Research has shown that physical activity, no matter how small, can have a significant impact on the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that control focus and attention. This is particularly beneficial for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who often struggle with concentration and have an easily distracted brain.
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While many individuals try to improve focus by sheer force of will, recent studies have found that physical activity can prime the brain in a way that “trying harder” cannot. In his book “Spark,” John Ratey, M.D. explains how even the slightest physical movements, such as fidgeting, can increase the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These key neurotransmitters are responsible for improving focus and attention.
Furthermore, research has found that prolonged use of the same sense can lead to an increase in attention “deficit,” whereas engaging multiple senses simultaneously can actually improve performance in individuals with ADHD. These sensory-motor activities are referred to as “distractions” or “fidgets.”
Multitasking for People with ADHD
The notion that success is achieved by focusing on one task at a time is a widely accepted belief. However, for individuals with ADHD, multitasking may prove to be more advantageous. It’s important to acknowledge that cognitive needs and abilities vary among individuals.
For some children with ADHD, fidgeting can be a helpful tool. For instance, Jane noticed a remarkable improvement in her clever child’s academic performance once they began wearing a hooded sweatshirt and listening to music on their personal device during class. This allowed the child to concentrate better and resulted in a significant boost in their grades.
Similarly, Alex had trouble finishing their homework due to their restlessness. In response, Alex’s parent set up multiple homework stations around the dining room table. This enabled Alex to rotate between the stations, working quickly until they became restless and then moving on to the next station. This approach enabled Alex to complete their work efficiently.
Now an adult, Alex, who goes by the name Mary, still uses fidgeting strategies to manage their attention while studying in medical school. It is imperative to acknowledge the unique needs of individuals with ADHD and equip them with the appropriate tools to manage their attention effectively.
Be Deliberate About It
When it comes to managing ADHD symptoms, intentional fidgeting can be a useful tool in helping individuals stay focused on the primary task at hand. Engaging in activities like doodling or walking while listening or talking may enhance information absorption, but it’s important to avoid disruptive behaviors. To cultivate effective fidgeting, parents can empower their children by granting permission to experiment with different fidgets. It’s worth noting that what may work for one person might not necessarily work for another, so having a range of options can be helpful in improving focus and concentration for individuals with ADHD.
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Here are eight fidgets worth trying:
Walk and talk.
When your youngster’s mind begins to wander and important dialogue seems to go unheard, try ambling while conversing. Or, if that’s not an option, engaging in a low-key activity like tossing a ball or piecing together a puzzle can work just as well. This technique can be particularly effective for debriefing your child on their day or having a serious discussion with a partner who has ADHD.
Encourage your child to let their imagination run wild by doodling or jotting down words and numbers while listening to a teacher’s lecture (just be sure they don’t deface the desk). Not only can this help with focus, but it can also be useful for staying engaged during long phone calls with clients or dull, drawn-out meetings.
Use multi-colored pens and pencils.
Using a variety of colorful pens and pencils can be a great way to keep fidgety fingers occupied while completing assignments or reading for comprehension. Scented markers may also do the trick, adding an extra sensory dimension to the task at hand.
Busy your hands.
When it comes to improving concentration while listening, talking, or tackling a tricky essay question, a fidget toy can be a game-changer. Cool-looking pens or pencils, beaded bracelets, paper clips that bend into fascinating shapes and can be linked together, and clothing with intriguing textures or embellishments are all great options for kids at school or home. For adults in the workplace, a small, smooth stone – or “worry rock” – kept in a pocket can provide a discreet outlet for fiddling. Alternatively, curling hair around a finger or squeezing a Nerf ball are also effective methods for staying focused. Some of our clients have even found that knitting helps them concentrate better at home.
An MP3 player can help your kids stay on task while reading, exercising, or even sleeping. The key is to select the right music that matches the activity. If they’re exercising, choose something upbeat that will keep them motivated. If they’re trying to fall asleep, opt for calming melodies that can help soothe their minds. And if they’re studying or reading, pick something in between.
Another technique that can boost their concentration is chewing gum. Not only can it help them stay alert and focused, but it can also reduce stress and anxiety. If gum isn’t their thing, they can try sucking on a lemon drop or other hard candy.
Beat the clock.
Another way for your kids to stay productive is to beat the clock. They can set a timer for a specific amount of time, say 20 minutes, and challenge themselves to complete as much work as possible before the buzzer goes off. This technique can be useful for tackling mundane tasks like paying bills, cleaning up, or doing worksheets.
In order to effectively manage ADHD, it is essential to acknowledge our options and make intentional decisions. The crux of the fidget approach lies in comprehending the inner workings of our minds and proactively selecting an appropriate course of action.
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