BFRB Awareness Week: The Wondrous Fidget

by Andrew Conrad MA, PLPC

What’s in a fidget? A fidget is an object manipulated with hands and fingers to provide relief for someone who is fidgety. It’s soothing. It provides something to focus on. It’s grounding. Individuals with a BFRB (body-focused repetitive behavior) use them as a go-to strategy to keep their hands occupied, but fidgets are more commonly known to be helpful for those with developmental and sensory disorders. Fidgets have even been touted as saviours for kids challenged in classrooms to sit still, pay attention, or adhere to behavior standards. 

Using a fidget is considered a kinesthetic-tactile activity, where a person is using body movement and connecting with the awareness of the sensory experience. Research has shown that those individuals with a BFRB are more likely to have a higher sensitivity to touch. Additionally, it is believed there is a deficit in feed-forward inhibition (the sensory inputs in the brain and body remain open longer). This may lead to a more intense and prolonged excitation of the sense of touch, making it difficult to ignore BFRB urges and sensations that lead to the repetitive behaviors. Enter the fidget: that little thing that might (sort of) satisfy that need.

Fidgets can come in the form of smooth stones, brushes, stress balls, fidget spinners and cubes, Velcro, bracelets, putty, and more. A fidget may help someone delay their BFRB, also known as “urge surfing.” And it may provide some gratification in mimicking hair pulling or skin picking. But, a person with a BFRB urge (not always a conscious one) does not get the same satisfaction or quelling effect from a fidget. Still, a fidget can provide some much-needed comfort and calm.

The fidget is a powerful device and its effectiveness relies on each person’s ability to strike a balance between awareness of vulnerable environments and stressors, knowledge of warning signs in the body, space for difficult emotions, and self-compassion. Not an easy task! Let’s all do our best to be understanding and supportive of each person meeting the challenges of a BFRB.


If you or a loved one is feeling challenged by a BFRB, please don’t hesitate to check out the group at https://mindfulstl.com/groups/body-focused-repetitive-behaviors-bfrb-groups/. To become a group member or for more information, please contact Dr. Laura Chackes at lchackes@mindfulstl.com.

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