Stimming in the Office

Although everyone stims to some degree, it’s necessary for autistics. Stimming helps us regulate our emotions and relieve anxiety. But in the workplace, our stims can distract coworkers – drawing unwanted and unnecessary attention.

Not all workplaces are a safe environment for autistics to be our authentic selves. Our social challenges often cause our coworkers to exclude us, so we don’t need another “quirk” to make us stand out any further.   

But blocking our need to stim is harmful to our mental health. So, we need to find stims that meet our needs but won’t distract coworkers.

Many of my stims are distracting, including biting my nails, pulling on my hair, rearranging objects on my desk, and cracking my knuckles. I’ve worked in an office environment on and off again for 20 years. Throughout this time, I’ve looked for more appropriate ways to stim without being so distracting.

I want to share them in case someone else needs an idea. If you have an alternative stim that you use in the workplace to avoid being a distraction, please feel free to share in the comments!

So, on we go:

Play-Doh

This one really helps me avoid the urge to bite my nails. I hide the small container in a drawer and pull out enough to roll around my fingertips while thinking at my desk. 

It’s quiet and moldable. A larger piece can act as a stress ball. A small amount can roll around between my fingertips. And when someone catches me with the Play-Doh, I tell them it’s my stress ball alternative. It seems to work, and they shrug it off because everyone can understand the need for a stress ball at the office.

I can make my blob of Play-Doh as big or small as I need it to be, which keeps it adaptable to my needs at that moment. A small piece can easily be smuggled into a meeting rolled around in my hand under the conference table.

Long Necklace

I have a long necklace with two metal leaf pendants. This necklace does wonders for meetings. It’s the perfect length to avoid drawing attention when people are looking at me. But I do have to be careful not to jingle them. Unfortunately, they don’t go with every outfit I wear. So, limitations. At least on the fashion front.

Also, because they are metal, they are not suitable for aggressive stimming. It becomes loud. When my anxiety skyrockets, I need something more moldable – like Play-Doh.

Blankets

I keep a small soft blanket at my desk. Rubbing the fabric and “petting” can relieve my anxiety and help me focus. The great thing about having a blanket at the office is that every woman has one! Offices tend to be too cold for women, so having a blanket at your desk doesn’t make you “weird” or “childish.”

Sweaters

For meetings, sweaters are fantastic. Under the table, I roll the threads and hems in my fingers. Since many sweaters have thicker threads, it’s easier to roll the thick seams around. I especially like my cardigan for this reason.

Meetings are always an overstimulating environment with the lights, people talking, the need to process the verbal conversation, thinking through social cues, reading the presentation, and bodies sitting near you. It’s overwhelming. The room can feel like it’s closing in on you; heaven forbid someone asks you a question when you weren’t expecting it.

Stimming in meetings is necessary; we need something to help channel the anxiety.

Doodling/Calligraphy

Years ago, when I taught high school, many of my students found doodling effective. Not so for me. I never liked doodling until I discovered calligraphy. Now, I’m not a calligraphy expert. In all honesty, I’m still a beginner. But I enjoy it enough to do it in my notebook during meetings. Calligraphy became my doodling and lifesaver. For most meeting attendees, it looks like I’m taking notes. And, frankly, even if someone knew what I was writing, doodling is a widely accepted practice for focusing during meetings. I have yet to have anyone get upset by it.

My notebook is filled with keywords from meetings and my kids’ names written in calligraphy. Calligraphy was a game-changer for me. I can do it as vigorously as I need. The more stressful the meeting, the more I can doodle in my notebook.

Calligraphy requires that I slow down and focus.

Chairs

I love rocking in chairs. Rocking is one of the more common stims for autistics. Thankfully, many types of office chairs can handle a slight rocking. My office chair doesn’t rock, but it does swivel nicely! I’ll grab my desk with both hands and swivel back and forth.

This may become distracting during a meeting, though. So, reserving this action for your desk might be more appropriate if you aren’t in an overly exposed cubicle setup.

These are just a few of the stims I’ve discovered work for me. They help me relieve my anxiety while avoiding the stims that distract others. (No one wants to sit across a conference table and watch a woman gnawing on her fingernails like a hyena with its prey! Gross!)

Have a stim to add to this list? Feel free to share it in the comments.

One thought on “Stimming in the Office

  1. As a “very” late diagnosed Aspie (so late that they don’t even actually use the diagnosis in my country anymore, even though my clinical psychologist affectionately said to me that I am definitely an Aspie girl, at the ripe old age of 50…anyway, I digress. I have an official diagnosis of Autism (ASD1 (WE have ASD (Autism spectrum Disorder Level 1, 2 & 3 here now as per the DSM 5. I’m from Australia.)

    I appreciated this post today very much and whilst I no longer work in an office environment, I can use many of these examples even when I go to appts etc. I am a “great” masker…hence flying under the so called radar, but not without great personal cost to my mental health & overall burnout.

    Even more relaxed attitudes in public re: dress codes allow for accommodations I feel these days such as my big fluffy cardigans I wear now rather than jackets I “had” to wear are wonderful. Fidget toys are also a little more acceptable, as are headphones.

    I’m so glad fellow Aspie’s/Autistic & Neurodiververgent folk with sensory issues/differences have people like you that raise awareness and share real tools.
    Thank you for all you do. You make a genuine difference. Not everyone “comes out” or even comments/likes, but even those that don’t and just read will go away with knowledge they can share &/or use.

    I, for one, am enternally grateful for every advocate whether it is intentional or not. There is still alot of stigma surrounding Autism and unfortunately especially even “high functioning” as to whether there is even any real genuine struggles faced by those as many do not always seemingly believe that they indeed have Autism. I guess, education is needed. Especially in the area of women and girls where the tradional presentation is not so commonly known even to many professionals, let alone the general public.

    My head is scattered and yet deep in thought after your post, sorry for my disjointed ramblings. Again, I’m grateful for the food for thought. I love you content. 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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