What is Psychomotor Agitation?

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  • Last Modified Date: 11 May 2019
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Sometimes, when mental distress is great, as may occur with significant anxiety, depression, or mania, a person responds with a condition called psychomotor agitation. This can take many forms, but it is often easily observed. The person could keep repeating an activity that is useless: wringing the hands, tapping the foot, shaking the legs, walking around a room constantly, or starting and stopping any form of activity over and again. It as though these motions are an attempt to address underlying emotional distress, but they do not help, which may only make the agitation greater.

One of the conditions most commonly associated with these movements is a form of depression called agitated depression. The main feature of this condition can be the inability to stop moving some part of the body, though related features are that the person may suffering from recurrent and obsessive thoughts. Similarly, many believe that psychomotor agitation can be present in the hypomanic or manic phase of bipolar disorder.


Some medications may contribute to this condition. Many drugs, including many of the newer atypical antipsychotics, can cause akathisia or inner restlessness as a symptom. It is not a leap when inner becomes outer, and a person shows this through many physical expressions. These can prove not only difficult to bear, but harmful for the person who could, for instance, repeatedly scratch his skin until it bleeds. A hypomanic or manic response to the wrong medications could also result in this agitated behavior and is a strong argument for performing bipolar screening on individuals considered to have depression.

Another group of people that may suffer from psychomotor agitation are those in various stages of dementia or delirium. In fact, on the whole, this symptom is much more common in older adults, and it poses greater risk for those with limited mobility issues or a failure to understand the risks of any action taken. Special safeguards need to be in place to help those who display this condition and who are also not able to recognize a danger to themselves.

There are a number of treatments that might be proposed to address this symptom. In depression, anxiety, or mood disorders, appropriate medication for the underlying condition may greatly reduce symptoms or completely resolve them. Helping an elderly person is much more complex.

Many of the recommended medications to treat this illness fall into the class of antipsychotic drugs, and a number of these have recently been discovered to greatly elevate risk for death among older people. Other medications that do not pose this risk may be tried, but a combination of non-drug therapies might accompany this. It’s suggested that a full evaluation of the physical health, physical needs, and emotional health and needs be done when this form of agitation occurs, and it can also be useful in relieving some of the restlessness from the mind.


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Post 4

My son has PCS -- post-concussion syndrome -- which has now gone to PTSD. He's 14.

His doctor and so-called therapist has put him on Prozac, and then in her copy of her letter to my GP has said it is this Psychomotor agitation.

He has severe anxiety/panic attacks since the head injury, but says he is unwilling ( this is due to panic/anxiety and physically throwing up) to attend her appointments which are 20 miles away.

How can I get him there when he can't use public transport? I cannot afford a taxi. Everything has turned so badly since the head injury, and I am left fighting every inch for any help.

Post 3

I did not realize the degree of psychomotor agitation I have until it was pointed out by others by observation or videotape. Unfortunately, I have never met anyone else who has this. I discovered I had this through research. I struggle with moving my hands and arms when talking when I am nervous or excited. I struggle with my legs shaking when I sit. I have had this since childhood.

I have severe anxiety disorder, which for me includes theophobic personality disorder (I fear being punished by God), OCD, scrupulosity (OCD and religion), avoidant personality disorder, complex PTSD and major depression among other things.

Post 2

With psychomotor agitation as a result of the mania phase of bipolar disorder, the person can be viewed as being hyperactive and having an unusual boost in creativity, energy, and generally may come across as more enthusiastic about life.

Although this may seem like a good thing to others who are used to dealing with the depressed side of bipolar, it is actually very uncomfortable for the person suffering from psychomotor agitation.

The person is extremely restless and all though they are doing many things, their ability to be productive may be low because they have trouble not being distracted by new things.

Does anyone know how to help someone going through the mania side of bipolar, so that they can be calm enough to finish what they have started?

Post 1

I believe that with psychomotor agitation that patients can also be helped with forms of meditation and counseling, as well as medication.

As having tension in the mind, and a feeling of general agitation causes the physical symptoms of this disorder, sometimes the person does not even realize they are doing actions that others find strange.

If they are your friend or significant other, their emotional stress played out in a physical symptom can be very upsetting.

I find, for example, that if someone close to you is wringing their hands constantly, gently putting your hands on top of theirs, maintaining eye contact and starting a conversation with them can be very soothing for the person.

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