The Stress Spinner’s Allure: Why Does It Work For Stress Relief?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated March 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever heard of a stress spinner? If not, then you might have heard of them referred to as fidget spinners or fidget toys. They came into the national spotlight a few years ago, and some children and adults alike swear by them as one of the best possible ways to counteract all sorts of problems, including stress. But are stress spinners as effective as they are touted to be? What is it about these stress-relieving gadgets that make them so appealing?

What is a stress spinner?

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Stress can be debilitating

Stressor fidget spinners can easily be found both in stores and online. They look like three-sided propellers, and they come in all sorts of different colors and designs. They are considered sensory toys, because they stimulate the senses.

The idea is for you to hold the spinner between your thumb and one of your other fingers and then spin it around. For this reason, a stress spinner may also be called a finger spinner or hand spinner. 

This sensory toy is weighted, so that once you get it spinning, with a little concentration, you can balance it on your thumb or the palm of your hand and watch it go around. It takes a couple of minutes for the spinner to stop if you give one a vigorous spin and balance it carefully.

Who can benefit from fidget spinners?

Fidget spinners can be useful for people of any age. Some adults carry them around in their pockets and take them out to play with during downtime, such as during a long ride on public transportation. Some people find that fidget spinners have a soothing effect on the mind during these situations. 

Stress spinners may be even more useful for individuals who have ADHD or those who are on the autism spectrum, some of whom say that they help with anxiety or provide stress relief. Also, those who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may get some relief out of using a stress spinner. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Some uses for a stress spinner

At this point, there have been limited peer-reviewed studies demonstrating what fidget spinners do (or don't do) to the human mind. However, one small study published in Behavioral Analysis in Practice showed that they helped children with ADHD increase their on-task behavior during language arts class.

Most of the makers of stress spinners state that they can be used to avoid rumination about stressful things. The physical act of playing with a spinner may serve as a distraction that someone needs so that their mind does not get bogged down in thinking about an unpleasant topic.

Another possible use might involve a child who is on the autism spectrum and having a hard time focusing on the lessons at school. They might be allowed to bring a fidget spinner with them to class and play with it as they listen to the teacher. It might seem somewhat counterintuitive to think that playing with something could help a child focus, but it does seem to be effective in some cases. Often, the child almost forgets about the spinner, and they may better absorb information.

They can bring on a meditative state

There is also some anecdotal evidence that playing with a stress spinner can bring on a meditative state that can be helpful for someone experiencing stress. If a person is in a therapy session and talking about something from their past that is upsetting them, they may feel more relaxed and able to talk about sensitive topics with a stress spinner. They might feel more lucid, and the words may come easier.

Children with ADHD

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As for children who live with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), those who are on medication sometimes still have the desire to do something with their hands in certain situations, such as when they are on the bus or in class. If they don't have a fidget spinner with them, then they may have a strong desire to tap on their desk or do something else that is a distraction to the other kids. Having a spinner with them may prevent such movements.

The spinner as part of a ritual

There are also individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who sometimes have a challenging time doing something like leaving the house without first making sure that all of their lights and electric appliances are turned off. 

The fidget spinner may serve as a way to fight the urge to engage in the rituals that are delaying them from starting their day. Instead, they can play with the fidget spinner, and it may help alleviate those compulsions.

The fidget spinner normalizes certain activities

The popularity of the fidget spinner may have made things easier for children who are on the autism spectrum or who have ADHD. Their popularity has made it more permissible for kids to have them, even those who do not have one of these conditions. With so many of them in use, the fidgeting and similar behavior that they are supposed to alleviate has become somewhat normalized.

As a result, children who feel different from the rest of their peers may feel more accepted. They may feel that they are part of the group if they are using a fidget spinner and several others in their class are using them as well.

The future of the fidget spinner

It's hard to say whether stress spinners are going to be around in 10 or 20 years. Without more scientific studies on stress spinners and how the brain reacts when people use them, it is difficult to say with any certainty why they work well for some people as a way of reducing stress. If you are interested in using a stress spinner, you might want to do so in tandem with other strategies for managing stress.

Do you need to discuss options for coping with stress?

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Stress can be debilitating

The stress spinner is just one of many different strategies that you can employ to relieve stress. If stress, anxiety, or problems with attention are creating difficulty for you, then you may benefit from exploring ways to lower your stress levels. A therapist may be able to help you do just that, and you can search for a therapist with experience in this area in your local community.

However, some people experiencing stress may be so busy or distracted that they find it difficult to make it to an in-person therapy appointment. In these cases, online therapy may be a viable alternative. 

With online therapy, you can meet with a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of your home via messages, phone calls, or videoconferencing. With BetterHelp, you can also contact your therapist in-between sessions through in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. This may be especially useful if you’d like to communicate thoughts or questions during moments of stress that arise between therapy sessions.

Online therapeutic interventions have been found to be effective in treating a variety of mental health concerns. For example, a recent meta-analysis found that online interventions were associated with positive outcomes for individuals experiencing symptoms of ADHD. Researchers have also identified online acceptance and commitment therapy as an effective intervention for people experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms.

Takeaway

Some people have found stress spinners to be useful for reducing stress and anxiety. They may be especially helpful for individuals living with ADHD and those on the autism spectrum, but anyone may find them useful. If you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, you may also find it helpful to talk to a licensed therapist, whether in person or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed online counselor who has experience helping people manage their stress. Take the first step toward reducing your stress and contact BetterHelp today.
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