Productive Fidgets: 8 Ways to Deal with Anxiety and Depression

-Liz Briggs

As a person with active and severe mental illness, for six months I worked with a service animal. When I weaned off of his care, I transitioned to things that would keep my hands busy, things that would keep me from absentmindedly scratching myself or picking at my skin. I tried things like Play0Doh, modeling wax, and rubbing stones, but none could engage my brain enough to keep me on track. I eventually found the missing link: they were not productive.

Once I had isolated this critical thread, I was able to pack myself a small bag of “productive fidgets” that I could carry around in a manner that is *relatively* socially innocuous while mitigating the symptoms of my anxiety and depression.

  1. Knit or crochet
    Knitting has been my favorite, because of the simple, repetitive motion. Knitting is essentially tying identical knots over and over in a line, and then at the end of the line flipping over and doing the exact same thing in the opposite direction. Creating simple square or rectangular-shaped pieces (scarves, baby blankets) requires only minimal thought, but simultaneously fully engages both hands and the eyes, as well as allowing me to daydream of the person for whom I am creating the item. My favorite this past year was a set of two Harry Potter-themed blankets for a newborn set of twin baby girls.
  2. Write lists
    Get on your phone! There is perhaps no singular more “socially acceptable” fidget than playing with your phone. I visualize my refrigerator, and imagine what needs to be consumed. Then I list out two to four days worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, using up those foods. Sometimes I take a brief sojourn over to Pinterest and type in “onions and limes” and see what pops up. I have made some dishes I’d never previously heard of by following this pattern.
  3. Sort/file
    Again this is a phone-based fidget. Get into your email and start deleting things from 2008 about Black Friday sales. Make new email folders and delete some of the existing ones that seemed like such a good idea at the time. Sort and organize the apps on your phone into new or more logical files.
  4. Focused exercises/stretching
    Hug yourself tight. Reach your hands across your back and pull. Point and flex your feet. Pull your knees up to your chest. Stretching improves flexibility and overall health. Do you want to do the splits? I *super* believe in you…just stretch a little more each day.
  5. Write letters to family/old friends/future self
    Don’t you have that one auntie who lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest? When was the last time you talked to her? I bet she would love to hear that funny thing that happened at work last week…and she might even be interested in whatever that Mexican food recipe was that you found to use up your onions and limes. And again, this is a fidget that you can do on your phone.
  6. Record memories
    I swear I cannot spend more than ten minutes with my little nephews without one of them saying something unbelievably adorable. If I wrote all those things down, I’d be well on my way to a coffee table book. That text plus some pictures of flowers, maybe.
  7. Learn something/read something
    There are so many things to read on the Internet, not to mention the ability to download ebooks to your phone (or iPad or Kindle, etc). Some of my favorite non-Internet-based things to read are old journals from when I was a little kid. It is so amusing to see what I considered important enough to record!
  8. Create something artistic
    This is your vastly open-ended option. What do YOU create that you are proud of? Are you good at sketching? Computer animation? Photography? Poetry? What about something like napkin-folding or origami? What is your art? How do YOU make this world a better place?

The medications we have to treat symptoms of mental illness are wonderful, and I wouldn’t be able to live the functional, contributing life that I do without them. That being said, sometimes before popping a PRN medication, I find that taking steps to make myself a responsible and contributing member of society has many of the same positive effects on my brain and my behavior. Plus I get the benefit of the outcomes of whatever project(s) I’ve chosen to attack! Getting stuff done rocks.

3 Counterintuitive ADHD Coping Strategies

-Neil Petersen

ADHD doesn’t always make sense. At least, it doesn’t always make sense the way you expect it to.

If the common-sense ADHD coping techniques aren’t working, maybe it’s time to try the non-common-sense strategies. Here are 3 counterintuitive ADHD coping strategies.

  • Working in noisy places: If people with ADHD have trouble concentrating, clearly the solution is to work in quiet places to avoid getting distracted, right? Well, sometimes silence helps, but not always. Lack of stimulation can make it even harder for people with ADHD to focus, in which case working in a more lively environment rather than a silent, empty room can actually help.
  • Listening to music: Along the same lines, you might expect that listening to music would be distracting for people with ADHD. However, for some people with ADHD, listening to music can provide stimulation and stave off boredom, making it easier to stay on task.
  • Procrastinating: Procrastination is a double-edged sword – too much of it can cause a lot of problems. On the other hand, people with ADHD procrastinate for a reason: doing things at the last minute can provide the extra shot of adrenaline the ADHD brain needs to kick into gear.

You might notice that all three of these strategies have to do with finding the optimal level of arousal for the ADHD brain.

Traditionally, we think of a calm and low-stress environment as being ideal for concentration. For people with ADHD, though, lack of stimulation makes it harder to stay on task. When the ADHD brain gets bored, it automatically checks out and goes to find something more interesting to do, whether we want it to or not.

So keeping the ADHD brain happy by working in more interesting environments, listening to music, or adding a little pressure by doing things at the last minute can actually be conducive to concentrating.

Of course, this will be different for different individuals with ADHD. Ultimately, it’s about finding what works best for your brain. But as a starting point, these three strategies are definitely worth a shot!

D’you have other counterintuitive ADHD coping strategies? Please share them below!

How Pokémon Go Can Help with Anxiety, Depression

Pokemon GoI have to admit it. I’m 31. Officially out of the “youthful” age group, according to some of my favorite students. “Mrs. Meg, no one uses Facebook anymore. That’s for old people.” Fair enough.  So I must venture further to confirm that I am not all too shot down with playing the new Pokémon Go. I certainly cannot speak for all my contemporaries, though, nor those in older age brackets. This app, released a mere 7 days ago, has already surpassed total number of downloads and user than the Tinder app and has been projected by a number of people in the know to exceed the number of Twitter users soon. Which means, this app is currently spanning a number of age ranges and demographics and providing a number of positive benefits to the masses.

Apart from the joy of beating your friends in chasing down imaginary figures, this game actually has some mental health implications. Think about it. In order to gain the most points, you have to go the most places, right? One must get off the couch in order to catch (I’m going to keep calling them all “Pokémon”, because we’ve already established I’m not hip enough to know all the names of the characters). Your phone alerts you to the Pokémon in your area, so you have to get up off the couch and go get them if you want the points. They don’t just come to you.

I recently read a post on the old folks’ (remember, that’s Facebook) of a dad who admitted to the benefits of the game in relation to his own daughter. After dinner, it was his daughter’s idea to leash up the pup and go for a walk with the parents in order to catch two Pokémon out in their neighborhood. A young teen actually asked her parents to go on a walk with her! Granted, she still had her phone in hand, but I say, progress. While on the hunt for these two mythical creatures, the aforementioned girl walked 1.5 miles (exercise is linked to decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety), and also stopped and talked to a brother and sister, 10 and 13 years old, respectively (having a common introductory topic can be helpful in decreasing social anxiety) who were chasing a Golding – oh look, I found out an actual name – while the dogs played (and who doesn’t love to watch lovable pups having fun in the park?).

Even if you don’t run into someone also on the hunt for a Pokéspot, having the motivation to get up and get outside (free Vitamin D and Serotonin, along with fresh air and additional steps) can be beneficial to those who have found themselves often couch-side due to negative emotional states. It can be possible for individuals to utilize the game to get on the move for health benefits, to achieve instant gratification, to enjoy playing a game with clearly defined boundaries and goals, and allows those participating to tap into our imagination and creativity.


-MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi

Tell Me More About These “Coping Skills” of which You Speak

Ask any kiddo who’s ever been in inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment, especially the ones still in single digit ages, what they should do when they feel (insert unhealthy emotion here), and you’ll get a pretty ubiquitous response: “Use my coping skills!” Well, my little friends, you’d be fantastically right. But, what are coping skills? The youngest ones remember the words but sometimes struggle to actually articulate a useful skill when asked. It is, frankly, adorable.

Coping skills are certainly helpful for youngsters who struggle keeping their hands to themselves and their words in check when upset, but the need for skills doesn’t go away once one graduates high school. Because, while it was inappropriate to bite the girl next to you at your 3rd grade desk clump because you thought she stole your pencil, it’s even worse to do it to your boss when she tells you you’re late to submit a report.

So, young or old(er), in school or working, or whatever your circumstance is, what are helpful ways to deal with the unhappinesses life is certain to throw your way? I’m so glad you asked. As a social worker, it is my deepest joy to explain oh so frequently what coping skills are and why/when you need to use them.

Distraction Techniques
Sometimes, you’re so overwhelmed by the moment, you just want to forget about it for a while until you can come back to it and process it more healthfully. Good call! These are called, “distraction techniques.”

Examples: chat with a friend, watch a tv show, listen to music, knit or crochet, get in the dirt in your garden and dig, straighten up your home, read a book, get on YouTube, Call of Duty, I’m told is a blast. You get the point.

Positives: Distracting yourself gets you away from the issue for a moment. Bring down that heart rate, slow down the mouse on the wheel that is your brain. It’ll get you through the crisis and give you a moment for a quick breather.

Less than positives: This doesn’t actually solve anything. Ignoring a problem for too long is clearly counterproductive. Distraction allows you to calm yourself to a more rational mindset, but totally ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Seeking Your Higher Self
Believe in a Higher Power? Awesome. Don’t? Also fantastic. “Higher Self” doesn’t have to mean spirituality, though it can if you want it to.

Examples: Volunteer, pray, give back, be nice to the check out clerk, help someone, pay for the Starbucks of the person in line behind you in the drive thru, join a cause you’re passionate about, go to your local animal shelter and cuddle with the dogs.

Positives: Seeking your higher self, in whatever capacity you choose, helps us remember the value in everyone and everything in our lives. Everything has a purpose, so take a moment to find it, not matter big or small.

Less than positives: If you’re only focusing on others, when will you make time to focus on you? A number of my clients love to “fix” everyone else’s problems so they can distract themselves from their own issues. Be mindful of how much time you exert on others!

Emotional Release
Examples: Scream it out! Go for a run! Yell into your pillow! Take a cold shower, find your favorite funny show on Hulu and really laugh it out. Allow yourself to get in a good cry. Pop a balloon (not me, I’m afraid of popping balloons), join an exercise class or a Krav Maga gym, dance and sing out loud to the music overhead in Home Depot!

Positives: Useful in letting out anger and fear. In perfect James Brown style, it helps you to try to release that pressure!

Less than positives: Emotional release doesn’t always work in every situation. Some people may feel kind of foolish singing and dancing to overhead music in a public place, and others may give you strange looks.

Utilizing your senses and your physical body.

Examples: Smell the roses, pay attention to what your food tastes like, check what color the sky is, walk barefoot in the sand or grass, play with PlayDoh, meditate, hit the gym or go for a run/walk, give yoga a try.

Positives: Helps bring you back from that “out of body experience” feeling, where you feel disconnected from yourself or even that you might be dying. Decreases the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Less than positives: Your body dissociates when you are in severe psychological trouble, like in an abusive situation. This is to protect your mind from what’s happening.

Thought Challenge
Are you sure you’re thinking clearly? Have you weighed all the options using your wise mind?

Examples: Use a thought record to write down your negative thoughts. Pay attention to what evidence you have for and against those thoughts. What would you tell your best friend if he or she was telling you the same problems?

Positives: Practicing using thought records and checking your negative thoughts can actually help to change the way you think in the long run. Practice makes progress! Utilizing a wise mind (rational mind + emotional mind) can help with future reactions, causing a decrease in emotional stress!

Less than positives: It can be so difficult to get yourself into a clear mental space right away, especially if it’s what you’ve grown accustomed to. We revert to what we know in crisis! The stronger the negative emotion, the more difficult it can be to appropriately weigh the truths and falsities.

Love Yourself
Do something good for you! Self-care is important!

Examples: Get a massage, get a manicure or a pedicure, indulge in a modest splurge, take a bubble bath or a long, warm shower, go out or make a nice meal.

Positives: You must love yourself in order to give the best love to others, so practice being kind to yourself! You deserve to be taken care of. As I mentioned in Thought Challenge, what would you encourage your friends to do to take care of themselves? So, why wouldn’t you also deserve that same self-attention?!

Less than positives: Some people truly struggle to focus on themselves. It takes practice to allow yourself to spend money and/or time on yourself.

*It is important to note that, just because I might benefit from challenging my thoughts by reasoning out what might really be going on, that might have absolutely no benefit to you. If you find yourself feeling stumped or unphased by one, mosey along, partner, and try the next!