Is rocking a sign of mental illness (7+ physical indicators)


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Page last updated: 24/09/2022

Is rocking a sign of mental illness (7+ physical indicators)

In this post, we will explore the question, “ Is rocking a sign of mental illness”, a brief description of mental illness and it’s symptoms, further, we will discuss rocking, the underlying causes and indicators of rocking, ways to treat rocking, discuss other physical or non-verbal cues of mental illness and finally address some questions most frequently asked around the topic.

Is rocking a sign of mental illness?

Yes, Rocking is a sign of mental illness because:

  • It causes severe impairment in their daily functioning
  • The movement is repetitive and stereotyped
  • Rocking can be violent 
  • Result of severe functional impairment 
  • Meets the criteria of the movement-related disorder
  • A diagnostic feature of certain developmental disorders
  • Psychomotor Agitation

Mental Illness

It is a health condition where there is a severe change in the individual’s cognition, behaviour, emotion and the combination of three of them. The disturbance results in impairment and disturbance in the functioning of an individual, their interpersonal relation, work and family functioning.

Symptoms of Mental Illnesses

There are both positive and negative symptoms associated with mental illnesses and many individuals come across mental health-related illnesses or concerns ever in their lifetime. 

Positive symptoms 

There are symptoms that a normal functioning individual doesn’t exhibit. Such symptoms are present only in those individuals who are having a tough time battling with mental health-related illnesses. 

Positive symptoms are believed to be the most noticeable signs of mental illnesses. Such as repetitive movements, hallucination, delusion etc.

Is rocking a sign of mental illness (7+ physical indicators)

Negative symptoms

These are the behaviours that are absent in normal people and lack of. Such symptoms or behaviour are taken away from normal people.

Negative symptoms include behaviour like lack of socialisation, lack of channelling proper communication, failing to interact with others, express emotion and devoid of attention and orientation.

Disorganised symptoms

Disorganised symptoms are those that affect the thought processes of an individual. 

Exhibition of any of these symptoms should be taken care of and is an indicator of the presence of mental health-related disorders. However, one shouldn’t be diagnosed solely on the basis of these physical or overt signs of mental illnesses, rather it should be assessed with the results from other screening tests and assessments. The physical sign of mental illness makes up a part of a sign and symptoms of mental illnesses. 

Several signs and symptoms of mental illnesses

Some of the symptoms of mental illnesses that need to be taken care of by the individual by seeking help or getting rid of it before it escalates in severe illnesses are:

  • Change in the sleep pattern and appetite resulting in a lack of personal care
  • A dramatic or rapid shift in mood and mood swings
  • Impairment in daily functioning such as performing at work, social activities and etc
  • Cognitive Impairment such as difficulty in memory, thinking, concentration and speech
  • Heightened sensitivity and impulsive
  • Loss of interest to engage in any activity
  • A feeling of disconnected and lost
  • Unusual and exaggerated thought patterns
  • Fear of suspiciousness and nervousness
  • Peculiar and odd behaviour

These are some of the symptoms of mental illnesses, simply exhibiting two or three symptoms can’t predict underlying mental illnesses. If the symptoms sustain for some time and cause severe impairment in the daily functioning of the person, this should then be reported to mental health professionals for help and proper diagnosis.


The act of rocking back and forth is a serious sign of mental illnesses. It is a repetitive movement disorder which for the individual is soothing and calming in dealing with the stress. 

It includes foot bouncing, strumming of the finger and twirling one’s hair. There are all believed to be rhythmic movement related disorders.

Although rocking is believed to be normal and typical, excessive rocking is associated with other developmental problems in children such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder etc.

Reasons for rocking

The act of rocking despite being a signal of mental illnesses, it is often repetitively done by the individual for some reasons which are beyond mental illnesses. 

Rocking brings in great relief to the person and triggers our brain for the release of endorphin which is the pleasure hormone or feel-good chemical. 

It also stimulates Vestibular Senses which refers to the part of our inner ear and brain that maintain the balance and our eye movement. These structures of the brain are aligned with the management of pain and stress reaction.

Rocking is also a response by most of the individuals for the reduction of stress symptoms and tension reduction. 

Those individuals with visual impairment and certain developmental delay, rocking is associated with a lack of environmental stimulation for them.

Causes of Rocking

There are different reasons resulting in the rocking behaviour of an individual. While in most of the case, it is a signal of underlying mental illnesses, there are more reasons for it.

  • Indicator of developmental delay and impairment 
  • Brain diseases including seizure and brain dysfunctioning
  • Physical as well as sexual abuse in the past or in childhood
  • Chronic pain or spinal deformities
  • Severe and chronic stress
  • Hypo sensitivity where the person rocks to stimulate an inactive nervous system
  • Sensory overload and extreme stress
  • Excess or lack of dopamine neurotransmitter in the body
  • Psychomotor agitation

As a reaction to these events and cause, people tend to engage in rocking behaviour in their own different ways.

Indicators of Rocking

Abnormal and repetitive behaviour like rocking can be a symptom of the severe mental health-related disorder. Such movements are known by repetition, stereotype, consistency and oddity. They are associated and commonly seen in different mental health-related disorders such as Parkinson Diseases, Autism, OCD, Addiction and etc. And such movement includes hand flapping, rocking, pacing and etc.


Schizophrenia is a brain disorder which is prevalent in the general population. The illness is known by positive, negative and disorganized symptoms and rockin can be classified under positive symptoms. Since the individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia face severe impairment in the functioning of the brain as well as excess secretion or release of dopamine, they tend to engage in different rhythmic and stereotyped movements such as rocking back and forth.


Rocking is prevalent in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder which is a developmental disorder where habitual rocking is a symptom of it. Autistic people or children rock repetitively for three reasons, hyposensitivity, hypersensitivity and the release of endorphins to relieve extreme stress and distress.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Many such behaviours like rocking are common and occur in children diagnosed with ADHD. In such children, movements and behaviour are more exaggerated and severe.

Chronic stress and Anxiety

Rocking can be an indicator of stress and anxiety in the individual where they need to stay comfortable and relaxed makes them rock or fiddle. When the stress is excessive and severe, individuals calm themselves and get rid of the stressful reaction and distress by engaging in such movements. 

Other than the most common and prevalent mental illnesses associated with rocking and other rhythmic movements, it is also an indicator of PTSD, panic attacks, depression, dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, alcohol withdrawal and claustrophobia. 

Treatment of Rocking

Since rocking is a behaviour caused by the interplay of factors like environmental, biological and behavioural, diagnosis and treatment of it vary as per the case of an individual.

When the diagnosis has been made for the cause of rocking such as schizophrenia or any kind of developmental delay, it can be treated via pharmacotherapy, therapy, counselling etc. 

However, if the underlying cause is unknown, an intervention from a medical professional or an expert can pave way for treatment. 

Other physical and non-verbal cues of Mental Illness

There are a number of physical symptoms associated with mental illnesses, while some people deal with it silently and within themselves, there are others that come out in their own ways overtly. 

Although every mental illness is different and not everyone reacts in its own different ways. Knowing the sign of mental illnesses helps the person deal with mental illnesses better. 

Nonverbal cues are indicative enough to let us know the feelings associated with mental illnesses as well as help us communicate effectively with others.

Some of the physical indicators of mental illnesses are:

  • Freeze responses in terms of stressful and threatening stimuli
  • Stiff interlace of the fingers and hand
  • Sucking in lips
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of energy
  • Blunted affect and loss of emotional reaction
  • Repetitive tic and vocal
  • Poor personal hygiene and self-care
  • Restlessness

These are other nonverbal cues that signal underlying mental health-related disorders and problems. 

FAQs: Is rocking a sign of mental illness

What does rocking back and forth mean?

Rocking back and forth is a repetitive behaviour which is soothing and calming for the person and helps them deal with stress better.

What are the 5 signs of mental illness?

Excessive paranoia, Long-lasting sadness, Mood swing, Social withdrawal and change in sleep pattern and appetite are the signs of mental illnesses.

How can you tell if someone is mentally unstable?

If the person is sad and down for a long time, there is confusion in their thinking and lack of focus, mood swings, extreme withdrawal and significant tiredness are the signs of mental instability.

What causes a person to be mentally unstable?

It is caused by the interaction of different factors such as genetic predisposition, psychological stressors, social factors etc.

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In this post, we have explored the question, “ Is rocking a sign of mental illness”, a brief description of mental illness and it’s symptoms, further, we have discussed rocking, the underlying causes and indicators of rocking, ways to treat rocking, discussed other physical or non-verbal cues of mental illness and finally addressed some questions most frequently asked around the topic.

For more details and information, visit the sites mentioned down below


Burgess, L. (2017). What is psychomotor agitation? Medicalnewstoday.

Navarro, J. (2014). 5 Ways That Body Language Can Signal Trouble. Psychology today.

Parekh, R. (2018). Warning Signs of Mental Illness. American Psychiatric Association.

Psychiatric Treatment Network. (2018). Is rocking back and forth a sign of mental illness. Psychiatric Treatment Network.,Physical%20or%20sexual%20abuse

Wolff, C. (2017). 12 Interesting Physical Signs Of Mental Illness. Bustle.