Fidget toys have become quite popular these days not only among children but also among adults. Moreover, therapists also use fidget toys as a way to help people with anxiety calm down.
Fidgeting or small movements of restlessness that is commonly seen in people with anxiety or ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) could look like the tapping of fingers, twirling hair, and bouncing of knees. It has been a coping mechanism for the body that promotes the release of stimulants and increases the concentration in patients with attention disorders.
In such cases fidget toys can be helpful. These toys are designed to increase concentration or focus as these toys give your hands something to do and keep your mind shifting its attention to something else that would help you relax when you are anxious.
Read on to know more about fidget toys and if they can help in coping with anxiety.
What Are Fidget Toys?
Fidget toys are tools or devices that are made to help children and people focus and reduce stress. They also help in improving learning ability. Though there is not enough research to support the benefit of fidget toys, many researchers recommend them to reduce anxiety and stress. Fidget toys can be of different types, including fidget spinners, stress balls, pop-its, fidget cubes, and many more.
How Do Fidget Toys Help With Anxiety?
There has been growing research on the effects of fidget toys on anxiety, ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and many other conditions that affect concentration and learning.
People with anxiety make small movements or fidget when they are anxious, impatient, restless, or nervous. Fidget toys help in giving these small movements an outlet, which in turn helps in calming down the nerves and offering relief from stress. These toys act as a distraction for people with anxiety and provide them with a temporary form of relief.
Although more research in this field is required, some evidence suggests that fidget toys might influence fine motor skills in people. In a study conducted in 2018, researchers recruited 81 people to check the benefits of fidget toys on their motor control skills. (1)
The participants were divided into three groups, a control group, a sham group, and an experimental group. The sham group held a fidget spinner and the participants in the experimental group could rotate the fidget spinner. Before and after the trial each participant traced a spiral on a graphic tablet. Other than direct pen-to-graphic tablet contact, no other contact or support was allowed.
It was found that the sham and experimental groups showed improvement, and it was more marked in the experimental group. However, this positive impact was only assessed in the short term. Researchers have mentioned that fidgeting occurs due to stress and fidgeting helps in relieving stress. Thus, fidget toys could play a crucial role in treating anxiety.
fidgeting could affect people differently, however, some research has suggested that fidgeting offers more relief to men dealing with high-pressure situations. (2)
Spinners, cubes, and other fidget toys not only help in alleviating stress but also help in improving concentration. However, a study from 2018 that involved 60 children with ADHD has shown the opposite effect. (3) It was found that fidget spinners resulted in reduced activity in children, distracted them, and also made them pay less attention to their surroundings.
Types Of Fidget Toys For Anxiety
There are different types of fidget toys available for patients with anxiety. Some of them are fidget spinners, squeezable stress balls, playdough, six-sided fidget cubes, pop-its, chewable pendants, and mindful breathing straws. Let us know a bit more about some of the fidget toys.
Fidget spinners are three-pronged small tools that are generally made from metal or plastic and are meant to be spun. These small fidget toys are essential for people struggling with anxiety and who find it hard to
Playdough or Putty
Just like a stress ball, playdough or putty helps in releasing stress and tension. Playdough comes in a lot of colors and is portable. Playdough is an interesting and small tool and can be less distracting than other fidget toys.
Squeezable Stress Balls
Stress balls come in different shapes, sizes, and materials. These fidget toys benefit to calm the nerves and have also been shown to relieve arthritis and strengthen muscles in the hands and wrists.
A preliminary study that looked at sixth graders using stress balls during instruction, has reported that their attention, attitude, writing abilities, and peer interaction were improved. (4)
Chewable Pendants and Mindful Breathing Straws
Chewable pendants are something exciting and are oral sensory tools that could be beneficial for people with anxiety who tend to chew their nails, pencils, or hair. These fidget toys are designed for all age groups. Make sure that while purchasing chewable pendants, you should look for those that are BPA-free, latex-free, PVC-free, lead-free, and made with materials that are quite safe.
Straw breathing is a mindful practice that is used for anxiety and it can be used with or without a straw. Fidget toys like mindful breathing straws derive from this straw breathing practice. Straw breathing begins with naturally inhaling through the nose and then exhaling by mouth through a tool, i.e. a straw. Breathing straws could be a tool to help people exhale completely and this, in turn, aids in reducing anxiety and regaining natural balance.
Fidget cubes are another type of fidget toy that can be quite effective in reducing stress and anxiety. They are six-sided fidget toys that are quite complex and keep your fingers busy. Usually, they are made of plastic and each side of these cubes includes a lot of activities like clicking, twisting, flipping, or spinning, thus allowing the hands to remain engaged and the mind to be focused.
Pop-it is a fidget toy that is designed to sound and feel like popping bubble wrap and is extremely satisfying. The best thing about pop-its is that you can push down the bubbles and hear the pop, and then turn over and repeat. You can pop these toys in different patterns and also pop them more than one at a time. These fidget toys help in developing hand dexterity and coordination, and also help in relieving stress and also improve attention and learning ability.
Fidget toys have become one of the effective means to calm down stressful situations and help with anxiety. However, since these fidget toys have been on the market, it also became common to see them in schools and workstations. This has raised huge concerns about the adverse effects like students being addicted to these toys, distractions and paying less attention in studies, and so on. So, school authorities started to report them as a distraction to other classmates, and many schools have banned them. But, many doctors and counselors have mentioned the benefits of fidget toys for anxiety.
NOTE: Anxiety is a problem that needs medical attention. So, although fidget toys can be beneficial, they cannot be considered a replacement for actual medical treatment.