Rocking back and forth (+Is it a symptom of mental illness?)

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This article will discuss what it means when a person starts to rock their body back and forth. It will show what are the possible mental illness conditions that can cause that to happen, how they can get diagnosed, and how to look for help.

What mental illnesses cause someone to rock back and forth?

Rocking back and forth can be a stereotypic movement, such as hitting nails, self-biting, banging the head, picking at the skin, handshaking can be a sign of some mental illness, such as schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, stereotypic movement disorder, and vision or hearing problems.

Along with that, it can be a sign of trauma or chronic pain in the body. But what is important to understand is that rocking back and forth is not just a symptom of mental illness, it is usually related to a way to soothe a person. Just remember how babies like to be rocked in cribs. 

That movement causes the brain to release endorphins, which can cause a sense of well-being in the person. It can also be related to areas that control coordination, and eye movement, which is usually related to the regulation of stress. 

So even though they can have a soothing characteristic, these movements are usually portrayed by people going through some of those forms of mental illness. Let’s learn more about them.


Schizophrenia is a condition that can impair the person’s ability to think rationally, it has a huge impact on the person’s life, making it hard for them to communicate, and control their thoughts and emotions. How the person deals with the condition will be an indicator of how easy or how hard the condition will make your life.

Schizophrenia can cause the person to lose a lot, it makes it hard for them to think about things, their motivation and interest in doing things can also change, the same way, they can lose the ability to care for themselves, even their hygiene and eating habits can become worse. 

It can be hard for people with schizophrenia to talk about their feelings, and they can express irrational anger. They can get mad at others without any concrete reason, and might behave badly with others.

The condition also causes you to develop some things such as hallucinations, delusions, as well as confusion when it comes to expressing your thoughts. It can also cause people to experience memory loss, and to understand a situation fully to make an informed decision. 

They are usually disorganized due to a disruption in the cycle of brain signals, which can cause them to perceive stimuli that aren’t there, causing hallucinations. When that feels overwhelming to them, they can start to rock back and forth. 

People with schizophrenia usually need to be treated by therapists and psychiatrists. Medication is usually needed to help them organize their thoughts and feelings, along with helping them keep a sense of reality. 

If you’re facing this, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. You can find a therapist at BetterHelp who can help you learn how to cope and address it.

Autism spectrum disorder 

This sort of stereotypical movement is often common in people with any conditions on the Autism spectrum disorder. This type of behavior can even be a way to diagnose people on the autism spectrum. 

Along with that, people that have an autistic condition can do rocking back and forth as a way to handle their hypersensitivity, as a way to activate their nervous system. It can also be a way for them to calm themselves if they are hypersensitive and feel overstimulated.

For them, rocking back and forth can also be a way to help their brain release more endorphins to alleviate their tensions. People with an autism spectrum disorder are often treated by a team of professionals. Behavioral therapy can help, as long as social skills training, and sometimes even psychiatrists. 

Stereotypic movement disorder 

This disorder causes the person to develop some repeated, in some moments rhythmic behavior. Sometimes those actions can lead to self-injure, for example when the stereotypical movement is related to hitting their nails or banging their head. 

For someone to be diagnosed with this disorder, they need to show the behavior for more than 4 weeks in a row, to a point that it causes them to have trouble keeping their life organized. It is most common in kids with autism, or with learning disabilities. 

The stereotypical behavior seems to get worse when the person is experiencing a stressful situation, feels anxious, or tired. Aside from that, people handling traumatic situations, or that use drugs, such as cocaine, can develop stereotypical behavior.

Sleep rhythmic movement disorder

Another condition that causes people to start rocking back and forth is the sleep rhythmic movement disorder. It involves the person doing some repetitive gestures as a way to fall asleep. Some people may also sing, or make other noises as they rock back and forth. 

This can often happen to children when they are trying to soothe themselves to sleep. Especially when they wake up during the night and need to go back to sleep. It usually goes on for about15 minutes, and it shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

It is a way that the kid is learning to calm themselves, and they can even replicate it during the day if something happens and they feel disturbed. 

What sort of treatment will people need? 

Each of these disorders usually has its own set of treatments. But the first important thing is to diagnose it. Since mental health conditions usually have multiple factors, such as genetic, environmental, and psychological, many professionals may be looked upon in this process. 

Therapists and psychiatrists are usually a good start and in the future, there might be specific needs, such as rehabilitation professionals, and even school counseling. If your kid is showing the rocking back and forth behavior, be aware of it, by knowing that most times kids outgrown it by themselves. 

It can be an attention-seeking movement because you might be afraid they will get hurt, so try to not reinforce this behavior. Be caring, but don’t overprotect them. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): What mental illnesses cause someone to rock back and forth? 

What causes autism? 

There are still a lot of studies going on to define what causes autism, and what was discovered so far is that there are probably several causes to it. But it is known that genetics and the environment the person is in can play a key role in them developing autism.

It seems that people who develop one of the conditions from the autism spectrum have a genetic disorder. They can present something called Rett syndrome, or a fragile X syndrome. But others seem to have a question about their genes, which increases the chance of developing autism. 

It seems that some of these mutations can happen due to genetic factors, and others can just happen by chance. As for the environmental factor, studies are trying to establish if there’s a link to viral infections, medications, complications during pregnancy, or even the effect of air pollution that can lead to autism.

Does schizophrenia have a cure? 

There is no cure for schizophrenia. But with time the treatment of it has improved greatly. And nowadays the possibility of someone with the condition to live their life positively. Aside from personal aspects, what will determine if the person will live a good life, is how they submit to treatment.

The treatment for people with schizophrenia will need a psychiatrist, therapist, and social worker. This will allow them to manage the symptoms, and get back to their life. But that may not happen to everyone. 

That seems to be possible to about 50% of people with schizophrenia. While 25% feel like they have been doing better because of treatment, they still need their support network to get by. While 15% are not feeling better, and canned inpatient care. 

What are other strategies people can use to calm themselves? 

As said through this article, rocking back and forth can be a way of calming yourself, but that is not the only way. The first thing you can do is focus on your breathing. It can deactivate the fight or flight response that turns on when you get agitated.

You can also put your thoughts into question. When you feel overwhelmed about your negative thoughts, you may ask yourself how likely it is that this would happen. And if it does, what is the worse outcome, and if you would be able to handle it.

It might also help you to change your focus. Trying to focus on something else, maybe having a conversation with a friend, or even watching a show, can help you to not be so absorbed in what is worrying you.

Writing down your worries is also a way to calm yourself down. By putting it all on paper you will not only have the chance to externalize everything. But it will also give you the chance to look over everything and find some distance from it, by differentiating what is real and what is not.

How can I sleep better? 

If you are experiencing trouble sleeping, there are some ways you can improve the quality of your sleep. The first thing to do is to keep a good sleep schedule. Set yourself 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night, and try to go to bed at the same time every day. 

Take care of what you drink during the day, and avoid coffee from the afternoon on. And when you go to bed, make your room a relaxing place. Don’t use your phone when you get to bed, because it can wake you up.

You mustn’t take naps during the day. This can make you less sleepy during the night. So only nap when it is extremely necessary. And to feel more energetic during the day, but have a better sleep quality, try to exercise.

What causes people to become stressed?

Some things can cause a person to become stressed. You can become stressed if you feel you are under a lot of pressure, or if you are going through huge changes in your life. 

Being worried about something is also a source of stress, the same way as being out of control in a situation. Feeling overwhelmed by some responsibilities can also make you stressed, such as dealing with times of uncertainty, and not having enough activities in your life.


This article showed what mental illnesses can cause people to rock back and forth. It explained a little about those conditions, how people get diagnosed, and when it is time to look for treatment.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write it in the section below.



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