People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often struggle to complete tasks. While this ADHD symptom can be challenging, certain coping skills can help some people manage it. For example, many people find it easier to finish tasks when another person is present. This practice, which is known as body doubling, can help people living with ADHD stay focused and shut out potential distractions.
What Is Body Doubling for ADHD?
Body doubling is a self-management strategy in which people with ADHD can better complete tasks while another person is nearby. The body double doesn’t have to participate in a specific task or provide any direct assistance. For some people with ADHD, just having another person around can make it easier for them to focus on the tasks they need to complete.
“Having someone close to you can create dopamine in the body since you’re socializing. At the same time, it invites you to complete a task since there’s the expectation of finishing something while the other person is still present.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
In some cases, a body double may also provide prompts or encouragement that help keep people on track. For example, if you become distracted before you finish a chore, a body double could gently remind you of what you were working on.
While body doubles are usually physically present, some people find that virtual body doubling via a phone call or through video chat programs can also be effective.
How does body doubling for ADHD work?
When we’re completing tasks, we rely on our executive functioning skills to plan ahead, stay focused, and practice self-control until the job is done. ADHD impairs executive function, making it difficult for many people to stay on top of everyday responsibilities.
While there isn’t much body doubling ADHD research to draw from, some studies do show that people with executive dysfunction can benefit greatly from lifestyle interventions that make tasks more enjoyable. This might explain why having another person around can potentially help prevent hyperactive behavior and make potentially frustrating tasks a little more fun.
“The other person does not have to be doing the same thing you do. Each one can be working on a different task while still motivating and empowering you.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
Body doubling vs mirroring for ADHD
Many adults with ADHD use coping strategies that help them hide their symptoms. This practice is known as ADHD masking and is especially common in women with ADHD. One type of ADHD masking — known as mirroring — involves intentionally or unintentionally mimicking the speech, movements, or behaviors of someone else.
While ADHD mirroring and body doubling may seem similar at first glance, you can work alongside a body double without imitating them in any way. Some people may choose to talk with a body double or complete a specific task alongside them, but it’s also possible to use body doubling as you complete tasks independently. Many people find it easier to complete chores and handle responsibilities when a body double is around, ultimately reducing the need for them to engage in any sort of masking.
The Benefits of Body Doubling for ADHD
Teaming up with a body double can be highly beneficial for some people living with ADHD. It’s a simple intervention that can help in several ways.
The symptoms of ADHD in women and men can be very frustrating, especially when you’re having difficulty starting or completing an assignment or staying on task.
Having a body double around might help you stay calm and focus on what you want — or need — to do. For some people, the social aspect of body doubling can help them stay in the moment, allowing them to complete potentially frustrating tasks.
It keeps people accountable
Research suggests that ADHD interferes with dopamine pathways in the brain, which is why some people living with ADHD struggle with motivation.
Having another person around can offer some measure of accountability. If a person with ADHD is distracted before they finish a task, their body double can gently redirect them so they’re able to finish what they’ve started.
It reduces isolation
People with ADHD are often seen as overly sensitive, impulsive, or disorganized by their peers. These negative assumptions might lead to social anxiety or isolation.
Body doubling can be an easy way for someone with ADHD to spend time with another person, with the added bonus of also helping them complete important tasks. Using a body double might even be an effective way to develop and enhance social skills over time.
“The other person can be a friend, trainer, or even a coach who can facilitate body doubling, since you can practice body doubling with anyone you want.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
The Drawbacks of Body Doubling for ADHD
While body doubling might help some people with ADHD, the coping strategy isn’t right for everyone. For many people, working with a body double might cause more problems than it solves.
“One of the drawbacks can be the dependency factor or need to have someone present to be able to complete something.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
It’s potentially embarrassing
Many people living with ADHD are ashamed of their symptoms and fearful of criticism. For them, working in front of a body double might be embarrassing, especially if they’re self-conscious about having difficulty completing a task or making mistakes. Body doubling is more likely to be effective when the double is someone the person with ADHD feels they can really trust and count on.
“Body doubling may not work the same way for everyone. For some people, it can create feelings of inadequacy or embarrassment, so it’s important to reflect on how you’d feel practicing it before doing it.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
It can be distracting
Working alongside a friend keeps some people focused, but for others, it might end up being just one more source of distraction. Some people may find that they’re too busy chatting with their body double to get anything done. Body doubling has a greater chance of success if you discuss your expectations with your double beforehand.
Is Body Doubling for ADHD Effective?
Without body doubling ADHD studies, it’s impossible to make definitive statements about its efficacy.
Still, despite not having any hard research, body doubling is a simple ADHD coping technique that’s supported by anecdotal evidence. Many people living with ADHD have reported that working with a body double has boosted their productivity.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people find that working with a body double can be more effective for some tasks than others. For basic and mundane jobs, like reading or household chores, a body double might keep you calm and focused. However, you may find that you prefer being on your own when you’re doing something more complex.
Consider asking a friend to come over and sit with you while you complete some simple tasks. You may be pleasantly surprised when you see what you can accomplish with the aid of a body double.
Seek Treatment for ADHD
Self-help techniques like body doubling can be an effective coping mechanism for many people with ADHD. Keep in mind though, this isn’t a magic cure. Coping techniques like this might be potentially helpful, but if you want to know how to treat ADHD, it may not be possible through body doubling alone.
Reach out today so you can learn to manage your symptoms and find coping tools that work for you. ADHD can be successfully treated through several tactics, including online therapy or in-person therapy, holistic and lifestyle changes, and medication for ADHD. There’s no cure for ADHD, but you can learn to effectively manage your condition.