Fidget Toys For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Fidget toys are small devices that you can spin between your fingers with the purported benefits to improve concentration and relive stress. Other people buy fidget spinners just for enjoyment. While many people see them as fun to play with, there are other people who use fidget toys who claim they provide them with a means of creating a calming sensory experience and reducing anxious energy. Fidget toys can be a refreshing change when compared to screen time. 

There may be, however, concerns about the usefulness of these devices for anxiety and stress relief and whether or not they should be allowed in the hands of children and young adults. The truth about fidget spinners for anxiety might surprise you.

More about fidget toys for anxiety

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Is anxiety affecting your daily life?

Fidget toys are colorful, handheld devices that users rotate between their fingers. While playing with the device, users can focus their mental energy into the task, potentially dispelling pent up anxious energy to avoid becoming distracted from it. 

Fidget devices are typically small enough to fit into one's pocket. While many young children might see them as something fun to play with, many people who use fidget toys claim that they get a calming sensory experience from them that helps when they are feeling anxious. Fidget toys can take different shapes and forms, but most of them are made up of disc-holding, paddle-like wings that are designed to spin between your fingers with little effort.

Fidget toys are designed to keep your fingers and hands busy and engaged in simple, repetitive movements that enable you to easily disregard certain distractions like smells, claustrophobia, lights, and sound. If you find yourself in a situation where these distractions are too overwhelming then the use of a fidget toy can come in handy to greatly reduce stress and anxiety. Playing with a fidget toy can also improve fine motor control in the hands and fingers. Interestingly, even a simple object such as a pen can be used as a fidget toy, which is why you might find yourself fidgeting with one by clicking it from time to time.

Do fidget toys really help with anxiety?

Many people who've used fidget toys have reported improved focus in scenarios like sitting still in a meeting or when performing various tasks. Initially, fidget toys were made for the purpose of helping people focus, though reduced anxiety quickly became a positive side effect. Many occupational therapists see these devices as accepted alternatives to medication or other treatments for managing certain symptoms.

Many counselors and doctors use fidget toys to help children deal with conditions like ADD, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and ASD can be frequently associated with anxiety and impulsivity. In one study that did a systematic classroom evaluation of the effectiveness of these devices, they found that fidget spinners did initially reduce activity in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. However, they sometimes ultimately had a negative influence on attention even when combined with other classroom interventions.  

How it works

Fidget toys for anxiety can offer a distraction for people who have trouble focusing. In the case of treating severe anxiety, they can be valuable and might be used in conjunction with other treatments and medications. The continuous spinning and twirling of the colorful gadget can help to keep the hands busy, potentially providing distracting and easy-to-control sensory stimulation for those affected by anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders often have physical implications along with mental. It is not uncommon, for example, for anxiety to affect the hands, sometimes causing symptoms like shaking, cramping, restlessness, and tingling sensations. Fidget toys can serve as a distraction from certain anxiety symptoms and can provide a soothing satisfaction for those with sensory complications. They've also been shown to be effective in helping adults calm and soothe their nerves when experiencing an episode of severe tension and stress.

Some people might choose to relieve anxiety by biting their nails, pulling their hair, fiddling with jewelry, or even simply by placing their hands in their pockets. Fidget toys may be able to replace these anxious impulses. 

One should also note that fidget toys do not actually cure anxiety. Instead, the act of fidgeting can be used as a method to help the individual cope with an anxious episode with soothing temporary relief.

Factors to consider before purchasing a fidget toy

There are a variety of fidget toys that come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. For example, some popular varieties include fidget cubes you squeeze, fidget cubes with buttons, lights, and spinning balls, stress balls, and spinner rings. There are also magnetic balls that cling together while you move them around in your hand. 

Regardless of which you choose, the most important thing will be finding the right anxiety relief toy to manage anxiety or relieve tension that you experience. This can depend on your personal preferences, stress levels, tastes, mobility, and health conditions. Other factors to consider include:

Cost

Keep in mind that a high price tag doesn't necessarily mean high quality. When the popular fidget toys first hit the market back in 2017, prices went up as high as $199 for the "best of the best," meaning brass, copper, and titanium spinners. However, now, you can find units online for as low as $2.

Material

You'll likely want to make sure that your selection is composed of a durable material, such as stainless steel or titanium so that you don't have to constantly replace it. You can even find sterling silver toys but they may be more expensive. If you have a preference for soft or squeezable textures, consider purchasing a stress ball or something of that nature. If you are allergic to latex, make sure the toy is latex-free.

Design

You can find fidget toys of all sorts of engaging and unique designs for purchase, it all depends on what you're looking for. The most popular gadgets are commonly in the form of spinners, cubes, and even puzzle pieces.

Extra features

If you prefer extra features on your gadgets, such as glowing LED lights or extra things to twiddle with, there are virtually hundreds of distinct and efficient devices that can include new features for you to discover while browsing online. In fact, there are even some fidget toys that can be combined with essential oils, bringing on additional health benefits as well.

Rising concerns

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As stated above, fidget toys are sometimes used by therapists as a method to help calm down those with anxiety. However, shortly after these devices hit the market, it became common to see them in work and school environments, which raised concerns about potential adverse effects and their actual efficacy for relieving anxiety. School authorities began to report them as being a distraction to other classmates, and some facilities banned them altogether.

Nevertheless, many doctors and counselors can agree that the benefits of fidget toys for anxiety can outweigh the problems that they supposedly cause among children and young adults. However, there have also been some concerns regarding the issue of safety with fidget devices among smaller children. One of them is that fidget toys may pose a choking hazard to infants and toddlers if the toy falls apart.

If you have smaller children running around your household, keep these concerns in mind if you plan on or already have a fidget toy in your home. Children under the age of three should not use fidget toys. As a matter of fact, the best age to introduce fidget toys is seven. However, this depends on you as a parent and the type of precautions you take when your child is using a fidget tool. Essentially, it's up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons for your particular situation.

Alternative anxiety solutions

If your stress and anxiety are interfering with your everyday life to the point where you can't seem to focus on anything else, it might be time to seek professional help. Consider trying out some of these alternative anxiety solutions as well.

Writing

Try to write down your thoughts, feelings, or anything else you can't seem to shake off your mind. You might find it helpful to exercise your brain by jotting down thoughtful material in a journal to help you relieve stress and tension.

Music

Sometimes, drifting away into music can be one of the best ways to cope with anxiety. Look into exploring new material by your favorite artists or venturing out into different genres and styles.

Binaural beats

Binaural beats are soundtracks you can listen to with stereo headphones. Numerous peer reviewed studies confirm that binaural beat soundtracks can help relieve anxiety and reduce pain. The sound includes slightly different frequency patterns sent to each ear, which cause the overall brainwaves to synchronize with a desired brainwave state. For example, some sounds induce Alpha brainwaves associated with meditative mind states. Other sounds prompt the brain to enter Theta waves associated with sleep, dreaming, and deep relaxation.

DIY fidget toys

If you're not looking to spend any money on a fidget toy, fear not - you can easily make one from home. There are a variety of tutorials on sites like YouTube and Pinterest for all sorts of different DIY fidget toys to help with your anxiety. Give it a shot!

Get online counseling with BetterHelp

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Is anxiety affecting your daily life?

If you or someone you know is currently managing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, professional help is right around the corner. BetterHelp offers discreet online counseling with licensed therapists who really do care about you and are ready to help if you are feeling anxious. 

Online therapy is more convenient and accessible than traditional in-person therapy. With online therapy, you don’t need to take time of work or worry about transportation to get to your meeting- you just hop in a video call. Clinical studies also confirm that online cognitive behavioral therapy is just as effective as in-person CBT when it comes to treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. If fidget spinners just aren’t doing the trick, check in with a therapist for resources and help.

Takeaway

The usefulness of fidget spinners will depend on your personal needs and preferences as they may not work for everyone. For children, some studies found that fidget spinners work for easing restlessness and movement, but that it can have negative effects on classroom retention. However, other studies have found that fidget spinners can be very useful for adults, especially those with anxiety. 

If anxiety symptoms are affecting your life, talk to BetterHelp to learn about your options.

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