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Why Are Some People Clumsier Than Others?

We can all be clumsy from time to time. You trip over a curb or spill coffee all over your new dress, but sometimes, being clumsy isn't just an accident but a repeated problem. You may notice that you’re clumsier than usual at certain times of the month, or that you keep bumping into or dropping things when you feel stressed. In this article, you’ll learn more about clumsiness and whether it’s something to be concerned about or just a normal part of your life and personality.

Exploring the Causes of Variability in Coordination and Balance

We all have that friend—or maybe we are that friend—who always seems to drop things, bump against the furniture, and knock things over. In most cases, we just laugh and brush it off: ‘Some people are just clumsier than others, right?’ But being clumsy isn’t always a personality feature. Clumsiness can mean many different things.

What does it mean to be clumsy?

Most of us have experienced randomly dropping things, bumping against a table, or losing our balance. In most cases, clumsiness is nothing to worry about. It’s often just a manifestation of poor coordination, moving too fast, or perhaps one too many drinks. While this happens to everyone from time to time, some of us consider ourselves to be clumsy people. Perhaps you experience more clumsiness than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are inherently clumsy. There are a number of factors that can temporarily affect our coordination.


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Is clumsiness serious?

Clumsiness on its own isn’t a serious problem, but merely a symptom. For clumsiness to be considered a serious issue, it must be sudden, severe, or last for long periods of time. If you’ve never considered yourself clumsy but suddenly find you are dropping things, spilling drinks, and tripping for no discernible reason, there may be cause for concern, especially when accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • vertigo
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headaches
  • muscle weakness
  • experiencing strong and seemingly random smells
  • seizures

Clumsiness together with one or more of these symptoms, might indicate that you are suffering from one of the following serious diseases:

  • epileptic seizures
  • stroke
  • certain cancers
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • brain injury or tumour
  • Alzheimer’s disease

However, it is much more likely that your occasional clumsiness stems from hormonal changes or a mild to moderate mental health condition. Read on to find out more about four common causes of clumsiness.

Four common reasons for clumsiness

Clumsiness and ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD for short, is a common neurological disorder among children and even adults. Many parents discover they have ADHD when one of their children is diagnosed with it. Sustaining focus and attention for extended periods can be challenging for people with ADHD. To compensate, they may exhibit controlling or impulsive behaviours, which can lead to difficulties fulfilling responsibilities at school, at work, and at home.

One symptom often associated with ADHD is postural sway. Postural sway is a biological response to movement. Our bodies are continually seeking equilibrium as we walk, run, and climb, and when we balance on one part of the body or another, for example, when doing a one-legged yoga pose. As you adjust your muscles to balance on one leg, you might sway a little to one side.

Those of us with ADHD sometimes have trouble with our motor control, meaning more difficulty maintaining balance. They might sway visibly to one side or make other small physical adjustments to keep themselves aligned. If you have ADHD, you may not even notice that you’re doing it. However, postural sway can affect your coordination, and you might bump into or drop things more often, and generally feel off balance.

How to treat postural sway in people with ADHD

If you occasionally have bouts of clumsiness, but this doesn’t interfere with your health or daily living, postural sway is probably not the problem. However, many people, especially children, are admitted to the hospital for traumas attributed to clumsiness.

If clumsiness feels like a way of life, your healthcare provider might recommend a regimen of special exercises for training balance. Like any other ability, balance can be trained and improved. Studies show that balance training has impressive results in enhancing motor skills in children with ADHD, and improved balance enhances your body’s overall health and agility.

Understanding the Relationship Between Clumsiness and Anxiety

Clumsiness and anxiety

Anxiety brings many uncomfortable feelings that you might start to get nervous even thinking about it. It’s quite normal to be clumsy when you’re stressed. This happens for several reasons:

  • Your hands become shaky, so keeping things in your grip becomes more difficult.
  • Your hands might also be sweaty, making it easier for things to slip from your grasp.
  • You might be overthinking. The body’s motor system is highly intelligent; the motor cortex in the brain responds to sensory input to help us coordinate movement. It is so good at what it does that we can perform many of our daily tasks automatically, without having to think much about them. But anxiety changes that—simple things become difficult when anxiety puts your every move under a microscope. If you are focussing on every step instead of trusting your body, you are more likely to trip.
  • When you’re nervous it’s hard to focus. You can easily be distracted by small changes in the environment and so are more likely to drop or spill something.

How to avoid clumsiness when anxious?

Clumsiness is simply part of your body’s reaction to anxiety. Therefore, the most effective way to address it is by calming yourself.

You might try:

  • Breathing exercises to regulate your oxygen intake and slow your heart rate.
  • Focusing on sensory perception to bring your attention to your current surroundings and to the present moment.
  • Preparing in advance to reduce the fear of the unknown. When you have a good idea of where you’re going, who will be there, and the likely course of events, it will be easier to relax and enjoy the experience.
  • Taking things slowly to give yourself a break. If you notice you are becoming distracted and begin to fidget and shift in your seat, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and allow each task to take the time it requires.

You can find more tips in our article about managing anxiety.

Clumsiness and menstrual period

Your period is approaching, and suddenly you are forgetting everything, tripping over your own feet, and nothing seems to stay in your hands! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many women report feeling clumsier during their time of the month.

There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon. The hormonal fluctuations that occur just before your period begins can dysregulate the brain centres responsible for cognitive function. On top of that, you are more likely to retain water, which changes your centre of gravity slightly and can throw off your balance.

Many women also complain about poor sleep during this time, which causes them to feel exhausted, distracted, and less in control of their movements. Alyssa Dweck, MD, reports that some of her patients experience a slight swelling of the eyeballs during menstruation, which can make it more difficult to put in their contact lenses, further aggravating the feeling of clumsiness.


How do you stop being clumsy when on your period?

While there’s little you can do to change how your cycle works, you can make things easier on yourself when you’re menstruating by:

  • Getting enough sleep. When you’re tired, none of your mental, physical, or emotional systems will be at their best.
  • Reducing salty and sweet foods that can increase water retention.
  • Putting down your phone. Look around, look where you’re going, look at your friends. Reducing screen time when you’re on your period helps you stay centred, and it’s a great way to build a little social media fast into your routine.

Clumsiness and menopause

You might think that after years of crazy hormonal changes, you will get some relief when things start to slow down, but you’d be wrong. Now you get to face the next challenge—perimenopause! Welcome clumsiness, along with many other symptoms…

Oestrogen levels decline sharply as perimenopause starts. This can affect cognitive functions such as memory, problem-solving, and concentration, and motor functions such as balance and coordination. To make things worse, many women experience insomnia during this time, leading to fatigue and brain fog.

It’s also normal for motor skills to degrade as we age, and you might notice that you bruise more easily. As hormone levels drop, our bodies no longer produce collagen as efficiently, and fatty tissues shrink, making your skin thinner. Thinner skin and extra clumsiness can mean nasty bruises from minor incidents like accidentally bumping against a chair.

How do you stop clumsiness when going through perimenopause?

Alas, there is no remedy for ageing, but we can maintain a rewarding quality of life by staying active, mentally and physically. While it’s normal to be less interested in big parties and running around like you do when you’re in your prime, being part of a social group like a special interest club or your church or simply spending time with a few good friends can be invigorating and provide the social bonding we all need in some form throughout life. Leverage your life experience to design the best possible days, weeks, and years, and challenge yourself to engage with the changing world around you.

Many women also experience relief from symptoms with hormonal replacement therapy (HRT). This is still controversial in some places, but as we learn more (finally) about what women experience in menopause, there is mounting evidence that HRT is both safe and beneficial. There are many options to combat the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause with HRT, and different women experience a wide range of reactions to supplemental oestrogen, progesterone, and even testosterone. Your doctor can help you decide whether HRT suits you and what methods you might try.

Learn more about the benefits and risks of hormonal replacement therapy.

How not to be clumsy?

If you’re clumsy from time to time, don’t judge yourself too harshly. It’s very likely that you just need more rest or would benefit from slowing down. We often become more uncoordinated when we rush or feel stressed. So, when you notice that you keep knocking things over and have already bumped against several tables and chairs today—stop. Take a deep breath, notice your surroundings, and find your centre. Does all of it have to be done right now? This, too, shall pass.

However, if clumsiness comes on suddenly, is severe, lasts a long time, or is accompanied by some of the other symptoms mentioned above, consult your doctor to make sure nothing else is wrong.

It’s a wrap!

No one likes to be that person everyone else thinks of as clumsy. And sometimes clumsiness isn’t just a random occurrence, but an annoying and even dangerous symptom. If you’d like to learn more about women’s health, we invite you to read more of our articles:

Why am I so emotional during my period?

Do you experience hair loss? Tips on how to cope with it.

How can you learn to track your menstrual cycle?

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