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June 15, 2012 2:40 AM   Subscribe

I need to stop fidgeting. How? Help!

For as long as I can remember I have been a fidgeter. I don't have one particular 'brand' of fidget, rather I cycle through many throughout the course of the day: twirling my hair, picking my cuticles, cracking my jaw, etc. repeat ad infinitum. It feels like this fidgeting is constant, to the point where it's really starting to bother me.

I have also had OCD for as long as I can remember, and struggle with anxiety. OCD plus fidgeting makes it really difficult for me to stop. For example, I have hair which is mostly smooth but with some coarse hairs (I used to pull my hair out as a child). I spend huge portions of each day, while I am working, sort of combing my scalp looking for the coarse hairs. When I find one I feel a sort of temporary soothing peace, and something like a moment of bliss when I pull it out. I don't want to pull my hair out and I am much better at not doing so these days, but I don't get the satisfaction of pulling the hair out, and so I feel like I have to keep searching for more and more of them.

I have read suggestions in other threads about finding something else to do with your hands, e.g. coin tricks or knitting. But this is not really feasible for me because I fidget constantly. I do it with one hand while I'm using the mouse or stirring the soup or whatever with my other hand. If both hands are occupied my feet start moving.

I am also someone who gets distracted really easily, and somehow this feels related to the fidgeting. Often when I fidget I find I've lost concentration on the task at hand and I'm thinking about something else - usually worrying. I consciously try to take in my surroundings as I walk down the street, but I inevitably turn inwards soon enough, and sure enough, I realise I'm fidgeting. When I walk I often listen to music, and I find that it's difficult for me to listen to a whole song, or any song other than a handful of really catchy songs with big beats, even though I feel like I want to enjoy the many other tracks in my library - I skip through them really quickly and just pushing the buttons to skip feels like a form of fidget too. During conversations I can quite easily stop paying attention, even though I look like I am - my fingers start moving and my brain does too, even though I WANT to listen! It's tiring. I feel like I can't focus and I miss a whole lot because of this problem. It's hard to follow verbal instructions, and my spacial awareness is crap because I'm so often in my head and worrying my hands instead of looking and noticing.

I am in therapy, classic psychoanalytic style. I feel like therapy has helped me a lot, though it has been sloooow going. My therapist knows about my OCD - we have discussed my problems with constantly checking faucets and ovens and avoiding cracks and all that - but it hasn't really been the focus of our sessions, and hasn't been treated in any practical way. The OCD compulsions have definitely reduced since therapy started two years ago, but haven't gone away. The fidgeting is the same as ever.

I'm not on any medication other than birth control. My caffeine intake is pretty low, usually one cup of coffee a day.

Anything you can suggest that might help? Thanks heaps.
posted by guessthis to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The compulsive fidgeting sounds like a manifestation of OCD the way you describe it. I would like to say that I am a big fan of classic psychoanalytic style therapy, but it is unlikely to give you relief (although it will give you a better understanding of yourself!)

People with OCD or fidgeting syndromes get the best results from a combination of CBT and drugs. The drugs can be amazing life changers.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:49 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure classic psychoanalytic therapy is proven to be very effective for OCD-type problems.

The classic treatment for OCD (as per this NHS page) is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, possibly combined with anti-depressents for more severe cases.

If you're in therapy for other problems, you might consider going to a CBT therapist specifically for help with the OCD issues?
posted by pharm at 2:50 AM on June 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions so far! I should have mentioned that switching to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is not an immediate option. I am living in a foreign country where English-speaking therapists are few and far between, and you have to wait months to get an appointment.
posted by guessthis at 3:02 AM on June 15, 2012

Can your current therapist prescribe drugs for you?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:11 AM on June 15, 2012

Response by poster: No, she can't I'm afraid.
posted by guessthis at 3:17 AM on June 15, 2012

Best answer: I fidget, too. Maybe not as extremely as you, but I have to have some part of my body moving at all times. As I'm typing this, I'm bouncing my leg in fact.

I actually found that knitting has helped with this. Since I started knitting my need to fidget overall has gone down. And on days where I don't get to knit, I fidget more than on days when I do knit. Part of it is, for me at least, that it's productive fidgeting. There is a very real item created out of that fidgeting, so at the times I am not knitting, I can think about the knitting I am working on and who it is for and where I am in the pattern and how much further I'll get the next time I pick it up.

I've also had issues with anxiety, and knitting has immensely calmed that.

I wouldn't discount knitting or something like it out of hand. You may find it works better than you think.

And if you think some drugs would help in your case, you may wish to ask your therapist about meeting with a psychiatrist to see if you could benefit from them and which ones.
posted by zizzle at 3:58 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should have mentioned that switching to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is not an immediate option.

CBT is something you can do yourself, assuming that the problems aren't so overwhelming that they prevent you from focusing on anything at all. Try reading Manage Your Mind which focuses on solving mental problems with CBT techniques and see if anything in there is useful to you.
posted by pharm at 4:19 AM on June 15, 2012

I don't know much about OCD, but I know that with people with ADHD, the fidgeting while concentrating/losing concentration by diverting part of your attention to stop fidgeting is common.

This is a slightly odd suggestion, but it's one of those things that is usually good for you anyway- what does your exercise schedule look like? I find that if my body is worn out, I fidget less. On the other hand, I fidget more when I am just tired (not enough sleep, or up for too long).
posted by Hactar at 5:37 AM on June 15, 2012

Rather than having your threapist prescribe a drug, perhaps you can discuss with your GP. See if your therapist will write you a note, and take it to your GP. Even if she's not willing, discuss your options with your GP.

I fidget and I've got anxiety (treated with Celexa), it used to be a lot worse.

It's worth it. Go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:41 AM on June 15, 2012

Best answer: Second the suggestion for a referral to a psychiatrist.

and please take a look at this:


Common adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Hyperactivity or restlessness

Hyperactivity in adults with ADD/ADHD can look the same as it does in kids. You may be highly energetic and perpetually “on the go” as if driven by a motor. For many people with ADD/ADHD, however, the symptoms of hyperactivity become more subtle and internal as they grow older. Common symptoms of hyperactivity in adults include:

feelings of inner restlessness, agitation
tendency to take risks
getting bored easily
racing thoughts

trouble sitting still; constant fidgeting
craving for excitement
talking excessively
doing a million things at once

You don’t have to be hyperactive to have ADD / ADHD
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:43 AM on June 15, 2012

My neurologis sugeested that I chew sugarless gum, for my ADHD moments when I need to be doing two things at once (besides my meds.).
posted by Ideefixe at 6:32 AM on June 15, 2012

I couldn't sit still until age 25, when I caught mononucleosis. So sick, the sickest I've ever been, for a whole week... during recuperation and after recovering I found I'd developed surprising new reservoirs of patience and calm. Of course, YMMV.
posted by Rash at 8:14 AM on June 15, 2012

I have ADHD and fidget and it was suggested to me that I keep things around to "fidget with" so to speak, a stress ball, a ring, something i like the texture of, etc. For some reason, it helps me stay focused. I also sometimes swap my desk chair out for one of those giant yoga balls--something about having to have my muscles engaged while sitting helps me focus too.

Also knitting is pretty great for people who constantly like to do something with their hands--and you can knit while talking to friends, listening to music, watching a movie, etc.
posted by inertia at 8:19 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can your GP prescribe for you?
posted by DarlingBri at 9:14 AM on June 15, 2012

Response by poster: DarlingBri - I just checked it out and apparently she can! I will be making an appointment soon. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions. Particularly the idea of ADD - I had never even considered that. And maybe I can give knitting a go after all...
posted by guessthis at 4:45 AM on June 22, 2012

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