Do you have the urge to start fidgeting anytime you get nervous, anxious or stressed out? Whenever you're in a tense situation, your hands and feet seem to develop a mind of their own and you just can't seem to sit still no matter how awkward or uncomfortable you appear.
You're not alone. Millions of people have the same habit, and like you, are constantly trying to figure out how to stop fidgeting.
Why Do People Fidget?
Fidgeting is the act of making small gestures or movements with your body, often times without even realizing it. Most people fidget because they're uncomfortable, stressed or anxious about a situation.
Aside from nervousness, stress and anxiety, people also fidget because they're bored or having difficulty focusing. One study suggested that fidgeting is a sign that your mind is wandering. This is often the case for children. In fact, fidgeting is actually more common in children than adults.
Unfortunately, fidgeting has a negative connotation because it suggests that you're nervous and can be an outward sign of your anxiety. And the last thing you want when you have anxiety is for everyone around you to know about it.
Benefits of Fidgeting
Fidgeting isn't all bad. While you may want to stop fidgeting, science suggests that there are some benefits to it.
- Makes you smarter: As counterproductive as it may seem, fidgeting may actually help you better retain information. At least according to this study. Researchers found that children who fidget with their hands in class learned more quickly than those who didn't.
- Faster metabolism: What if fidgeting could help you burn more calories? Well, a study from Mayo Clinic found that people who fidgeted throughout the day burned an extra 350 calories!
- Improved focus: There's a concept called the cognitive load hypothesis. It suggests that when we're faced with complex problems or critical thinking, physical movements (fidgeting) allows us to free up some of our mental resources to devote more of our mind to the problem at hand.
- Increase blood flow: If you spend a majority of your day sitting in a stationary position (i.e. working a desk job) you're likely doing a lot of damage to your arteries without even realizing it. Being sedentary for long periods of time reduces blood flow to your arteries since your body is inactive. But one study suggests fidgeting can help reverse the effects. Researchers had people sit for three hours with one leg stationary and the other fidgeting. The fidgeting leg had significantly less blood flow reduction than the stationary one.
- Lower risk of death: By now, you're likely aware that sitting all day increases your chances of death due to heart disease. In addition to exercise and eating healthy, one way to lower your risk of death from prolonged sitting is to fidget. According to this study, there's an increased risk of dying from sitting seven or more hours per day only for people who were categorized as "low fidgeters." On the flip side, people who fidgeted weren't at an increased risk of dying.
Despite all of these benefits, the reality is fidgeting can still be very awkward, disruptive and embarrassing at times.
The inability to sit still during a meeting, date, job interview or other potentially stressful situations can be awkward and even limit your personal and professional life. The last thing you want is to be looked over for a new job because the interviewer feels you're unable to be calm under pressure.
So with that said, what can you do to stop fidgeting once and for all?
How to Stop Fidgeting
Here are five simple tips to stop fidgeting:
1. Fold Your Hands
If you tend to fidget with your hands, one of the best things you can do is to fold your hands.
Some people will suggest that you cross your arms or ball up your hands, but that is very intimidating and off-putting body language. Folding your hands however, makes you seem less aggressive and closed off, and more attentive.
This is a great way to stop fidgeting in professional environments like a meeting or job interview, because folding your hands is casual enough to not make it seem like you're being overly-formal, but more professional than shoving your hands in your pockets or fidgeting.
If you're standing, you can fold your hands and hold them around your torso area. Take a look at Ally's posture while speaking in our video about social anxiety. By simply folding her hands she looks relaxed, calm and confident.
2. Avoid Sugar and Caffeine
If you tend to get hyperactive and filled with energy when you're nervous or anxious, you probably start to fidget as a result. That's why one of the worst things fidgeters can do is consume high amounts of coffee or sugar.
There's a reason millions of Americans rely on coffee to have enough energy to make it throughout the day. It's meant to be a stimulant and energy booster. While that might help you sometimes when you're just trying to get through a day, it can really kick your fidgeting habit into overdrive.
For most people, you probably won't want to quit coffee or sugar cold turkey, because you'll open yourself up to a wide range of withdrawal symptoms. But for days when you know you're going to be doing something you're stressed or anxious about, minimize your consumption.
So how much is too much? Well, the general consensus is that 400mg of caffeine (about four cups a day) is enough for the average person.
3. The Rubber Band Technique
One of the oldest "hacks" to break habits like smoking, nail biting or fidgeting is the rubber band method. Here's how it works:
- Put a rubber band loosely around your wrist. You don't want it to be skin tight.
- Whenever you start to fidget, snap the rubber band on your wrist.
- Over time, you'll start to associate the discomfort of the rubber band with fidgeting and hopefully correct the behavior.
On average, it takes around 18-30 days to develop or break a habit. So don't expect to stop fidgeting after using the rubber band method after a day or even a week. You need to be consistent, and over time you'll train your brand to stop fidgeting.
If you want a modern twist to the rubber band technique, you can give Pavlok a try. It's a similar concept, except it's a band that you wear around your wrist, kind of like a FitBit. It comes with an app, that you can use to send small zaps to the wristband whenever you get the urge to fidget.
One cool thing about Pavlok is their 5 minutes for 5 days habit challenge. Essentially, you do the habit you're trying to break (fidgeting) for five minutes a day for five days. Then use Pavlok during those five minutes. According to their testimonials, many users were able to break long time habits with the challenge, so it's definitely worth a try.
4. Practice Mindfulness
You've probably heard of mindfulness at one point or another by now. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment and aware of your senses.
Often times, people fidget because they're unable to focus or their minds wander around. If you have trouble focusing, the thought of keeping your mind calm enough to center in on a single moment can seem impossible. But research shows mindfulness can be exactly what you need.
If you're new to mindfulness and aren't sure where to start, check out this book from biochemist Mark Williams, and psychologist Danny Penman. Not only does it break down what mindfulness is, it walks you through how to put mindfulness into practice in just a few minutes a day, in plain english. It's probably one of the most practical books about mindfulness there is.
5. Try Fidget Toys
Last but certainly not least, you can always give fidget toys a try. We have a complete guide to the top fidget toys for adults, which has a little something for everyone.
While fidget spinners and cubes may have seemed like a fad, the reality is they've helped a lot of people cope with their fidgeting habits. They've also made fidgeting more acceptable and "mainstream." You seem them all over offices and even in schools today. And since they're fun, there's less of a negative stigma attached to them.
You're most likely familiar with the spinners and cube, but there are tons of other fidget toys out there like pens, pencils, balls and more. We recommend trying a few different ones out to see which helps you the most.
Fidget toys are less about stopping fidgeting, and more to control and satisfy your urge. Because like we said, fidgeting isn't all bad. You just don't want it to consume your life and you need to be able to have it under control. A fidget toy is a happy medium.