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Wiggle While You Work

Movement can be key to concentration for some.

Are you someone who paces when you talk on the phone? Doodles while you listen to a lecture? Taps your foot during a meeting? Whether you realized it or not, these were all attempts by your nervous system to increase your arousal and improve your concentration. These behaviors, which are often misinterpreted as signs of anxiety or impatience are (typically) effective regulation strategies.

All but gone are the days where children are told to "sit still and pay attention." We are living in a more neuro-progressive culture that appreciates the distinct needs of individuals. "Fidget" has become a part of our daily vocabulary and fidget spinners can be found at any dollar store. While the increased attention is essential for progress, the common understanding of fidgeting is one that is oversimplified. Using movement to regulate and attend is not a one-size-fits-all hack.

Each nervous system is unique; what is arousing for one may be calming for another. Moreover, every nervous system responds differently in different contexts. So, while a fidget spinner, chewing gum, or doodling may be essential for Sally to attend on Monday in her noisy cubicle, the same tools may distract Billy from the email he's constructing. Your nervous system is a complex being with very specific tastes.


For individuals who identify as hyperactive (like me!), movement releases the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine to increase focus and improve attention. Without movement, we typically do not have sufficient stimulation to sustain attention and our minds quickly wander. A brief walk or stretch before a meeting primes your brain for focus. Follow this up with some small, quiet, intentional movement (like rubbing a worry stone, wiggling your toes in your shoes, contracting and releasing muscles, or taking notes) while in the meeting can ensure you are alert and don't miss a beat. Being intentional with your fidgeting helps ensure it's actually serving its desired purpose and isn't disruptive to others.

Struggling with focus but not sure what your nervous system needs? Take our comprehensive sensory processing questionnaire and review with one of our neuro-specialist OTs.

(A snippet of our sensory questionnaire)

-Rachel Robertson, OTR/L

Certified Brain Injury Specialist

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