
  • How to tell when a fidgeting habit has become something more harmful or disruptive.
  • Practical strategies to effectively manage fidgeting in daily life.

Let’s learn about fidgeting and its role in ADHD life.


Why Do People with ADHD Fidget?

Fidgeting is a behavior of tiny repetitive motions, usually triggered when we’re nervous, impatient, or bored. Everyone fidgets sometimes, and we usually don’t even realize we’re doing it. But for those of us who are neurodivergent, it can be a lot more frequent and exaggerated.

One reason that people with ADHD fidget is hyperactivity. We may fidget to subconsciously replace - or mask - our hyperactivity. There are moments when we feel the need to move to release energy, but can’t - depending on the situation. Fidgeting can be a simpler option instead.

The other, more common reason is that repetitive movement can help soothe the central nervous system. Redirecting our visual or auditory focus to fidgeting can provide a much-needed break from racing thoughts, helping with emotional control and improving concentration. 

In school, for example, an ADHD child is expected to sit still and stay in their seat like all the other kids. But this can be a struggle for a child with an overactive brain. Fidgeting gives them a non-disruptive way to release that hyperactivity, stimulate their brains, and focus their attention back on what they want to prioritize.

Behavioral sciences research shows that fidgeting can improve a person’s ability to concentrate on cognitive tasks. For others, fidgeting can also be an outlet to relieve stress and anxiety and blow off some steam as physical activity does.


You Asked…

Why does ADHD make you fidgety?

ADHD triggers fidgety behavior as a way to self-regulate and improve focus. Constant movement or small actions help direct the brain's need for sensory input, aiding concentration.


The Most Common Fidgeting Habits

Everyone has their own preferred way of fidgeting, whether you know yours or not. 

For some, it’s playing with pens. Either twirling them between your fingers (one of my favorites), clicking it, or chewing the end of the lid - everyone knew someone at school who did this. It works because pens are almost always easy to find, either at school or in work meetings where we may face a long period of inactivity. 

The problem with this one is that it may look like you’re not concentrating (when that’s exactly what you’re trying to do!) or paying attention to the person speaking.

Many people will excessively tap their feet or shake their legs when they’re feeling impatient or anxious. Or they may drum their fingers or nails on any hard surface they can find. I know I do this, and it can be extremely satisfying. 

Chewing gum can work, plus the flavor can give a dopamine boost, which our ADHD brains love. But not everyone agrees with this habit, so it isn’t always appropriate to chew gum in shared environments.

Many people fidget with their hair, whether that’s twirling a strand, playing with a ponytail, or flipping it back and forth. This has its own connotations of either showing nervousness or even flirting in some situations. 


One of the more commonly recognized signs of nervousness are nail biting and skin picking. The repetitive movement helps calm the nervous system, but can also lead to harm and damage over time. It’s also unhygienic and often considered annoying or unpleasant, so isn’t the best idea in most environments. 

One of the more recent developments is the rising popularity of fidget toys, like fidget spinners, which have been proven effective for improving focus. We’ll talk more about their usefulness later.


You Asked…

What kind of fidgeting is ADHD?

ADHD fidgeting can manifest as leg bouncing, pen clicking, or doodling. These repetitive actions are strategies to enhance alertness and maintain focus during tasks that require extended concentration.

Stimming vs Fidgeting

If you’ve heard of stimming, you may be wondering what makes it different from fidgeting. Both are repetitive motions designed to reduce anxiety and help with emotional control.

Stimming is usually associated with Autism (ASD), but is also a part of ADHD, depending on who you ask. The exact distinction between the two is a little blurry. 

Stimming is a self-stimulatory behavior that’s generally more intense and noticeable than fidgeting. 

This can look like hand-flapping, rocking back and forth, or repeating meaningless words and phrases. 

Humming is a way to stim. It can be soothing to hum, not because of the sound or any tune, but because of the feeling of the vibrations created.  

It’s also worth noting that ADHD and ASD can be comorbid conditions, which means there are a significant number of people who experience both neurodevelopmental disorders. That’s one of the reasons there’s such an overlap between stimming for ADHD and stimming for autism.


You Asked…

What is ADHD stimming?

Stimming in ADHD involves repetitive behaviors or movements, such as tapping or rocking, serving as a mechanism to cope with overstimulation, reduce anxiety, and improve focus.



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The Darker Side of Fidgeting: Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

While fidgeting can offer ADHD support, especially when we need to improve focus, many fidgeting strategies are considered annoying or inappropriate. Some may also cause physical harm and long-term damage. 

These are called Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). 

BFRBs are repetitive body-focused movements that cause physical damage. The most common BFRBs are trichotillomania (hair pulling), onychophagia (nail biting), and dermatillomania (skin picking). These may not seem like a big deal at the moment but can have negative long-term effects on your skin, hair, and nails. 

I’ve always been a nail-biter and skin-picker. Sometimes it’s worse than others, but I go through times where my nails are so short that they’re sore, or I’ve picked the sides of my nails until they bled. I had no idea this could be linked to ADHD.

When we’re going through a period of heightened anxiety or mental illness, we may rely on fidgeting too often. Eventually, it can become a not-so-helpful habit that you can’t control. Once we start, we often can’t stop fidgeting.

If you’re starting to develop habits of harmful fidgeting behaviors, it is essential to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Healthier Tips for ADHD Focus and Management 

Fidgeting is helpful - if done healthily. That means being mindful of our habits and finding non-harmful ways to harness fidgeting for focus.

Fidget toys are a great addition to anyone’s ADHD management tool kit. 

They’re small items to satisfy our fidgeting activities and may come in forms like a fidget spinner, stress ball, or fidget cube. These toys can keep our hands busy and distract us from negative thoughts or worries. 


There are also more mobile games and dedicated phone applications designed for restless minds and those with mental health conditions. These apps can help you pass the time and relieve anxiety.

Before fidgeting can become harmful or damaging, there are steps we can take to protect our physical and mental health. These include:

  • Understanding and tracking our habits and triggers for fidgeting.
  • Keeping effective fidget toys and items such as chewing gum, fidget spinners, or stress balls within reach.
  • Set limits on how often we fidget and for how long.
  • Finding an accountability partner (or your parents) to observe and tell you if you’re fidgeting for too long.
  • Finding social activities that you’re comfortable with so you’re less likely to turn to nervous fidgeting habits.
  • Taking walking breaks or finding other alternative activities that can replace your fidgeting activities and release excess energy.
  • Talking to a mental health professional or school psychologist about potential medication options or behavior therapy to improve focus or concentration.


If you’re not yet diagnosed with ADHD and suspect you have it, diagnosis should be your first step. Once you’ve found a professional to diagnose ADHD, you can explore different treatment options to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. 


You Asked…

How do you calm ADHD fidgeting?

Calming ADHD fidgeting involves strategies like using fidget toys, incorporating regular physical activity, and creating environments that reduce overstimulation, thereby helping to manage excess energy and improve focus.

Key Takeaways

  • ADHD symptoms often lead to increased fidgeting as a coping mechanism for soothing the central nervous system and improving focus.
  • Various fidgeting habits, such as playing with pens, tapping feet, and twirling hair, serve to alleviate anxiety and enhance concentration.
  • Excessive fidgeting can escalate into harmful behaviors known as BFRBs, such as nail biting and skin picking, requiring early intervention and professional help.
  • Fidget toys, like spinners and stress balls, offer effective outlets for fidgeting and can help improve focus and alleviate anxiety.
  • Establishing healthy fidgeting habits involves understanding triggers, setting limits, and seeking alternative activities to release excess energy.

Everyone fidgets, even neurotypical people.
But for those of us with ADHD, it can be a positive tool to burn off excess energy and focus on our tasks, if we do it healthily. We recommend fidget toys as a safer way of harnessing fidgeting, but if you need more extensive help, seek a medical professional.


What’s Next?

If you want to read more about the reasons why many people with ADHD fidget, these articles are for you:


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do ADHD people fidget a lot?

Fidgeting is an incredibly common behavior that almost everyone does. It can be helpful for people who have ADHD as it can be a way of releasing energy and it can help you focus.

What causes excessive fidgeting?

Excessive fidgeting is often caused by symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and difficulty focusing, as individuals seek to soothe their central nervous system and improve concentration.

When is fidgeting harmful?

Fidgeting becomes a problem when it is disruptive to others or a sign of another medical condition. For instance, if a child fidgets in class but does not disrupt his or her classmates, then it's probably fine. However, if the fidgeting interferes with other people's learning, the parents must seek help. It also becomes a problem when it develops into Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior which can cause physical harm 🤕.

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