I Move My Fingers, Nose and Eyebrows a Lot; Do I Have OCD or ADD?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 19-year-old girl from California and I am not sure if I have OCD, ADD or both, or if I am just overreacting. I have hypermobility in my fingers and thumbs and I always do that with my fingers and thumbs, most of the time without realizing it. I also have a tendency to type certain words when I hear them or think them. I call it air typing. I just tap my fingers together as if I were typing the words out on a keyboard.

I’ve noticed that when I try to not do this, I have to really focus; and then I tense up because it’s difficult for me to stop. A few months back my mom saw me moving my fingers and brought it to my attention. I was really embarrassed and ever since then I try to be cautious about when I do it, though this is really difficult. I also move my nose and eyebrows a lot. Is this a form of OCD?

Another problem I have is that when I read, I tend to read the same sentence over and over again, mainly because I can’t focus, or because other thoughts enter my mind. This has definitely held me back in English class because I can never finish reading material that is assigned in class, especially when we’re given only a certain amount of time to read it.

Do I have ADD or am I just not focused? I also tend to go to sleep late.

Psychologist’s Reply

As defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM (which is one of the rule books for mental health diagnoses), compulsions are repetitive behaviors that people feel they must perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. These behaviors are designed to prevent or reduce distress. The hypermobility, air typing and moving nose and eyebrows could qualify as compulsions. However, you didn’t mention when these behaviors occur or what triggers them. As such, it’s difficult to know if you meet all the criteria of the official disorder.

However, I’m guessing that you do these behaviors in response to some sort of anxiety. I also suspect that it doesn’t matter so much if you have the official diagnosis, but you may be more concerned with how to stop doing these things. For people with compulsive behaviors, the key is to become more conscious of when they do them and why. Things to look for include things that trigger the behavior (like certain events or feelings), the thoughts behind them and how you feel when you do them and in general. It could be that you are feeling a great deal of anxiety without realizing it and these behaviors help you control it.

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Another step toward stopping the behavior is something that you already seem to be doing — you have consciously tried to stop. As you mentioned, it is uncomfortable and difficult, but perseverance will help with that. The more you force yourself to recognize and deal with the underlying anxiety, the better it will get. Finding more productive ways to manage stress and anxiety may also be helpful. Enlisting the aid of a mental health professional in this process is always an option, especially if it becomes too difficult for you to manage.

Figuring out whether you have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is more difficult. In order to qualify for ADD you need to meet at least six of nine characteristics of Inattention; and you need to meet at least six of nine characteristics of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity in order to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Characteristics of Inattention include things like not following through on instructions, and having difficulty organizing tasks and activities. Characteristics of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity incorporate things like talking excessively, and often fidgeting with hands or feet. People who have ADD or ADHD must show symptoms in two or more settings. In other words, diagnosing ADD is a major process. In order to figure out if you have it, the best thing to do is to get tested by a qualified mental health professional.

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