Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make it hard to focus and sit still. While doctors often diagnose ADHD in childhood, it can affect people of any age.
Feeling restless when you’re required to sit still or pay attention for long stretches can make it difficult to function from day to day.
Fidgeting behavior may help folks living with ADHD improve their attention and focus.
Does ADHD make you fidget?
Not everyone with ADHD will experience the same symptoms. But fidgeting is a common symptom of ADHD, says Dr. Brian Zachariah, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health.
Fidgeting may look like tapping your foot, drumming your fingers, or constantly shifting in your seat. Many people with ADHD tune out when tasks are under- stimulating.
Sitting still is under-stimulating, so it would make sense to want to keep your hands busy or your body moving.
Does fidgeting help you concentrate?
“Fidgeting has been shown to help with cognitive tasks in adults with ADHD, but not in children,” Dr. Zachariah says.
Research from 2013 suggests purposeful fidgeting can increase the neurotransmitters that control attention span, helping improve focus. Fidgeting can also make sitting or staying still for long periods more tolerable.
In contrast, one 2020 study involving children with ADHD found that using fidget spinners helped decrease activity levels but adversely impacted attention.
10 ADHD fidgeting strategies to try
“Contrary to how it may seem, fidgeting can actually serve to increase a person’s ability to concentrate, provided that it does not require constant attentional awareness,” says Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD.
It’s important to choose a fidgeting strategy based on how you naturally fidget and what task you need to complete. The ideal fidgeting strategy helps you release excess energy while being respectful to the people around you, says Dr. Dragonette.
Some fidgeting activities that fit these criteria include:
- Using stretchy bands. One potential way to harness fidgeting is to place stretchy, resistance-type bands across the legs of the chair you’re sitting in.
- Sitting on balance balls. Bouncing on yoga or balance balls may help you focus your attention on the task at hand. Consider your ability level when attempting this fidgeting strategy. If you have poor balance, trying to keep yourself upright might be more distracting than helpful.
- Working on the go. Another way to focus your attention is to keep your body moving while working. If taking walking breaks isn’t possible, consider a treadmill desk or under-the-desk bike pedals to keep your mind focused during your workday.
- Doodling. Keep drawings simple. This helps avoid creating a distraction for yourself. If drawing or doodling feels too distracting, consider coloring instead.
- Playing with texture. Things like sandpaper or similarly bumpy, rough surfaces may help resettle the mind. Keep a mini box of sensory things handy at your desk.
- Pacing. If pacing heightens your anxiety, consider short walks instead. Going outside and temporarily changing your environment can help reset your focus.
- Knitting. Knitting and crocheting are good options for harnessing fidgeting. This may be most helpful for people who are proficient knitters, and will likely be distracting if you’re just learning.
- Tapping. Tapping your foot, pen, or fingers on a hard surface may help improve your attention.
- Using fidget toys. While there’s some evidence that fidget toys can decrease attention in children, adults may find these tools helpful for improving focus. Everyone responds differently to various toys or stimulation, so your child might find it helpful to experiment with fidget toys.
- Chewing gum. Chewing gum can be a refreshing way to harness your fidgeting behavior and help you focus.
A note on fidgeting around other people
Fidgeting strategies that support you or your kid could distract or annoy others nearby. You may find it helpful to tell others, whether it’s your child’s teacher or your co-worker, why you or your child is using the fidget item.
Read the full PsychCentral article with sources.