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How to Use Hyperactivity to Improve Focus in ADHD

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When most people think about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the two things that first come to mind are often trouble focusing and difficulty sitting still (i.e., fidgeting). Even given this, far more attention is usually dedicated to helping people to improve their focus than reduce hyperactivity. When hyperactivity is focused on, it typically involves a desire to simply stop or reduce it, rather than using it in a productive manner.

This is fascinating because the two actually go together and research studies have shown that by harnessing fidgeting one can, in turn, improve their focus. In addition, there are many tangible tools readily available to help people gain better control over excessive movement, most of which are probably even easier and more fun to implement than many behavioural tools geared directly towards improving attention.

The general principle behind using any tools (i.e., fidget cube, wobble chair) to harness fidgeting is that the activity that essentially holds the excess movement needs to be mindless and not take away visual or auditory attention from the task at hand. Secondary to this, one should decide based on how they naturally fidget (i.e., tap fingers on a desk, fiddle with pens, shake feet) and what tasks need to be completed while moving around (i.e., watching Zoom meeting, typing a report) whether hand, feet, or body fidgets would be best.

Here are some suggestions for ways to harness fidgeting to improve focus:

Feet fidgets

  • Desk elliptical, bike, or stair master (goes under a desk and can be used discreetly while working)
  • Foot pedals or inflatable pillow
  • Balance board
  • Stretchy bands

Body fidgets

  • Yoga ball
  • Yoga ball desk chair (allows some movement, but the ball is held in a frame to reduce excessive movement)
  • Wiggle cushion (gives subtle movement while sitting)
  • Wobble chair (requires slight movement to hold chair still)

Hand fidgets

  • Fidget cube
  • Grip strengthener
  • Endless types of fidgets that one can buy in variety packs online (but avoid a fidget spinner because those can be distracting).

The suggested fidget strategies listed above are not exhaustive. This is because in figuring out ways to harness fidgeting one can be as creative as they’d like to be. In addition, developing a set of specific fidget methods is important. Most people will have trouble using one specific type of fidget (i.e., desk bike) all day. Therefore, it is highly recommended that individuals pick several forms of fidgets that they can rotate through during the day or switch between based on the types of tasks that have to be completed.

By harnessing fidgeting, it allows one to take uncomfortable excessive movement and channel it into something more useful. Improving focus is often one of the best benefits of it. In addition, using this type of strategy can help enhance one’s self-esteem. Rather than being embarrassed about moving around a lot, tapping things, or other movements that may be distracting to others in person or online, these simple tools can help a person to feel better about themselves. It also makes having to sit for long periods of time more tolerable without as much need for very frequent breaks. Nonetheless, even with movement while sitting, it is still beneficial to take breaks.

Carey Heller, PsyD is a licensed psychologist based in the Washington metropolitan area who specialises in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and executive function issues.

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