As we trip over curbs, splash ladles full of salad dressing on ourselves at the salad bar or drop our phones (preferably not in the toilet), we roll our eyes and ask no one in particular, “Why am I such a klutz?”
Although being clumsy or a klutz (“klutz” is an American Yiddish term for a blockhead or clumsy dolt) can seem like a chronic condition, it isn’t exactly a medical term, notes UCLA School of Medicine neuropsychiatrist Jeff Schwartz, M.D., co-author of “You Are Not Your Brain."
That said, in some cases, clumsiness can be a sign of a serious health condition that affects coordination.
“Ataxia is an umbrella term describing problems with balance and coordination,” explains Liz Werner, Outreach Coordinator for the National Ataxia Foundation. “There are a variety of diseases and conditions in which ataxia is a symptom, including MS [multiple sclerosis], stroke, head trauma, brain tumors, severe viral infections and immune system problems.”
But not all causes of clumsiness are so serious.
Mindfulness Over Matter
So if a medical cause—or, say, being intoxicated—isn’t to blame for tripping over your own feet, you may be able to chalk up your klutziness to a lack of mindfulness.
“I sometimes feel as though I'm walking the streets like a zombie, I'm so preoccupied,” says Christa Kindred, 34, who works at a political consulting firm in New York City. She blames job stress. Her list of slips, trips and sprained ankles is long. Her scariest moment, she says, involved jaywalking and tripping under an oncoming car. “Thank god the driver saw me in time, but just barely,” she says.
Model Brittany Dunlop, 26, can relate. The former competitive gymnast self-identifies as clumsy. “I think I walk better on my hands than my feet,” she says, showing off bruises from bumping into a table and a clothing rack. “I was never clumsy while competing or training, but in my everyday life I fall or bump into things all the time. It’s like I’m not paying attention to basic things like walking or climbing stairs. The harder something is [like gymnastics], the more it forces me to concentrate.”
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