don't rock the boat baby
November 17, 2012 5:14 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine, rocks and sways. All. The. Time. what's up with that?

When she is not occupied with a task (we work together), she will rock and sway in place. If she is seated, she will find a way to do the same in her chair. Any sort of downtime she has, the movement will take over and she unconsciously will rock. We've talked about it a bit, but she writes it off as just a habit/unconscious nervous tic. is there any lit out there as to why people may do this? She is mid 30's, and fully cognitive, etc. she has experienced no great trauma. she is not concerned with this, but i am asking out of curiosity. i've read some articles but they don't seem to really address what i'm looking for. i suppose it's a physiological explanation.
posted by ps_im_awesome to Human Relations (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does she have young kids? I find myself doing that sometimes even when I'm not holding a baby.
posted by bq at 5:22 PM on November 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

It could be a self soothing mechanism, she could have a mild sensory disorder, she might have another disorder that impacts her motor control, but absolutely none of us is qualified to armchair diagnose your friend and honestly? It's not your business. Diagnosing people based on outward symptoms and behaviors is neither fair nor fail proof. Why does it matter, particularly if she herself has told you an answer already?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:22 PM on November 17, 2012 [21 favorites]

I do it, and my middle daughter does it.

As far as I know, there's no reason, just habit.

But if there was a reason, I'd be curious to know it. Because it does look weird.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:24 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do this. I'm just fidgety.
posted by threeants at 5:30 PM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have ADHD and when I'm not medicated, if I don't have access to any of my smaller motor things (phone, pens, toe-tapping) for whatever reason, or if I'm relaxed and not self-conscious, I will bounce or rock in place constantly. I literally can't sit still and do nothing.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:32 PM on November 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

I do this as well.
posted by dmd at 5:51 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

People with Parkinson's disease rock and sway. She may have some dysfunction in the same circuits that affect Parkinson's (the basal ganglia).

Or, there is research showing that people fidget to burn excess calories. It's one reason that people can maintain a set weight point.

So those are two more possiblities.
posted by kellybird at 5:53 PM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I rock back and forth very gently a lot of the time. It's a combination of habit and anxiety.

(Note that while your friend may say she has "no major trauma", she may have "no major trauma that she wants to share with you" or may have experienced, as I have, what you might call a series of unfortunate events. You don't need to think of yourself as traumatized or dysfunctional in the present - I don't - to have leftover symptoms from other less great times of your life. I think it's very easy to assume that people can/should 'explain' their little habits to friends, or that any non-typical thing requires sharing some significant trauma to justify it. People don't have to be totally forthcoming about stuff like that, nor is there always a really linear, Freud's casebook-style explanation.)
posted by Frowner at 5:53 PM on November 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

She may just process her surroundings in a more kinesthetic than auditory/visual manner (random link). It's pretty common & nothing wrong with it. They make ball chairs so people can bob around on yoga balls while working if they're more productive that way. My son hums a lot when he's focused on something. It used to get him into trouble at school when he was younger. I suspect it's the same thing as people who move around. Just energy dispersal. I suspect it's probably more healthy and natural than sitting still at a desk anyway.
posted by headnsouth at 5:54 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're asking why people have tics, we don't know. But a lot of people have tics of various kinds and they're not a problem unless they make the person distressed. Sounds like your friend isn't distressed by it, so it should be a non-issue.

As for the question you actually asked regarding your friend specifically, I agree with These Birds of a Feather and Frowner, it's not really information you need to know. There's a lot of reasons she may not wish to share with you, or it could just be a thing, but either way it doesn't matter that much, does it?
posted by epanalepsis at 5:56 PM on November 17, 2012

I know someone who was on meds for either anxiety or depression and he did this. Only person I ever saw though, so it's likely more just a habit he has.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2012

I bounce or waggle my knee(s) all the time without being particularly conscious of it, and I'm so far from ADD I'm probably dead. Agree that people just have tics and there isn't really a good explanation.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:02 PM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am kinda like your friend. Sitting still makes me anxious and makes me over-concentrate on how I'm still. Swaying is calming.
posted by divabat at 6:06 PM on November 17, 2012

I do it too, because I'm impatient, and if I do that while nothing is happening it at least makes it feel like SOMETHING is happening.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:09 PM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

If I have a ton of caffeine in my system I tend to tap my foot/leg very vigorously for a time, so maybe it's a reaction to caffeine?
posted by littlesq at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2012

I do this when I am literally radiating stress. It's self-soothing and offloads stress. It's like rocking but less likely to freak out the Normals.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:20 PM on November 17, 2012

I do it because keeping moving makes my feet and hips less sore if I'm standing around all the time. But I've also found that it's a Maritime thing - when we're on the East Coast (of Canada) almost everyone sways when they are standing. All the time. :)
posted by machine at 6:27 PM on November 17, 2012

I do this. My mom does this. There's always a leg bouncing, a foot in motion, a body swaying back and forth. It just happens. Other than having to hear the occasional "Knock it off! You're shaking the whole damn room!", it's no big deal.
posted by otters walk among us at 6:40 PM on November 17, 2012

One of my brothers has ADHD and does it a lot, and I always teased him (mildly!) about it as an ADHD tic.

That said, I tend to do it, too. And clicking click pens. And playing with/twisting objects in my hands. And grinding my teeth. And tapping things rhythmically with my fingers. And tapping my toes or wiggling my knees if I'm sitting down.

I don't have ADHD. So judge away, I guess.
posted by Sara C. at 6:42 PM on November 17, 2012

I move in time to music (foot tap, body swap, whatever), and I tend to do it to whatever music is stuck in my head.

There is basically always music stuck in my head. (Dumb Ways to Die right now!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:48 PM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am in my early 30s, have no kids, and do this all the time. It's self-soothing. It really kicks up a notch when I'm sick, too.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:20 PM on November 17, 2012

Count me in as another person who rocks. It's one of several body-focused nervous habits of mine. Used to be self-conscious about it, but it helps me feel better.
posted by freeform at 7:24 PM on November 17, 2012

I thought swaying/rocking was a fairly common soothing stereotypy for folks on the autism spectrum. Wasn't one of the ways that they "diagnosed" Bill Gates as Asperger via his well-documented rocking?

That said, my neurotypical mom will also sway slowly back and forth when standing still, particularly when waiting for something. It's not an unsteadiness, but a slooow transfer of weight from foot to foot - left-[beat-beat]-right-[beat-beat]-left-[beat-beat]-right ...

As a kid I used to give her a hug and sway back and forth with her - very soothing. Even as an adult, I'll find myself falling into rhythm with her (side-by-side) if we're all standing around, but only around her, I don't normally sway. My dad finds this terrifically amusing.
posted by clerestory at 7:45 PM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I do this a fair amount although not as much as your friend. I've always been interested in it and the past few months have been conducting my own private study on this. Whenever I'm in a long line or standing around in a group listening to someone drone on (unfortunately frequently), I watch to see who is swaying and and who is just standing there motionless. So far the swayers are 100% fairly thin people, and I haven't ever seen an obese person doing it. (I'm sure twenty people will now chime in to say they know an obese swayer, fine, I'm just reporting what I've seen.) And I have no idea what it means. Just an interesting observation.
posted by HotToddy at 8:11 PM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

My aunt has always done this.
Not sure if its because she has a learning disability.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:17 PM on November 17, 2012

I sometimes do something like this because I have a vestibular disorder (moderate loss of balance/equilibrium sensation from my inner ears due to chronic bilateral Meniere's disease). Which actually makes it harder to stand completely still rather than moving a bit and gaining information about where I am in space using proprioceptive information from my feet, ankles, legs, and torso. So I tend to keep pivot and shift my weight and lean on things...not necessarily in a rocking/swaying manner, although I guess there probably is some of that. Most people probably think I'm just impatient and antsy (when in fact I'm more typically experiencing distressing levels of dysequilibrium and vertigo).

This doesn't really jive with what you're describing, but I thought I'd toss it out there as another reason a person might appear to be in constant motion.

Or actually, come to think of it, vestibular stimulation (rocking in a rocking chair; rocking a baby; etc.) is known to have a calming effect on people without any sort of abnormal vestibular this may very well be a major component in your friend's behavior.
posted by bennett being thrown at 10:14 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

DoubleLune reminded me that Wellbutrin gave me major fidgets, among other things.
posted by radioamy at 11:50 PM on November 17, 2012

I knew several people that did this. I attended a school for the blind so I figured that this was something unique to visually impaired folks. Never knew others did it. But there it is. The post above referring to balance may have something. Visual perception and balance seem to be pretty tightly intertwined. But outside of that, you should leave this be. It's your friend's business. If you want to ask, do so. If your friend wants to tell you, fine. But if people have ticks I think most times they're aware of them and it's not something they'd be particularly fond of sharing with others.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 12:32 AM on November 18, 2012

mild Tourette syndrome?
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:23 AM on November 18, 2012

I am a fat person who sways and fidgets, by the way. I'm not entirely sure that the fidgets can compensate for the various processes by which one becomes fat - I mean, I have genetics, a traumatic childhood and probably a bunch of other stuff on my side, and I'm not entirely sure that rocking back and forth is going to beat that. I am definitely an active person who like to dance and bike and roller skate and do various repetitive yet active things, so perhaps there's some relationship there as well.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on November 18, 2012

Nthing unmedicated ADHD, I sway, fidget and play with my hands, and rock my knees back and forth when I'm sitting. Most of the time I don't realize I'm doing it, but if I don't do it, I feel ... well.. off.
posted by camylanded at 8:06 AM on November 18, 2012

Metafilter: We Rock
posted by DarlingBri at 8:31 AM on November 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

Agree with clerestory, thought this was an Asperger's indicator.

I've never been diagnosed; when I read about Aspies my reaction is about 50% of what's described is definitely me, but that other half, no way.

Anyway, I'm a fidgeter, and also, when younger I'd spend hours in bed, rocking back and forth to real or imagined music. My family named my behavior rolling, and like my thumb-sucking at age 6, finally, in my late 40s, it just became weird and I stopped.

Of course I'd never do this where anyone could see me -- way too embarassing.

Regarding the fidgetting, lots of people inadvertantly have their "motors running" -- myself, also, up to around age 25, when I got mono -- somehow, surviving that trauma calmed me down. Seems like I could never really sit still, before that.

Swaying, though. You mean rhythmically? That's sounds Parkensonian to me.
posted by Rash at 9:43 AM on November 18, 2012

We all have self soothing and/or sensory seeking behaviors. I rotate my ankles, twirl things with my fingers (like twisted paper clips or pens or whatever is around), and chew on the skin/cuticles around my finger nails. I teach a class about behaviors and positive behavior support. When I get to the section about self soothing and sensory seeking, I have the class participants evaluate and identify their own "quirks." Once explained in this light, I've never had anyone deny that they "do it" too.

Rocking, swaying, and spinning usually indicates a sensory need for vestibular or proprioceptive sensory stimulation.

It's totally normal. People are usually more capable of focusing their attention and coping with distress if they meet their sensory needs.

Have you ever rocked yourself? Try it. It feels great and is so relaxing.
posted by dchrssyr at 9:44 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Akathesia perhaps?
posted by lettuchi at 1:40 PM on November 18, 2012

I sway back and forth when I'm standing. If I'm sitting with nothing to do with my hands, then I rock, or bounce my legs, or fidget with my hair, or play with a pen... it's among the reasons I took up knitting, so I could direct my fidgets into something productive and, hopefully, less annoying to other people!
posted by sarcasticah at 4:39 PM on November 19, 2012

I have started doing this in just the last couple of years. I do it only while I'm sitting at my computer. I have no idea why it started. I've read that it's a self-soothing motion. My computer is my "happy place" (ha ha) so I don't think that's the case for me.
posted by deborah at 5:30 PM on November 19, 2012

I come from a family filled with toe tapping and fidgeting so this question struck a chord. I have had Rock the Boat by Hues Corporation stuck in my head since reading this a few days ago. I think I'm pre-disposed to both traits.
posted by meindee at 8:43 AM on November 20, 2012

It has always seemed to me that some people need to move to feel comfortable. Not sure why you're getting snark out of being curious. You didn't say anything about trying to change her. I've always wondered this too.
posted by agregoli at 11:55 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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