Stimming Child Lying Down

Stimming and recognising overwhelming emotions

Stimming is a mixture of repeated actions made by people with autism as a reaction to overwhelming emotions. However it is not only autistic people that stim. Anyone in an overwhelming situation of some kind may carry out the action. Stimming can be with sounds or through movement and results in using a lot of energy. These emotional energy spikes come in waves for the person. They can involve jumping, flapping, pacing, speaking, singing and other noises.

Stimming stands for self-stimulatory behaviour. Not much is known about this condition so it is important to understand what it’s like for a person who stims as it will help people realise how some people react to our often overwhelming world. Stimming regulates the energy that races through the body. Often it is hard to know what triggered it.

Why stimming?

Some people use stimming to help them cope in situations that they find overwhelming such as sadness or grief. Stimming allows them to tolerate things they find hard to tolerate. Something has happened which they did not expect which is too overwhelming for them. Stimming helps to ease and distract them from the discomfort or pain. They may be rocking, repeating a sound or word or even hitting something.

Sometimes when pain or emotions are high our actions are not always logical. The main problem is that there are a lot of misconceptions about stimming. People fidget and move about erratically when nervous, excited, in pain, stressed or uncomfortable. Autistic people or people with ADHD and other conditions like this can experience a surge of energy in their bodies more than others when strong emotions take over. This can make the stimming more intense and sometimes difficult to control. People who stim easily find the world a challenging place and this is how they respond to it. So you can help by realising that when this happens they are in an intense emotional situation.

What is it – examples?

The easiest way to understand stimming is repetition of something such as pacing, jumping or spinning. These help remove that energy surge quickly. There is also stims when people touch something that feels nice such as a soft material. Visual stims involve watch an object. Or they may be listening to the same thing over and over again or repeating sounds or words. It could be singing the same song again and again. Or overeating on their favourite foods for the taste. Sometimes they keep it to themselves and the same thoughts go through their mind again and again.

How can I tell if I or someone is stimming?

Hand flapping and rocking are ways you can tell how the person is feeling. This depends also on the way their hands and body are moving. They may express how they feel with different types of hand motions. I once knew someone who every time he got excited for his mates on the football field, he would flap his hands sideways. He would stand there and just flap. Not run, not speak. Just flap and when his friend scored a goal he stopped flapping and could move and speak again. Another friend of mine used to talk to themselves or sing the same song verse of a song to herself, again and again.

Some stims are not as obvious such as twirling your hair while talking to someone, tapping your fingers, clicking your pen again and again. These are all harmless actions and occur often. When it can become a bit out of hand is if someone is so upset they begin to punch someone uncontrollably or break things and that is when you need to step in and help them overcome the emotion they are feeling.

What to do

We all sometimes in moments of high emotion can say or do things which we don’t mean to so don’t be too hard on your friend if they stim. We all have habits that perhaps can annoy others. If we are more understanding of each other’s different needs and kinder to each other we will learn to adjust to each other better and discover ways to help each other out better in difficult times. Do you know someone that gets overwhelmed by emotion? Maybe give them a call right now and have a chat or meet for a cuppa. You would be surprised how much of a difference the little moments make to someone’s life sometimes. For you it may be a little moment, to them a big thing.

If you liked this article go to my others on this site and take a look. Here’s one I wrote ages ago dedicated to some people I miss

Jenetta Haim

Jenetta Haim

Jenetta Haim runs Stressfree Management at 36 Gipps Road, Greystanes, and specialises in assisting your health and lifestyle in all areas by developing programs on either a corporate or personal level to suit your needs. Jenetta has just published a book called Stress-Free Health Management, A Natural Solution for Your Health available from your favourite bookstore or online. For more information and to get in touch, visit her website at Stressfree Management.

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