Why do tics stop when people with Tourette’s Syndrome focus?



I have Tourette’s and one of the first things I found out once I was diagnosed was that playing chess for some reason stopped my tics. I remember after I would have a stressful day and I’d be screaming a lot (that was my only tic for a while after I was first diagnosed) my mum would always ask if I wanted to play chess, even though she was horrible at it.

But it’s not just chess, it’s whenever I’m focusing really hard, like on a test or if I’m extremely close to getting a personal best on a speedrun.

So why do my tics seem to stop or diminish a lot when I focus?

In: Biology



I don’t know specifically, but for a lot of mental illness type things they all get worse when you’re bored and when you’re anxious. Because these things usually come in packs, bored and anxious and depressive or stressful thoughts are always waiting on deck. But if you can distract yourself, you can calm yourself down and think about good things instead of stressful things, so the tics also calm down. I would think it has to do with absorption in the task, and probably if you’re frustrated it wouldn’t work so well if it breaks your focus enough or pushes you back into enough stress.

Just to be clear, I’m not an expert, and my answer is not a complete answer, but I hope it improves your understanding of the situation.

We currently don’t have a complete understanding of how TS works, but one of the areas of the brain thought to be affected is the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia generally works to prevent premature/unwanted movements (among other things), while signals from other parts of the brain generally overrides it (so you move your arm only when you want to move it). Disorders that involve the basal ganglia tend to have symptoms that change depending on whether you’re active or not (for example, the resting tremors in Parkinson’s disease which are worse when not moving).

This is where I start speculating. So if your brain is focusing on something, it’s generally being active and there are many signals moving in many directions in the brain. This might override the parts of the basal ganglia (it also deals with some behavioral stuff, so things overlap) that are causing the tics, temporarily reducing or eliminating the tics. This might explain your situation.