Maybe you can’t help but tap your foot every time you’re sitting down, whether you’re at work, in a classroom, or in the passenger seat of someone’s car. Or perhaps you’re constantly biting your nails. You might have a habit of picking at your skin when you feel anxious, or tugging at your hair. Sometimes, you find these behaviors frustrating, especially when you can tell that other people notice. Yet you don’t think you could really stop, even if you tried.
But behaviors like these might not just be meaningless tendencies. They could be symptoms of ADHD known as “stimming.” Let’s explore what stimming really is, what it can look like in action, and how it can be managed.
What Is ADHD Stimming?
Stimming can refer to a wide range of behaviors for people with ADHD. It’s the unconscious repetition of certain movements. For people with ADHD, stimming generally falls into one of four broad categories: visual, verbal, and auditory, tactile, or vestibular, also known as “balance-based.”
Common stimming behaviors can include humming, shifting in your seat, pulling or twisting your hair, grinding your teeth, biting your lip, or pacing. Not everyone with ADHD experiences stimming, nor do they display the same stimming behaviors. Stimming can also vary in severity from one person with ADHD to another.
Why Do People with ADHD Stim?
People with ADHD engage in stimming for a variety of reasons. While there is debate about the root cause of stimming, there are a few potential causes. Someone might stim because it helps them to self-soothe when they are feeling anxious.
Alternatively, an individual might engage in stimming because the physical movement allows them to release excess energy or tension. It can provide relief, especially for someone who is in a situation where they feel restless. Children with ADHD can be particularly prone to stemming.
The Difference Between Fidgeting and Stimming
What makes stimming different from fidgeting? After all, doesn’t everybody fidget once in a while? However, fidgeting is typically a temporary behavior. Someone might fidget now and then because they’re bored, physically uncomfortable, or nervous. On the other hand, people with ADHD might stim very frequently. Their stimming is often more severe and intense than run-of-the-mill fidgeting.
When Is Stimming a Problem?
There are times when stimming is essentially indistinguishable from fidgeting. But for many people with ADHD, stimming interferes with their daily functioning. Someone who has trouble with verbal stimming might have difficulty paying attention at work or in school, and they might distract people around them from their own tasks.
Alternatively, someone who bites their nails or picks at their skin might cause themselves physical pain while stimming. An individual who frequently rocks or shifts in their seat could have issues concentrating simply because they can’t sit still.
How to Cope with Disruptive Stimming
Clearly, stimming is not always a harmless habit for people with ADHD. But there are ways to keep these behaviors under control. First, it’s a good idea to start working with a therapist. The right therapist can help you figure out if certain environments or circumstances trigger your stimming behaviors.
They can assist you with behavior modification and help you find healthier ways of releasing pent-up energy so that you don’t automatically start stimming. Finally, if none of these methods are helpful for you, a therapist might recommend taking medication to manage your symptoms and reduce the severity of your stimming.
Do you struggle with stimming as a symptom of ADHD? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.