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Why do I feel restless? How do I stop?

Why do I feel restless? How do I stop?

When restless feelings or agitation are interfering with daily, they might be a sign of a medical or health condition like anxiety, depression, or ADHD.

Reviewed by:
Michael Roman, MD
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February 21, 2024
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Key takeaways

Restless feelings are a part of life. Whether you’re going through changes, experiencing extra stress at work, or just feeling a little off, restless feelings—even uncomfortable ones—are common.

However, if restless feelings or agitation feel like they’re too common in your daily life or if they’re interfering with it, they might be a sign of something else, like a medical or health condition. Similarly, if a family member or loved one notices that you’re more agitated or restless than usual, it may be worth exploring if there are other factors at play that need your attention.

In this article, we’ll discuss when to get help and provide some tips everyone can do when they’re feeling restless.

What is restlessness?

Restlessness is a feeling like you need to constantly move, think, or some combination of the two. When you’d like to focus on something or relax, restless feelings make it very difficult to do so. Instead, you want to get up and move, fidget with your hands or feet, or think about many less important things than the one thing you really do need to think about.

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What does restlessness feel like?

You can experience restlessness in many different ways. While most of the time it impacts your mental state, making it difficult to concentrate or rest, or focus on one thing. It can also be something you experience physically, like frequent fidgeting or even a condition like restless leg syndrome, which impacts between 7-10% of the US population.

Some of the most common signs of restlessness include:

  • A racing mind thinking about many different things
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hyperfixation on certain ideas
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Uncontrollable urges to stand and move
  • Creepy, crawly sensations in your body
  • Loss of appetite

What are common causes of restless feelings?

Restlessness is often a symptom itself, but it can feel different to each of us. Likewise, there are many potential causes of it, including stress reactions.  

When most people feel restless, it’s due to things that everyone experiences, like stress, excitement, anxiety. Sometimes, restlessness is a side effect of antidepressants and other medications. And other times it’s a symptom of mental health conditions like an anxiety disorder.

Mental health conditions

  • Depression and anxiety disorders: If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, you may feel irritable, tense, or restless.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - Restlessness and fidgeting are common symptoms of hyperactivity and ADHD.
  • Bipolar disorder (BD) - Feeling restless or on edge are sometimes associated with episodes of mania or hypomania, as well as depressive episodes.

If you think your restlessness might be something more, you should talk to a doctor. Many mental health conditions have overlapping symptoms, so  getting a diagnosis is an important and helpful step to getting better. (You can get matched with an in-network psychiatrist at Talkiatry by filling out this quick online assessment.)

Physical health conditions

  • Chronic pain: Being in pain makes it hard to get comfortable, which may cause restless feelings.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Restlessness in the legs is the primary syndrome of RLS.
  • Hyperthyroidism:  An overactive thyroid gland can cause restlessness, nervousness, and irritability.
  • Heart conditions with rapid heart rate, like atrial fibrillation: A rapidly increased heart rate frequently causes restlessness and a need to move.

Other health conditions

  • Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders: Staying up late and not getting enough sleep, or restful sleep, can make you feel edgy and jumpy the next day.  
  • Substance withdrawal: Whether it’s alcohol, opioids, or another drug, the detoxification process frequently leads to feelings of restlessness and agitation.

6 Tips to stop feeling restless and antsy

Being able to identify when you feel restless is the first and most important step. Then, you can start to understand why it's happening and how to stop feeling that way. These practical self-care and psychiatrist-backed tips may make a difference.

1. Exercise

One of the best ways to manage restlessness is by burning off some of that excess energy. Something as simple as taking a walk around the block or doing five minutes of yoga at home can help you stop feeling restless. (It can also improve your mood.)  

Getting into a regular exercise routine can help you proactively fend off restless feelings. Supporting your exercise with supplements and vitamins may also help you build strength and confidence, which can have a positive impact on your mental health.  

If you’re having trouble sleeping, frequent exercise is also a good way to tire yourself out so you can get to sleep easier each night.

2. Meditate and try breathing exercises

Meditation and breathing exercises are good components of a mindfulness practice that can help manage restless feelings. Meditation trains the mind to ignore impulses and maintain balance and focus during stressful or anxious times. As such, it can help you not just with restlessness, but also with feelings of depression or anxiety.

Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises are a good way to enhance your meditation practice and help you regain focus. The next time you’re restless, try a few slow and steady breaths.

3. Eat a balanced diet

A poor diet may lead to depression and anxiety, which can cause or amplify restlessness. Similarly, drugs and alcohol may have negative impacts on your mental health. Eating a balanced diet and limiting your alcohol consumption are good lifestyle changes to improve your mental health and prevent restless feelings.

Combined with other lifestyle changes, like an exercise routine, diet can have a big impact on your mood. And together, all of these things can add up to a daily mental health routine.  

4. Talk to a doctor

If you’re feeling restless all the time, you should consult a doctor to figure out the best way to manage those feelings. As we’ve noted, there are many different symptoms and causes of restlessness so it’s important to understand why you’re feeling restless so that you can find appropriate solutions.  

There may be other causes to these feelings, especially if you’re experiencing them alongside medical conditions, like chronic pain or severe headaches, or emotional symptoms, like feeling irritated for no reason. The first step to any treatment plan is consulting a doctor or other healthcare provider.  

It may also be beneficial to explore the support of a therapist or counselor who can provide additional insights and strategies for coping with these feelings.

5. Talk to friends or family

Doing things you enjoy with your friends and family can help you avoid stress and anxiety that make you feel restless. Watch a movie, go bowling, make dinner—whatever you like to do, make time to do it more often with people you love.

When you’re feeling restless or down, you may want to avoid friends and family—especially if you’re annoyed at someone. It’s important to talk through those issues rather than avoid them. Whether you’re frustrated with a friend or you’re overwhelmed at work, talking about what’s making you upset will help you work through those feelings. Likewise, if you’re feeling restless and anxious, doing something fun with friends can help you refocus that restless energy into something you enjoy doing.

6. Try journaling

It can be helpful to understand what makes your mood change and journaling is one place to start. Writing down your feelings can help you become more aware of them and get a little insight into what might be overwhelming you. When you step away to write down your thoughts, it might also be a place to channel your restless energy.

When to get help for feelings of restlessness

Feeling restless can make it difficult to focus on school or work, and can even diminish your interest in things you enjoy like hobbies or hanging out with friends. If you find your restless feelings are impacting your life in a negative way, it might be time to talk to your doctor or mental health professional like a psychiatrist.

If the cause of your restlessness is a mental health condition, a doctor or psychiatrist can help you figure out the best course of action. It depends on what condition you have, but many of them, including ADHD, anxiety disorders, and depression, can be treated with a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.  

If restless feelings are impacting your quality of life in a negative way, our psychiatrists are here for you at Talkiatry. We’re a national mental health practice that treats people with a range of conditions—all from the comfort of your home. (And we take insurance). To get started, fill out our online assessment and schedule your first virtual visit.  

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Frequently asked questions

Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

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The best way to get a detailed estimate of your cost is to contact your insurance company directly, since your cost will depend on the details of your insurance.  

For some, it’s just a co-pay. If you have an unmet deductible it could be more.  

Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

Michael Roman, MD

Dr. Michael Roman is currently a Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Roman is a board-certified Adult Psychiatrist and a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Dr. Roman’s clinical practice centers primarily around medication management and psychopharmacological treatment approaches. He also specializes in a variety of psychotherapeutic modalities which he utilizes in conjunction with medication management in order to provide patients with the best possible treatment outcomes.

Dr. Roman’s curiosity for the studies of the human mind began with pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was intrigued by the way our mind, body, emotions, and behavior were intertwined to comprise our everyday life experiences. His interest in the intricacy of the human mind was deepened in medical school, and he received his medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Roman treats a wide spectrum of patients, but his primary clinical focus is treating mood disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. Dr. Roman also specializes in treating substance use disorders and possesses clinical expertise in implementing high quality motivational interviewing and motivational enhancing therapy.

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