Hello, my name’s Mary and I’m a fidgeter.
I admit it. And it drives me crazy. Over the past few years I’ve been on quite a journey with myself, but one of the most prominent issues I still deal with is fidgeting.
It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid memory of sitting in Maths, aged 11, and my (really mean) teacher saying, ‘Mary, if you stopped biting your nails for two seconds you might actually understand some basic subtraction.’ I’m still not very good at maths.
Throughout the years, nail biting prevailed and other little habits crept in. I started picking at imperfections on my skin, twisting my rings and grinding my teeth. But these are just the stereotypical fidgeting symptoms. I also scroll through Facebook, not even looking, just moving my fingers up and down the screen. When I’m standing and having a conversation I will scratch my back and play with the skin between my shoulder blades. It’s incessant and it’s messing with my sense of wellbeing.
So I decided to tackle it. I began by writing a list of situations when I find myself fidgeting the most, and why I think I do it. I found this a really helpful tool in self-understanding, and maybe you will too. Remember that my fidgeting isn’t necessarily the definition; you might do other things like eating when you’re not hungry, pulling at your eyebrows or twisting your hair. Anxiety manifests itself in a lot of different and unique ways!
Situations When I Fidget:
This doesn’t only apply to being out with friends, but also during conversations at work, whilst on the phone or any other situation where I’m having a discussion. I can sense that I don’t feel relaxed, I’m tense, and I’m letting it out by picking, biting and twisting. The sensation of looking someone in the eye and sitting completely still feels uncomfortable, so I do something else. Perhaps to look ‘busy’, or to distract myself from thinking about how I appear or about the appropriateness of my eye contact.
- ‘Awkward’ Situations
I say ‘awkward’ because it’s subjective. What I find awkward may be vastly different to what you find awkward. I know I’m finding something awkward when I can feel a tension in the air (be that real or imagined) and it makes me uncomfortable. For example, I find waiting awkward. If I’m standing outside a caffe waiting for a friend, I feel like I need something to do so I don’t look strange. I think this is really common actually; it’s very rare to see someone standing stock-still outside a shop. That’s when the phones come out. It doesn’t feel right to do nothing. But that’s wrong – it’s certainly not mindful – and besides, what did people do before phones and social media and other available distractions?!
- Watching TV
This is actually contradictory to the reasoning I’ve used above. When I’m watching a film or programme, even if I absolutely love it, I can’t sit still and get into it. But no one is watching me, I’m not under any pressure. So why do I still fidget? This took me a while to mull over, but I eventually figured that the fidgety anxieties of my interactions during the day are spilling over into my evenings, into my alone time. I give myself no time to be still when I am in public, so it stands to reason that it wouldn’t be simple to switch to a calm and peaceful persona at home.
So now I’d had a chat with myself and sort of figured out why I was doing the things I was doing. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was absolutely stemming from a place of anxiety and social awkwardness. I’m a vibrant and loud person who isn’t afraid to express my views, but was this confidence coming at a cost? Was I masking a secret introvert under this persona?
The answer, I think, is sort of. I know I’m naturally loud and creative and wild, but I also know that I feel pressure and restlessness in social situations. It’s like the real me is hindered by an awkwardness, and fidgeting is a way of keeping that awkwardness at bay and setting my personality free. Almost as though I’m not quite comfortable in my own skin, at being the real, uninhibited me.
So now for the solution. The absolute goal is obviously not to fidget and to be totally calm, still and comfortable in any situation. This is also quite a big ask. Let’s not be hard on ourselves and run before we can walk. Firstly, I think, it’s important to look at some healthier fidgeting habits that don’t involve playing with and often damaging our beautiful bodies.
I use this as a substitute for scrolling. Scrolling is my absolute, 100% least favourite habit. It’s mind numbing, it’s completely unproductive and we can often find ourselves seeing other people’s ‘perfect’ lives/nasty comments/boring diet dinners. It’s the perfect recipe for feeling inadequate and anxious. Colouring, on the other hand, is simple and mindful, and doesn’t overload your brain with loads of information that you really don’t want or need. I bought The Mindfulness Colouring Book and, at the suggestion of a colleague, I use it whilst in front of the TV if I don’t feel I can concentrate solely on what I’m watching.
Once I thought about this, it was actually really obvious. Every 30 minutes, when I feel myself getting restless, I stand up and take a wander. Be it around my apartment, to the sink to do some washing up, or to the shop. It works, and for a good reason. You’re not sitting and bottling up your energy, you’re expelling it into an activity. So you can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing and feel a bit calmer. I do this at work a lot.
- Fidget Spinners
This is quite a controversial one. I found the popularity of fidget spinners so irritating at first, but after some thought I’ve come to appreciate that it’s actually quite a nice thing for kids to be into. It isn’t damaging, it’s cheap and it’s helping a lot of children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. It isn’t too good for stopping those rapid, flicky movements that us fidgeters are all too familiar with, but it’s better than harmful behaviours. There are other little fidgety gadgets too, which are more adult-directed, like the Fidget Cube.
OK, we’ve got a few ideas of things to help us in the interim. You can get going with these little changes whilst you practice the longer-term solutions directed at making you feel calmer and less itchy overall.
- Caffeine Reduction
This is a big’un. I recently reduced my caffeine intake and I promise you, it makes a difference. Caffeine makes you buzz, it’s a stimulant, and it’s stimulating those fidget urges too. Try having a little less coffee/tea/coke each day and see how you feel.
- Sugar Reduction
Ever heard a parent screech, ‘don’t give him sweets, it’s nearly bedtime!’? Well, there’s a reason. That parent is not excited about the prospect of staying up all night with a hyperactive child. Sugar tastes good. But it’s also a stimulant, just like coffee. Even if you don’t feel like you eat too much, have a look at the content in some of the foods you eat. You might be surprised.
Similar to the suggestion to move during still periods above, putting in some regular exercise should really reap the benefits. You’re using some of your stocked up energy and exercise causes the release of endorphins, bringing your anxiety down. And if you’re not a cardio fan…
- Yoga and Mindfulness
My two favourite things 😉 yoga is great because it’s slow, it’s calming and basically anyone can do it. I love it for all these reasons, but also because I’m not a fan of heavy exercising, and cardio is not my friend. Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the present moment, which is something we fidgeters often forget to do. I notice I fidget a lot when I’m thinking of things I should have done or need to do. With practice, mindfulness teaches you to ignore both past and future, and just be here, right now. If you don’t know where to start, have a look at my five favourite mindfulness YouTube videos, they’re all fantastic (if I do say so myself ;)).
So there we have it. My battle with fidgeting is far from over, but I am practicing some healthier fidgets whilst I carefully set myself up with some longer-term changes. All of these changes can help fidgeting, but they also do wonders for your overall anxiety levels and sense of wellbeing. Treat yourself kindly, give yourself a break and set aside a little time for your own self-development once in a while. You’ll thank yourself later.
Give some of these a go and tell me how you get on. And if you have any nifty tricks that you use to put your fidgeting at bay please let me know in the comments! 🙂