Unlocking The Mystery Of Fidgeting: Could It Be A Symptom Of Anxiety?

Fidgeting is a common behavior among people of all ages. It can be anything from tapping your feet, clicking a pen, or twiddling your thumbs. Many times, fidgeting is seen as an indicator that someone is anxious or nervous about something. This article will explore the connection between fidgeting and anxiety to help you better understand this behavior.

We’ll look at why some people feel the need to fidget when they’re feeling anxious, as well as strategies for managing anxiety-related fidgeting behaviors. With this information in hand, you’ll be able to better recognize and address symptoms of anxiety in yourself or a loved one.   

What Is Fidgeting?

Fidgeting is a phenomenon that most people experience, usually without realizing it. It’s a kind of nervous energy or stress reliever that often shows up in the form of tapping fingers and feet, twirling hair, doodling, and other unconsciously repetitive movements. 

Is fidgeting a sign of anxiety

Some experts believe that fidgeting is an evolutionary survival mechanism – it allows us to keep our minds and bodies active even when we’re not in danger. The idea is that if you were ever faced with an emergency situation, your body would be better prepared to respond if you’ve been keeping your muscles active. 

The scientific evidence for this notion is still inconclusive; however, there are numerous studies that suggest that fidgeting can provide benefits in terms of focus and concentration. For example, one study found that when students were allowed to fidget during lectures they remembered significantly more information than those who weren’t allowed to move at all. This suggests that allowing yourself to fidget may help improve your ability to focus on tasks over extended periods of time. 

At the same time, it’s important to note that too much fidgeting can be distracting and disruptive for both yourself and those around you. If you find your fidgeting becoming excessive or disruptive it might be helpful to find alternative ways to relieve stress such as going for a walk or doing some light stretching exercises. 

Overall, fidgeting can be beneficial in terms of helping relieve stress and improving mental performance – just make sure not to let it get out of hand!

Is Fidgeting A Sign Of Anxiety?

Fidgeting is often associated with anxiety, and for good reason. Many people report feeling the urge to fidget when they are stressed or anxious about something. Research suggests that this behavior is a form of self-soothing – it helps you take your mind off the source of the stress or anxiety and focus on something more manageable like tapping your foot or twiddling your thumbs.

It’s also been shown to help reduce physiological markers of stress like muscle tension and heart rate.

In addition, some studies have found that individuals who suffer from clinical levels of anxiety are more likely to engage in excessive fidgeting than those who don’t experience anxiety. This suggests that fidgeting can be a sign of underlying mental health issues such as anxiety disorders.

There are also some theories that link fidgeting to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is because people with ADHD often find themselves unable to focus on tasks for extended periods of time, which may lead them to fidget in order to keep their minds active and alert. While this idea has yet to be thoroughly tested, it could explain why some individuals experience excessive fidgeting even when they’re not feeling anxious or stressed.

Overall, it appears that fidgeting can be a sign of anxiety – and possibly other underlying mental health issues – in certain individuals. It’s important to note, however, that everyone experiences stress differently; so just because someone fidgets doesn’t necessarily mean they are experiencing a mental health issue. If you’re concerned about your own fidgeting, it’s best to talk with a doctor or mental health professional for further guidance.​

Sign And Symptoms Of Fidgeting Caused By Anxiety

If you experience bouts of fidgeting when feeling anxious, it’s likely that this is a sign of an underlying mental health issue such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common signs and symptoms of anxiety-induced fidgeting include:

  • The constant tapping of fingers, feet, and other body parts.
  • Restless pacing or walking.
  • Fiddling with objects such as coins, keys, and pens.
  • Biting nails, lips, and other areas of the body.
  • Tension or tightness in the muscles.
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks.

If you notice these signs and symptoms occurring frequently when feeling anxious, it’s important to speak with a doctor or mental health professional for further guidance. They can help you determine if anxiety is the cause of your fidgeting and provide appropriate treatment options to help reduce stress levels and improve your overall well-being.

7 Types Of Fidgeting Behavior

Fidgeting can come in many different forms, and it’s important to be aware of the different types of fidgeting behaviors. Some common examples include:

  1. Tapping your feet is a common fidgeting behavior that can be seen in both adults and children. It often happens as a result of nervousness, boredom, or excess energy. It can also be used as a way to focus on an activity, help maintain alertness, or combat fatigue. 
  2. Drumming your fingers is another type of fidgeting commonly seen in adults and children alike. It’s believed to help people relieve stress and anxiety, stay focused during tedious tasks, and even increase creativity. People may also use this motion subconsciously when wanting to express themselves creatively or socially. 
  3. Tapping a pencil is another common form of fidgeting that is usually done by students in school settings. This behavior can signify various emotions such as boredom or excitement. It has been proven to help people stay focused on their work while helping reduce feelings of restlessness and anxiety. 
  4. Shifting in your seat is often seen as an attempt to find more comfortable positions when sitting for long periods of time or during a period of restlessness. People often do this unconsciously when they are feeling overwhelmed with thoughts or emotions too difficult to process. This movement is known to help people gain control over the situation they are in and re-focus their attention on the task at hand. 
  5. Blinking your eyes excessively is considered a sign of distress among many cultures and societies because it usually indicates emotional turmoil such as stress, fear, or sadness. Excess blinking can also be used to avoid eye contact if someone feels uncomfortable speaking about specific topics with someone else present in the room. 
  6. Adjusting your position can happen for many reasons; for instance, if you’re feeling uncomfortable during an awkward conversation or need readjustment from sitting in one place for too long, you may adjust your position accordingly without even realizing it yourself! This motion helps release some tension that accumulates when we’re stuck in one place for too long and helps us regain focus on the task at hand quickly afterward. 
  7. Crossing and uncrossing your legs tends to be associated with trying to create extra space between two people who feel uncomfortable with each other’s presence; however, it can also simply be an unconscious habit people do when they feel overwhelmed with ideas flying around their head while trying hard to concentrate on something else instead!

4 Common Causes Of Fidgeting Behavior

Fidgeting is a common behavior that many people experience on a regular basis. While it can be indicative of an underlying mental health issue in some individuals, it can also simply be due to boredom, restlessness, or excess energy. It’s important to understand the potential causes behind fidgeting behaviors in order to better assess any associated mental health concerns.

1. Anxiety:

Fidgeting can be a direct result of anxiety, either due to external stimuli or internal stressors. Anxiety-induced fidgeting typically involves movement that serves as a distraction from the underlying thoughts and feelings causing distress.

Examples include tapping your feet, drumming your fingers, and playing with objects. This type of behavior also helps dissipate some of the energy produced during anxious episodes which can help bring about a feeling of relief. It can manifest in the following ways:

  • Rapid breathing or sighing.
  • Nail biting or picking.
  • Clenching of jaws and fists.
  • Drumming fingers on desk or table.
  • Fidgeting with objects in your pocket/bag.

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

Fidgeting is often seen in individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Those diagnosed with ADHD have difficulty staying focused on tasks at hand due to an inability to control their impulses, restlessness, and hyperactive behaviors. As a result, they often find themselves fidgeting to help redirect their attention or to release some of the excess energy that builds up when concentrating.

Common ways it may show up as:

  • Inability to control impulses.
  • Restlessness.
  • Hyperactive behaviors.
  • Redirecting attention.
  • Releasing excess energy when concentrating.

3. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS):

Fidgeting can also be a symptom of Restless Leg Syndrome, which is a neurological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move one’s legs. It is often accompanied by sensations such as pins and needles, tingling, or even pain in the affected area.

This urge to move the legs can be so strong that it interferes with daily activities, such as sleeping or working and can cause an individual to experience difficulty concentrating due to the constant need for movement. Here is how RLS may manifest:

  • Uncontrollable urge to move legs.
  • Uncomfortable sensations/pain when sitting for too long.
  • Fidgeting as a way to relieve symptoms.
  • The constant movement of legs and feet.
  • Difficulty sleeping due to restless leg movements.

Humans do different things to beat boredom

4. Boredom:

Sometimes, fidgeting can simply be a result of being bored or having too much energy. When people become bored and lack stimulation, they may start to move their legs, tap their feet, or twirl objects in their hands as a way to occupy themselves. This type of behavior is often harmless and mostly serves as a distraction from boredom. It may show up as:

  • Moving legs and feet
  • Twirling objects in hands
  • Tapping/drumming fingers on surfaces
  • Fidgeting with objects as a way to occupy oneself.

Can’t Stop Fidgeting Anxiety

Fidgeting when you’re feeling anxious is a common experience and it’s your body’s way of trying to cope with the stress. The increased levels of stress hormones that your body releases in these situations send signals to your muscles. Which in turn causes them to tense up and prepare for sudden exertion – which explains why you can’t seem to stop fidgeting.

It’s important to remember that this is a normal reaction and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. In fact, fidgeting can actually be beneficial because it helps redirect your energy away from worrying thoughts and into physical activity, which can help reduce stress levels. 

Of course, if the anxiety becomes too much or if fidgeting is disrupting other areas of your life then seeking professional help might be the best option for you. There are several methods available for managing anxiety (such as cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based practices) and these can help you better understand the triggers behind your anxieties as well as learn how to manage them in healthier ways.

Is Anxiety Fidgeting Related To Psychomotor Agitation

Psychomotor agitation is a type of restlessness that involves repeated, purposeless physical behaviors such as pacing, rocking, hand-wringing, or even physically hitting oneself. It is most often seen in those experiencing severe anxiety or depression and can be triggered by an inability to express one’s feelings or thoughts through words.

It can also be an expression of distress or a coping mechanism for handling challenging emotions.

When it comes to anxiety fidgeting, there is a close relationship between psychomotor agitation and this behavior. Anxiety fidgeting often has a repetitive component and serves as an outlet for nervous energy that the person may have difficulty controlling otherwise.

For example, someone might be feeling anxious and begin pacing around a room or tapping their fingers on a desk. In this way, fidgeting helps to release excess energy and provides a physical distraction from anxiety.

At the same time, psychomotor agitation can also represent an inability to effectively cope with one’s emotions in more productive ways. For example, a person might be feeling overwhelmed but instead of talking to someone or finding a more constructive outlet for the emotions, they turn to physical agitation as a way of avoiding their feelings.

So while anxiety fidgeting and psychomotor agitation are different behaviors, they do stem from similar sources and can serve related functions. Recognizing this relationship can be helpful in understanding why people might act out these behaviors and how best to address them.

If a person is engaging in anxiety fidgeting or psychomotor agitation, it’s important to provide support, outlets for expression and coping mechanisms that can help the individual better manage their emotions.

Anxiety Fidgeting: A Coping Mechanism

Fidgeting is an often overlooked coping mechanism that can be used to help manage anxiety. By engaging in small movements or activities, the body is able to redirect its focus and energy away from worrying thoughts and towards physical activity. This distraction can provide a much-needed break from feeling overwhelmed, allowing the individual to take a step back and gain some perspective.

By understanding both the practical and playful aspects of fidgeting, we can better understand how to use this behavior as an effective tool in managing anxiety. Let’s explore this further!

  • Managing Stress and Anxiety: Fidgeting is one way that people are able to manage their stress and anxiety when they feel overwhelmed or uncertain. It gives them an outlet for their excess energy, allowing them to focus on something physical rather than worrying about a particular situation. Fidgeting can provide both physical and mental relief, giving the person an activity to keep themselves occupied with until their emotions have settled down.
  • Creating an Outlet for Expression: For some people, fidgeting can be a way of expressing themselves without actually speaking out loud. It allows them to express their inner feelings in a more tangible way that can be easier to control than verbal communication. This helps them release any built-up tension or anxiety without making them feel exposed or vulnerable.
  • Providing Distraction: Fidgeting can also provide a distraction from troubling thoughts and help refocus the person’s attention on something else. By engaging in an activity, they are able to redirect their energy away from worrying thoughts and into physical action, which can help reduce stress levels.

Practicing Anxiety Fidgeting in Everyday Life

Now that we have covered some of the possible benefits associated with anxiety fidgeting, let’s explore different methods for incorporating this into your everyday life. Here are some tips:  

  • Make sure to take frequent breaks during the day. This can give your mind and body a break from worrying thoughts and help alleviate some of the stress that has built up over time.
  • Try out different types of fidgeting tools such as a stress ball or kinetic sand. These objects can provide an interesting distraction while helping you to focus on more soothing tasks.
  • If doodling is something that interests you, try taking a sketchbook with you wherever you go! Having something to visually express yourself with can be an excellent way to manage anxiety in moments of overwhelm.
  • Make use of aromatherapy and essential oils when engaging in anxiety-fidgeting activities. The fragrances associated with these products can be especially helpful in calming the mind and easing tense feelings.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed! Talking to a trusted friend or family member can provide much-needed support during times of stress and anxiety.

By incorporating these strategies into your daily life, you may find that fidgeting is an effective coping mechanism for managing anxiety.

In addition to this practical use of fidgeting, it’s important to note that it can also be fun!

It may seem counter-intuitive, but research has shown that people who fidget more are actually less likely to become stressed out. Whether it’s tapping a pen, doodling on paper, or playing with a stress ball, there are countless ways to use fidgeting as a coping mechanism for anxiety.

Fidgeting can serve as a coping mechanism

Do Fidgeting Toys Help In Reducing Anxiety

Fidgeting toys are objects designed to provide tactile stimulation or stress relief. They are typically small and handheld and can help people concentrate better, reduce anxiety, or relieve boredom. Examples of fidgeting toys include spinners, cubes, stretchy cords, and other similar items.

Effects on the Brain:

Fidgeting toys are often used to help reduce anxiety. When a person is feeling anxious or overwhelmed, playing with a fidget toy can help them cope and relax. Research has found that when people use fidget toys, they activate parts of their brain related to concentration, focus, and problem-solving.

It also helps increase dopamine levels in the brain, which helps reduce stress and improve mood. This can lead to improved focus and decreased feelings of anxiety in the long run.

Providing an Outlet for Stressful Thoughts:

The act of fidgeting can be beneficial for reducing anxiety because it provides an outlet for stressful thoughts. Focusing on the physical action of manipulating the toy, takes away from worrying about whatever is causing anxiousness and redirects attention elsewhere.

It serves as a distraction from anxious thoughts while also allowing the person to engage their mind in something more productive than dwelling on their worries.

Physical Benefits:

Playing with a fidget toy can also have physical benefits for those suffering from anxiety. The repetitive motion involved with manipulating the object can help to create a sense of calm by stimulating nerve endings in the hands and fingers. This releases endorphins into the body and produces a calming effect throughout.

Also, this kind of stimulation encourages blood flow throughout the body which helps reduce muscle tension that may come with feelings of stress or worry.

5 Simple Ways To Manage Fidgeting Caused By Anxiety

While fidgeting may seem like an insignificant habit, the way we fidget can have a huge impact on how we handle our emotions and cope with stress. Here are some tips for managing fidgeting caused by anxiety:

  1. Identifying Your Triggers: The first step to managing fidgeting caused by anxiety is to identify what triggers it. This can be anything from a certain situation or environment, to certain thoughts or feelings. Once you have identified your triggers, you can then work on finding strategies for dealing with them in a healthier way.
  2. Redirecting Fidgety Habits: Once you have identified your triggers, the next step is to redirect any fidgety habits into productive behaviors. For example, if you tend to tap your foot when feeling anxious, why not try jogging around the block instead? Or if you’re constantly checking your phone when feeling overwhelmed, make a conscious effort to leave it in another room. By redirecting these habits, you can give yourself an outlet for the nervous energy and help ease your anxiety.
  3. Mindful Breathing Exercises: Another way of managing fidgeting caused by anxiety is to practice mindful breathing exercises. Mindful breathing helps bring awareness to your body and breath, allowing you to focus on the present moment and release any built-up tension or stress. Taking a few minutes each day to practice these techniques can make a huge difference in how you respond to stressful situations.
  4. Focusing On Positive Affirmations: Finally, focusing on positive affirmations can be an effective strategy for dealing with anxiety-induced fidgeting. Whenever you catch yourself fidgeting, take a few moments to focus on positive affirmations. This could be as simple as repeating phrases such as “I am capable” or “I can handle this”. These types of affirmations can help to reframe your thoughts and give you the confidence to keep going.
  5. Have patience with yourself: Remember that managing anxious energy is not something that happens overnight – it takes time and practice! Be gentle with yourself and understand that it’s okay to make mistakes.

By engaging in these strategies, you can slowly but surely reduce the amount of anxiety-induced fidgeting you experience each day. Remember that it is okay to feel anxious at times, but by using these techniques, you can learn how to better manage your emotions and find peace in the present moment. 

4 Ways To Treat Fidgeting Caused By ADHD And RLS

For those with ADHD or RLS, there are also a number of treatments that can help reduce the amount of fidgeting experienced. Some of these include:

  • Medication: Stimulant medications such as Adderall and Concerta have been shown to be effective in controlling impulsivity and hyperactivity associated with ADHD. For those with RLS, medication such as Mirapex and Requip may be prescribed.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity has been linked to improved focus and concentration, which can help reduce fidgeting in those with ADHD. There are also specific exercises that can be done to target restless legs syndrome (RLS). These include stretching, yoga, tai chi, and massage therapy. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of psychotherapy used to help people better understand and manage their thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown that it can be effective in reducing the symptoms of ADHD and RLS, which may include fidgeting.
  • Diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and healthy fats can also help reduce fidgeting. Avoiding processed foods or sugary snacks is also recommended as they can contribute to hyperactivity.

By utilizing these treatments, those with ADHD or RLS can learn how to better manage their symptoms and lead healthier lives.


Fidgeting can be a sign of anxiety for many people. It is important to recognize the different ways that anxiety can manifest and to find strategies for managing anxious energy.

This can include redirecting habits towards more positive behaviors, practicing mindful breathing exercises, and focusing on positive affirmations. With patience and dedication to these techniques, it is possible to reduce the amount of fidgeting caused by anxiety.


Reinecke, K.C.H., Dvoretska, D., Joraschky, P. et al. Fidgeting Behavior During Psychotherapy: Hand Movement Structure Contains Information About Depressive Symptoms. J Contemp Psychother 50, 323–329 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10879-020-09465-5

Dempsey-Jones, H. (2017, May 24). The surprising science of fidgeting. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-surprising-science-of-fidgeting-77525

Leave a reply