Mindpath Health’s Brian Zachariah, M.D. helps discuss which fidgeting techniques may help people diagnosed with ADHD have more focus.

Fidgeting Strategies that Help People with ADHD Focus

Does ADHD make you fidget?

Not everyone with ADHD will experience the same symptoms. But yes, 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.

Zachariah explains that fMRI imaging in people with ADHD shows reduced cortical thickness in front parts of the brain, responsible for motor control and response inhibition. This may explain why fidgeting commonly occurs in people with ADHD.

Does fidgeting help you concentrate?

“Fidgeting and whether it has been beneficial has had mixed results in studies,” Zachariah says. “Fidgeting has been shown to help with cognitive tasks in adults with ADHD, but not in children.”

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.

The theory, says Zachariah, is that people with ADHD fidget to reorient themselves on the task at hand and maintain focus. “The only caveat being to make sure the [fidgeting] methods themselves don’t serve to excessively stimulate and be a distraction,” he says.

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, clinical services instructor at Newport Healthcare.

When harnessing fidgeting to improve attention, Dragonette recommends opting for mindless fidgeting. “Intentionally incorporating movement or fidgeting can be effective to help with focus as long as the fidget itself does not require concentrated effort or thought,” she says.

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, explains Dragonette.

Some fidgeting activities that fit these criteria include:

  1. 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. Bouncing your feet off the elastic band is a repetitive movement that may help improve focus, explains Dragonette.

  1. Sitting on balance balls

Bouncing on yoga or balance balls may help you focus your attention on the task at hand, suggests Dragonette.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Doodling

Doodling or drawing is another way to shift your focus. Keeping drawings simple helps you avoid creating a distraction for yourself. If drawing or doodling feels too distracting, consider coloring instead.

  1. Playing with texture

Touching items with different textures may also help, Dragonette says. Things like sandpaper or similarly bumpy, rough surfaces may help resettle the mind. Keep a mini-box of sensory things handy at your desk.

  1. Pacing

This commonly used strategy can help in a pinch. If pacing heightens your anxiety, consider short walks instead. Going outside and temporarily changing your environment can help reset your focus.

  1. Knitting

Knitting and crocheting are good options for harnessing fidgeting. But they may be most helpful for people who are proficient knitters. The task will likely be distracting if you’re just learning to knit.

Once you’re a pro, you might find that the repetitive action helps you center your attention.

  1. Tapping

Tapping your foot, pen, or fingers on a hard surface may help improve your attention without proving distracting.

  1. 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.

  1. Chewing gum

Chewing gum can be a refreshing way to harness your fidgeting behavior and help you zoom in on the task at hand.

A note on fidgeting around other people

Fidgeting strategies that support you or your kid could distract or annoy others nearby. Consider fidgeting that will have minimal impact on others.

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. You might also think creatively with them for alternative fidget ideas if one that you’ve chosen is too distracting for someone else.

To read the full article in PsychCentral on which fidgeting strategies help people with ADHD focus, click here.

 

Brian Zachariah, M.D.

Sugar Land, TX

Dr. Brian Zachariah chose the mental health field because of a patient, who once told him that they were “smiling on the outside, but screaming on the inside”, which inspired him to go into psychiatry. Mental health is often neglected, and people put on a face every day to hide the suffering on the inside. Dr. Zachariah hopes that he ... Read Full Bio »

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