Rocking back and forth can be a warning sign of or reaction to mental distress. This motion is often exhibited by those with mental health conditions as it feels soothing. Though these movements might seem excessive and as if they have no real purpose, they are believed to help relieve stress and pain by stimulating the vestibular system. Typically, they are triggered by a sudden release of or drop in the feel-good chemical, dopamine. If you are wondering, “What does it mean when someone is rocking back and forth?” continue reading.
What Does Rocking Back and Forth Mean When it Comes to Mental Illness?
Rocking back and forth can be a coping mechanism or an innate reaction to feelings of agitation, anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. However, if you notice yourself rocking back and forth, then medical attention might be needed as this could be a sign of a more serious condition such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
Additionally, conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, frontal lobe lesions, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and addiction can cause these swaying back-and-forth movements in both children and adults.
As far as what causes this rocking back and forth, there is not a single answer. However, some experts believe that it’s linked to the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that plays a role in mood, motivation, sleep, reward, and pleasure. The amount of dopamine released by the brain depends on how much stimulation we get from our environment.
If these levels are high, you feel excited and happy as this surge of dopamine makes you feel good. However, to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed by this intense emotion, you might start moving around in an attempt to release energy. When your levels of dopamine are low, you may feel depressed or agitated. This is often brought on by extreme terror or bad news and might cause you to begin swaying back and forth in response.
What Mental Illnesses Cause Rocking Back and Forth?
The rocking motion is often a sign of extreme distress. If it occurs during times of normal stress, it may suggest anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It could also indicate bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or Tourette syndrome. Additionally, this could be a symptom of a neurological condition called “pontine epilepsy.” In this case, the cause is not known but it is believed to involve a malfunctioning part of the brain stem.
Types of mental illness that cause this behavior include:
- Bipolar Disorder – A person who suffers from bipolar disorder often has periods of great happiness followed by episodes of depression. During these depressive periods, people with bipolar disorder tend to become very agitated and restless.
- Schizophrenia – People with schizophrenia often exhibit erratic behaviors including repetitive hand motions, pacing, and rocking back and forth.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – OCD sufferers often rock back and forth while thinking about their obsessions.
- ADD/ADHD – Children with ADHD often fidget and rock back and forth while trying to focus on something else.
- Depression – People with major depression often display similar body language including rocking back and forth. They might also have trouble sleeping which can aggravate this behavior.
- Anxiety Disorders – People with anxiety disorders often have difficulty concentrating and find themselves unable to sit still.
- PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common reaction to traumatic events such as war, rape, abuse, and natural disasters. People with PTSD often suffer from flashbacks and nightmares.
How to Treat These Symptoms of Mental Illness
The symptoms of mental illness depend on the individual’s particular condition. However, there still are some key indicators that can be used as general guidelines. The most common symptoms of mental health disorders include:
- Lack of energy
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive worrying
- Obsessive thought patterns
- Trouble concentrating
- Sudden and severe changes in mood
- Ease to agitate or anger
- Social withdrawal
- Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns
If you notice any of these symptoms within yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek mental health treatment. Furthermore, if you see someone rocking back and forth, it could be a sign that they are attempting to cope with a mental health condition, especially if this occurs frequently or at inappropriate times. The Neuroscience Institute offers psychiatric evaluations, allowing you or your loved one to be formally examined and, if appropriate, properly diagnosed.
Mental Health Treatment in South Florida
If you notice yourself rocking back and forth, it may be a sign of mental illness. The Neuroscience Institute in South Florida treats several mental health conditions including schizophrenia, mood disorders, substance use disorder, and personality disorders. We offer a variety of outpatient programming and services to help you manage your mental health symptoms and get on the right track towards a healthy and fulfilling life. To learn more about what we provide or to receive a confidential mental health assessment, give us a call or visit our admissions page.
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