Anxiety Stimming (A Complete Guide)

In this article, we look at what is anxiety stimming. We also look at the causes of anxiety stimming and how to manage stimming.

Before the exam, have you ever bit your nails, jiggled your leg, moved your pen side to side, or walked around a room anxiously? Right, these are ‘stimming’ instances.

What is Stimming?

Stimming is often referred to as self-stimulatory behavior:’ repeated or irregular motion of the body or noise’. Many individuals choose to only use these ‘stims’ from time-to-time, and we can monitor them to a great degree.

Stimming is the shortened form  for “self-stimulation” and is clinically described as a “stereotypic” activity.

Stimming is a component of autism’s diagnosis criteria. It’s not because stimming is associated with autism at all times. That’s because stimming could become unmanageable and cause issues in individuals with autism.

Stimming is not inherently a negative thing that must be suppressed. But when it is detrimental to everyone and disrupts the standard of living, it must be discussed.

Almost everyone participates in some conduct that is self-stimulating.

When you are bored, anxious, or have to alleviate anxiety, you might start biting your nails or twirl your hair around your fingers.

Stimming can become quite a routine that it wasn’t even known to you that you’re doing it. For most people, this is innocuous behavior. You know when it is unacceptable and where. If you’ve been tapping your fingertips on your table for 20 minutes, for instance, you take societal signals that you’re annoying others and decide to quit.

Popular stimming behaviors include:

  • Biting off your fingernails
  • Twirling your fingertips through your hair
  • Your knuckles or other joints are popping.
  • Tapping your fingers  
  • Hitting your pen with a click
  • Your foot’s bouncing up and down
  • Whistling 

While this is normal behavior for most of the people, it can be problematic for autistic people.

Stimming in autistic people

Stimming can be more evident in individuals with autism. It may occur, for instance, as the rocking of the whole body back and forth, wiggling, or shaking hands. This can go on for extended periods as well. The person also has less social knowledge that the actions of others may be troublesome. Autism-related tuning isn’t necessarily cause to worry. It becomes a problem only if it disrupts schooling, contributes to social isolation, or is harmful. It can be unsafe in some unusual instances.

Stimming in a person with autism might include:

  • Rocking
  • Hands wiggling or fingers flicking or snapping.
  • Bouncing, skipping, or twirling
  • Pacing on tiptoes
  • Yanking your hair
  • Repetitive sentences or words
  • Scratching the skin
  • Repeated blinking
  • Looking at lights or objects spinning, such as ceiling fans
  • Chewing, touching, or stroking specific kinds of objects
  • Sniffing at individuals or objects
  • Object rearrangement

Rather than playing with them, a child with autism can invest hours at a time organizing toys. Recurring behavior may also include obsessive thoughts or fears with certain items or the recitation of complex descriptions of a specific topic.

It may cause physical damage to other repetitive habits. Such habits involve:

  • Banging head
  • Biting or hitting
  • Extreme skin scratching or stroking
  • Picking at open wounds or scar tissue
  • Swallowing hazardous things

The cause of stimming is often not easy to ascertain. It’s a tool for managing that can meet a range of purposes.

An individual with autism, for instance, might be attempting to:

  • Improve the senses or minimize sensory overload
  • Adapting to an unfamiliar setting
  • Decrease anxiety and soothe themselves
  • Show frustration, specifically if they have difficulty communicating efficiently.
  • Prevent certain activity or assumptions

If prior stimming experiences have culminated in desired recognition, stimming can become a 

reason to continue to obtain attention. A behavioral analyst or therapist can clarify the causes for the stimming activity with autism expertise.

Stimming is, in some situations, an effort to alleviate pain or other physical discomforts. It is also necessary to decide whether, due to a medical condition, such as epilepsy, what appears to be stimming is actually unconscious.

Although stimming is often stigmatized, it’s not always a negative thing! In reality, it can help individuals get through challenging and daunting scenarios.

It will need to be handled if it becomes distracting, creates social issues, causes physical harm to the individual or others, or interferes with everyday life.

For example, if a child is distracted by staring at their hands rather than listening to their teacher, the lecture can be skipped.

Stimming can also cause damage to certain persons, such as extreme hand-biting or headbanging.

Some experts have suggested penalizing stimming actions in earlier generations, with either undesired corrections (such as slaps, spanks, or shocks) or by stripping away or denying incentives.

The autistic self-advocacy community is against any form of penalty for stimming. Many adult autistic people say that discipline has triggered their self-esteem to be permanently affected, damaged their sense of physical autonomy, and left them feelings of trauma. Autistic advocates point out that kids should be able to stimulate.

Stimming occurs for a purpose. The punishment of the symptom does not resolve the root issue. Alternatively, it penalizes an individual for their attempts to control their own feelings. It can make emotions such as resentment and depression feel more out of power. It also destroys faith between a child and a caretaker. With time, suppressing stimming by inducing anxiety and fear can also make the problem worsen.

Rather than condemning stimming, it is essential to dip deeper into the origin and resolve it. An autistic child may need a quiet environment to do assignments, for instance, or they may find specific materials annoying. A baby will need assistance to cope with the stress of awaiting food. To build new anxiety coping techniques, a person experiencing intense anxiety will need help.

There is seldom a justification to avoid it if stimming is not medically destructive. Stimming is mostly just humiliating for the caretaker and not something that puts an individual in actual danger. When an individual participates in an offensive or violent actions, it may be beneficial to focus their attention.

How to manage anxiety stimming?

Therapy will help control stimming behaviors for families and individuals, mainly when certain stimming behaviors appear risky or tamper with everyday life.

  • Family therapy can assist families with:
  • Fix and navigate large sensory settings.
  • Develop methods to control the feelings and sensations that cause harmony.
  • Tackle disagreements between providers over how to effectively handle stimming.
  • Assess if a person is attuned to an underlying neurological or mental health problem.
  • Help caretakers distinguish between stimming and age-typical stimming, which may signify an issue.
  • Individual counseling can help find safe channels for their feelings for kids and adults who indulge in stimming. A therapist is allowed to:
  • Help an individual to handle dangerous actions, such as headbanging.
  • Provide various methods for controlling anxiety, such as meditation.
  • Help individuals speak about stress and irritation with loved ones.
  • Offer solutions for substitute stimming that may be less disruptive or damaging.
  • Enable an autistic individual to better manage their sensory environment by recognizing and resolving stimming causes.
  • Assist a person at school or work in supporting their requirements, including disability facilities.

Fidget spinners were so successful that they contributed 17 percent of all online toy purchases by halfway into 2017.

It’s merely a toy that you can stimulate with it, a toy that you keep between your thumb and index finger, which revolves forever when you twist it. Also, check the best fidget ring for anxiety.

While it might seem unusual that children would play with toys in school, the explanation for this was that some individuals said the Fidget Spinner managed to relax and concentrate on children with anxiety, ADHD, and autism.

If your child is struggling with anxiety, get one of these cuties home for them to have as a pet.

Tips for managing anxiety stimming

Stimming is more comfortable to handle if you can find out the reason behind it. A method of communication is actions. It is necessary to consider what the individual attempts to say with stimming.

  • Do whatever you can to remove the cause or decrease it, reduce tension, and have a relaxing atmosphere.
  • For everyday tasks, aim to adhere to a schedule.
  • Promoting acceptable practices and self-control.
  • Avoid trying to punish actions. It does not suggest this step. If you interrupt one action without discussing its causes, it is likely to be followed by another one, which might not be good.
  • Show an alternative action that helps fulfill the same requirements. Hand flapping, for instance, maybe substituted for gripping a tension ball or other fine motor movement. They will make suggestions on the proper ways to treat the behavior until the cause is identified.

Suggestions can contain:

  • Taking action in any hazardous conduct
  • Recognizing when not to give an answer
  • Instructing other members of the family about how they can support
  • Strengthening reasonable conduct
  • Building a stable environment
  • Proposing alternative operations that have the desired impact
  • Self-management methods for teaching
  • Acting alongside occupational therapists, teachers, and the system of education
  • Getting medical assistance when required

In the case of harmful stimming:

  • Eliminate the trigger. When this excessive stimming happens, it is important to eliminate the problematic trigger that induces the overload. It is better to fix what causes the excessive activity to accelerate and eliminate the source of stress pre-emptively until an overload occurs and unsafe stimming begins.
  • Divert the conduct when the need for stimulation is still mentioned. See if you can guide the individual to a less harmful stimulus for relaxation. This may mean selecting such unpleasant yet secure coping stimuli, such as gripping an ice cube, listening to loud, or sketching on a piece of paper with a pencil until it is black if they are still in an overloaded state. The trick is to collaborate with the individual who can find one that works and won’t hurt them.


In this article, we looked at what is anxiety stimming. We also looked at the causes of anxiety stimming and how to manage stimming.

FAQ: Anxiety Stimming

Can anxiety cause stimming?

People with autism are thought to be stimming for various reasons, such as nervous, enthusiastic, anxious, or overwhelmed. Some individuals may be stimulated because they are hypersensitive to their surroundings, which can be a soothing diversion.

Can you stim without being autistic?

Yes. There is a lot of difference in how much stimming happens from individual to individual, with or without autism. Only when you’re significantly depressed will you break your knuckles, or you indulge in this action several times a day. 

What triggers stimming?

In strength and form, they can differ and can happen based on a variety of emotions. In reaction to emotions such as enthusiasm, pleasure, frustration, tension, fear, and anxiety, autistic people of any age can be sometimes or continuously stimulated. They can even stimulate them at times when they feel frustrated.


Villines, Z. (2019, January 04). Foot-Tapping and Hand-Flapping: Why Do People Stim? Retrieved November 24, 2020, from

Lauren Rowello September 01, & Rowello, L. (2020, September 01). This Characteristic of Autism is More Common Than You Might Think. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from

Bennie, M., About the author: Maureen Bennie Maureen Bennie created the Autism Awareness Centre in 2003 to address what she saw as a gap in support and advocacy for those struggling with autism and autism spectrum disorders. For Maureen, Maureen Bennie created the Autism Awareness Centre in 2003 to address what she saw as a gap in support and advocacy for those struggling with autism and autism spectrum disorders. For Maureen, Says:, A., 2, M., Says:, M., . . . *, N. (2020, November 16). Stimming:The Good and Bad Side of Anxious Behaviours. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from

Never heard of stimming? You probably do it…: Aruma. (2019, August 06). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from

Pietrangelo, A. (2019, June 28). What Is Stimming and How Can It Be Managed? Retrieved November 24, 2020, from

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!