The Fidget Factor
Like a racing mind, your body may feel like it is always in high gear. For example, are you a person who taps a spoon throughout meal times, or whose body seems always on the go? If yes, then you may have excess physical or mental energy that reveals itself through fidgeting. Some people just seem to be more “fidgety” than others; fidgeting can be a relatively positive way of dissipating excess energy or tension.
However, excessive fidgeting can become an issue if it becomes disruptive in some way. Your fidgeting may be a problem if your actions undermine your ability to effectively communicate or interact with others. Fidgeting is one of the most common non-verbal behaviors that others use to judge you, especially in the workplace. Are you creating noise and distraction in an otherwise quiet atmosphere? You might get labeled “rude.” If you fidget during a job interview, you might project nervousness, untruthfulness, or lack of self-control—even when none of these things are true. When you fidget during conversations with a co-workers or friends, they might read your body language as a sign of boredom, disinterest, or disrespect, and become angry with you.
If you suspect that excessive fidgeting has caused you problems, the first step is to pay attention to your own behavior: how often is your fidgeting noticeable? Does your fidgeting help or hinder your attention or concentration? Does your fidgeting bother others? When you catch yourself fidgeting, try to notice how you are feeling: is it merely a physical feeling of “antsy-ness” or are you stressed or troubled about a particular issue? Excessive fidgeting can develop from simple “bad habits,” or for some people, it might be part of a general cluster of symptoms of an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disability or an indicator of some other medical issue. Your medical provider can help you sort out possible causes and recommend positive steps to take.
To become more aware of all the different ways that fidgeting appears in your everyday life, use the following chart to examine your “fidget factor.” Check any item that describes you.
Self-Check: The Fidget Factor
___ 1. I shake my foot (and leg) often.
___ 2. I feel antsy or jittery if I sit too long.
___ 3. I chew gum, eat mints, and chomp on pencils a lot during the day.
___ 4. I whistle and/or hum more than most people.
___ 5. I drum my fingers, or tap with dining utensils, pencils, or other objects while dining or conversing.
___ 6. I jiggle coins or swing objects such as my keys during conversations or when waiting.
___ 7. I walk quickly, although it is often not necessary.
If you experience more than a few of these behaviors, review or ask others about the effects of your fidgeting. Ask, “Is my fidgeting a distraction to you?” You may be surprised at their reactions. For example, one professional talked with his sister after a family function that didn’t seem to go very well. She replied, “David, of course it’s distracting! I’m talking to you and you’re leaning and rocking on the dining room chair or banging your spoon on the table—while at the same time, you’re sniping at your son to stop playing with the salt shaker! It’s rude and inconsiderate!” David was shocked to hear that his family thought he wasn’t listening to them respectfully.
10 Ways to Manage Your Fidgets
1. If you are dealing with the fidget factor, plan ways that you will try to better manage your fidgeting:
2. Observe and note the times or conditions that seem to exacerbate fidgeting. Is it only at work? More likely in the late afternoon? A reaction to stress?
3. Get regular exercise to rid yourself of some excess energy.
4. Reduce caffeine intake.
5. Fold or sit on your hands, fold your legs, or cross your feet to quiet them for a time.
6. Stand during some portion of a lengthy meeting.
7. Take a mini-break to refocus your attention.
8. Replace an annoying behavior such as tapping a cup with a spoon with something less noticeable, like tapping your fingers on your thigh.
9. Consider replacing your desk chair with a large exercise ball to expend excess muscle energy while you sit, or ask your employer about providing a standing-desk or treadmill desk as an office option.
10. Listen to others if they ask you to stop.
Visit a medical or mental health professional if fidgeting consistently interferes with your or other’s attention or concentration.
Excessive fidgeting can negatively affect your performance at work or in social situations. Understanding your body language and how it affects your life can lead you to more constructive ways to relieve excess energy and tension. Whether your fidgeting is a habit or an aspect of a condition or disability, you can learn to exert greater control over your actions.