Fidgeting can be a useful focus strategy for Adult ADHD

For people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fidgeting is often seen as a negative symptom. But what if it’s actually a functional component of the disorder — something that helps a person with ADHD concentrate?

Amy and and Lindsay Buroker, Fantasy Author (, discuss ways that fidgeting shows up in adults, especially those who use it to focus. Amy finds that it can be a useful tool, but advises choosing figit in a way that don’t draw attention to yourself.

Some articles on the benefits of fidgeting:

My Favorite Figit: (mesh tube with marble)


Lindsay Buroker [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to our adult ADHD chat. Here on the Internet, I’m your host. Lindsay Buroker. And I’m with my co-host, the woman with all the knowledge, Amy Voros from Creative Catapult Coaching. Hey, Amy, how are you doing today?

Amy Voros [00:00:17] I’m doing all right, Lindsay. Apparently, I need my own fidgets for stimulation and getting my brain engaged this morning.

Lindsay Buroker [00:00:24] I guess I should announce the topic. We’re talking about fidgeting or stimming and whether that’s something you should try to work on or whether it can actually help you focus and be channeled into that kind of thing just to start out. Amy, why don’t you tell us what exactly is fidgeting or stimming is another term for it.

Amy Voros [00:00:44] All right. So in the ADHD world a lot of it is called fidgeting, but it’s doing something with your hands or body motion, usually to help you engage or focus when something is boring or is hard to hold your attention.

Amy Voros [00:01:02] We often think of this as kids spinning outside and clicking pens, repeatedly tapping your knees, your hands, doodling during meetings in autism and some of the other neurodiversity categories.

Amy Voros [00:01:23] You often think of people doing repetitive physical. Motions and other things to sort of keep themselves focused in.

Lindsay Buroker [00:01:38] Yeah, and I think that some people that may not realize it, it’s kind of I don’t know if it’s a coping mechanism, it’s kind of not conscious, I think. Mom might make you want to stop doing it, because I know when I was a kid, I was like sucking my thumb or twiddling my my hair was my thing til I was like 10. I’ve told you before, my mom finally was like, if you stop doing that, I’ll get you a TV for your birthday. It was like the thing I wanted, you know, at age 10 fror my room. But yeah, I kind of stopped doing it and then. But I do find other. It just turned into some other outlets. Is that common? Do you feel like people get told not to do it? And that’s probably a bad thing.

Amy Voros [00:02:16] Well, yeah, it’s because then a lot of times people find another way to do it or, you know, if it’s a physical, you know, tapping or doing something, You,  kids, or people in meetings might be spending all of their energy trying to not move.  And so then you suddenly have no bandwidth available to listen to what’s going on around you. And so, yeah, you found other outlets for it. Other people may end up paying so much attention to stopping the action that they stop having any ability to pay attention to what’s going on as they try and stop the motion so it can be, yeah, sort of a self soothing, self-regulating. And a lot of it is only semi-conscious.

Lindsay Buroker [00:03:10] Right. I think a lot of it is deemed like this is not socially acceptable. Right. Like, if you’re a kid still sucking your thumb at 10. But adults do other things, too, like the pen clicking that may annoy the people around them. But like I talked to you before, how when I stopped doing it, I find that I get like if I have to sit for an interview, like I’m an author, sometimes I get interviewed for podcasts. I’m super tense. I like the end of, like, sitting there for a half hour trying to just hold my hands in my lap and not moving. So I guess maybe we should talk about, like, how it could be maybe redirected from something that’s not socially acceptable.

Lindsay Buroker [00:03:45] Is that possible to find like a new figet or new thing that you do that’s less annoying to other people?

Amy Voros [00:03:53] Definitely. I think a lot of it is very much something that you can consciously do some other ways of doing it.

Amy Voros [00:04:04] I think this is why I took copious notes in school and then never looked at them again. It was really just to help me focus. So sometimes no taking can do it. You know, doodling. I’ve heard lots of people spend time doodling. The big thing a couple of years ago was fidget spinners. And there was a very mixed opinion about them because some kids were, you know, taking them and playing them and doing all sorts of things that were kind of counter-productive with them. But for a lot of people with ADHD, finding something constructive and unobtrusive to do can really help you focus. I’ve been at, you know, full day meetings where in order for me to pay attention, I will get up and stand at the back of the room.

Amy Voros [00:04:54] And before too long, I’ve had a bunch of other people joining me, some of whom I know have ADHD and other people, probably not. But humans really aren’t meant to sit for full days. And so having some other physical outlets, you know, to focus and redirect your energy, I think is useful for any human, not just those with ADHD. But this is my favorite fidget. It’s small. It’s quiet. It fits in my pocket is basically a mesh tube with a marble in it. And so it doesn’t make any clicking noises and it doesn’t make any sound. I can certainly keep it unobtrusive. And I think that’s the biggest thing to focus on for adults is how do you and college students, even grade school and up is how to do something that gives you what you need but isn’t distracting from. The needs of the world around you. And so finding something that you can do. I’ve heard of people sticking like rocks in their shoes. And so that that’s something to play with, with their trust. I think that one would drive me nuts. But, you know, somebody I knew it worked great for, you know, and other people have found success in.

Amy Voros [00:06:18] You know, playing music in the background, when you’re doing something and matching your sound to what you’re doing.

Lindsay Buroker [00:06:28] Yeah, I’ve definitely found that when I’m I’ll go for walks, too, just when I have to think about, like a story or something and I’ll play music. That’s something that it’s like I’d not listen to the words necessarily, but some they you to the state of mind of like really productive thinking and figuring things out.

Lindsay Buroker [00:06:44] Obviously not everybody can do that if they’re stuck in an office. But for me,.

Amy Voros [00:06:49] I’ve learned that background gives it gives a. Often the challenge, if I have to listen to anything with words that will distract me from pretty much anything I’m doing or focusing on. So that’s definitely one of my last choices. Other than occasionally what not works.

Lindsay Buroker [00:07:10] I guess it’s a matter of experimenting a little bit, finding which it is fidget toys or whatever it might be, most, I don’t know. Just mesh with your style. I know with music I can’t do what I’m actually writing. It’s more of a thing that kind of helps me get into thinking mode. And I think walking to if you can. I don’t know something about that forward momentum sense has always helped me focus when it’s doable.

Amy Voros [00:07:34] There’s a lot to be said for using the vestibular stimulation, which is what a lot of them walking in balance and other pieces can do. There’s something about the way it engages the neurotransmitters and actually increases your serotonin and dopamine, especially if you tend to like those which a lot of people with ADHD have some sort of weird distribution’s of it in our brain, which is.

Amy Voros [00:08:02] Just means we need some different stuff, so walking meetings can be fabulous if you can set up your home zoom meetings currently where you can maybe have a standing desk or stand, you know, or put yourself on video. Turn off your video if you need to wander around and keep listening to the meeting. But the goal is to keep yourself engaged and not distracting others. But experimenting definitely takes some time.

Lindsay Buroker [00:08:30] Probably not going to want to have a wired headset if you’re going to be wandering around your house, too.

Amy Voros [00:08:36] I would advise against it. And generally it’s going to create some crashing and some other challenges and probably some swearing.

Lindsay Buroker [00:08:44] All right. So we wanted to keep this one kind of short. But I was reading a magazine article from Attitude magazine like ADD-Itude, and I thought I’d just share it with our listeners and get your thoughts on it, too.

Lindsay Buroker [00:08:56] About a paragraph here. I’ll read it. The article is called The Body Brain Connection How Fidgeting Sharpens Focus. So, you know, the part I picked out is an activity that uses a sense other than that required for the primary task. Listening to music while reading a social studies textbook can enhance performance in children’s ADHD. Doing two things at once, she found, focuses the brain on the primary task. Sydney’s until PHC of Purdue University calls the sensory motor activities distractions. We call them fidgets mindless activities you can do while working on a primary task. We’re not talking about wiggling in your seat. Fidgeting is more intentional. It’s pacing or doodling law on the phone or chewing gum while taking a test. Fidgeting must be deliberate to be effective. Intentional fidgets allow you and your child to self regulate ADHD symptoms in a controlled, constructive fashion. An effective fidget doesn’t distract you from your primary task because it’s something you don’t have to think about.

Lindsay Buroker [00:09:55] I love how these are always talking about children. The same goes I always say adults, right?

Amy Voros [00:10:01] Yeah. There’s a lot to be said for taking a lot of the advice that can be given for kids and translating into ourselves as adults. I think fidgeting can be more effective when done intentionally. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the assessment that fidgiting has to be conscious or chosen. It can probably be more effective if it’s chosen intentionally but yeah,  doing something that keeps you from being distracted from the primary task.

Amy Voros [00:10:32] Again, walking while having a conversation, listening to music while reading. Although part of that, again, just. Different senses for me apparently work differently than they did for some of these people. chewing gum while taking a test or trying to write a report.

Amy Voros [00:10:52] But there is a lot to be said for how do you engage enough senses to keep yourself primarily engaged and. I definitely agree that there’s a large proportion of the ADHD population that this is a great solution especially if you can, learn to leverage it intentionally.

Lindsay Buroker [00:11:15] I do wonder, too, if a lot of the mentions of music, part of that is just kind of drowned out all the other distractions that might be going on around you? I don’t know. I listen to music as a kid when I lived in my parents’ house, of course, you know, during studies, and it didn’t bother me. But I find that now that I’m by myself, I don’t have to necessarily turn on music unless it’s something I go for. If the dogs are like milling around or I can hear somebody with a weed whacker or something that drives me nuts and is distracting me, I don’t know. Just a thought.

Amy Voros [00:11:46] I think it really depends on the person and the situation. I can’t really use music to drown anything out.

Amy Voros [00:11:52] I can use that to sort of I’m like by our own beat, something that can help get my brain in sync. But for the most part, using music to drown out is just actually overloads my system versus enhancing it. So, again, more variations on genre volume. And, you know, even words versus non words, right?

Lindsay Buroker [00:12:18] I’ve certainly found that stuff without words. It’s less likely to distract. But yeah, it’s something people can experiment with sometimes if you’re typing or something you’re not. Remember to fidget spinners. Obvious thing that you do with your toes. I don’t know. I suppose you could.

Lindsay Buroker [00:12:34] You didn’t mention rocks in the shoes.

Amy Voros [00:12:36] That’s true. Although fidgit spinners with toes that seems like it would require some practice, some might actually defeat the purpose of it not taking too much mental energy.

Lindsay Buroker [00:12:50] Yeah, the whole point, I guess, is to find something that helps you focus and it becomes like a subconscious thing you’re doing by yourself doing it. I don’t know. It’s interesting how having something to do can actually help you focus. And I’ve found that to be true also.

Amy Voros [00:13:05] Yeah. So in one of our other discussions, you were asking me if, you know, multitasking can make an ADHD person more effective. And so this is a case where it certainly can. But, you know, there are other cases where I think it may be a diminishing return. And yet there are certainly cases where doing what you need to to keep your brain engaged makes you more productive. But again, it’s being aware of the level of intensity and the kind of energy and mental focus. I think one needs to do it.

Lindsay Buroker [00:13:38] Right. It seems like the things that you can do. Totally. I’ve got to say subconsciously. But it could be ungodly. It’s almost like walking. We can all walk without. Unless you’re, you know, mountain climbing over boulders or something without putting thought into it. But I’m weird. You kind of mentioned the toys. Did you have anything else you want to say on this topic before we wrap up?

Amy Voros [00:13:59] [00:13:59]You know, today, I don’t think I do. I will try and drop some links of ones I like in to the comments and my blog posts when I put that together. But if you search Amazon for fidgit toys, [15.1s] you got thousands upon thousands of links and options. And, you know, it can actually almost be a rabbit hole in and up itself. Look at all of the fun options and go. I want that one. That one looks shiny. But that being said, there are lots of ways. Anything from just having. A coin in your hand and playing with it, too. You know, the newest, fanciest vibrating, Any number of ways that you can find outside stimulation.

Lindsay Buroker [00:14:49] Hurray! Cool. And people can find [00:14:51]you [0.5s] because you do coaching and stuff, too.

Amy Voros [00:14:56] I do do coaching. And so I often spend a certain amount of energy helping people sort of become aware and devise their own strategies or, you know, something like this. You know, what could you do in a meeting when you’re going to be there all day and, you know, keep yourself focused to, you know, bigger, you know, where do you want to go with your life? And, you know, I work with sort of off micro and macro.

Lindsay Buroker [00:15:24] All right, cool. Thanks for listening, everyone, and checking us out. And good talking to you, Amy. Bye bye.

Amy Voros [00:15:28] Good to see you, Lindsay. Take our.


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