Anti-anxiety toys, also sometimes referred to as fidget tools, are often used at home and in classrooms to help kids self-regulate and calm anxiety throughout the day. Rather than being a distraction or annoyance in classrooms, fidget tools can help children focus, relax and maintain concentration.
Fidget tools are not only stress relief for kids; adults can benefit as well. In fact, many adults fidget without even realizing it. Just take a look around at a group of adults gathered together and see what they are doing with their hands. Some people shred paper or tissues, bend paperclips into odd shapes, or dismantle pens piece by piece. Tapping and doodling can also be indicators that a fidget toy could work for you.
The Theory Behind Fidget Tools
There is plenty of research to support the use of fidget tools. A study using stress balls, one of the most common fidget tools, found that people increased their accuracy in routine tasks and had better recall for tasks requiring memory when given a stress ball to squeeze.
Fidget tools work because some people find repetitive movements like squeezing or pinching to have a soothing quality that reduces anxiety. Using a fidget tool can have a grounding effect that allows focus. Some fidget tools help release energy by providing sensory input known as heavy work to help dissipate energy—one reason why people with ADHD have trouble maintaining attention. Other fidget tools may provide tactile stimulation that has a comforting effect.
Types of Fidget Tools
Pretty much anything can be a fidget tool if it provides the sensory input you need. However, there are several categories of toys or tools that are recognized for their ability to meet the needs of people with autism, ADHD, anxiety and other neurodiverse conditions.
These fidget tools are soothing for people who need some help feeling settled. They impart a sense of calm either through the way they feel or the repetitive motion needed to use them. Pipe cleaners and objects that are bendable or can be folded, twisted or stacked often fit the description of a calming fidget.
Alerting fidget tools may seem counterintuitive to some people because they tend to produce noise or light up which can be a distraction to some. Using an alerting fidget in a meeting or classroom would certainly be distracting, but in a quieter setting alerting fidgets can have a centering effect. Alerting fidget tools often break apart, snap together, click or pop to provide sensory input.
For some people, feeling different textures has a calming effect. These could be items that are smooth, rough, slimy, furry, or stringy. Feeling the textures with your fingers or skin allows some people to focus on the feeling and block out other stimuli. Koosh balls are one example of a tactile fidget. Play-Doh is another, as well as kinetic sand, Orbeez and other items you can sink your hands into or rub across your skin.
Dissipating excess energy is a need for many people with ADHD and sensory processing disorders. You can do while still sitting down by squeezing, kicking or pushing against a fidget tool that provides some resistance. Stress balls are a good example of resistance fidget tools. TheraBand strips used for pulling or pressing work well, especially when tied around chair legs. Kicking out or pushing down against the band with your feet can be therapeutic.
The ultimate resistance fidget gets a category of its own because an increased need to chew is common among neurodiverse individuals. People who bite their nails or have a habit of destroying the ends of pens and pencils can benefit from chewy fidgets. Chewing is known to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the hormone that makes us feel stressed, so it makes sense that so many people find chewing helps fight off anxiety and relieve tension. Chewy fidgets can be anything from a silicone tube or stick to necklaces that can be chewed or chewlery that can be worn on your wrist. Chewable pencil or pen toppers are helpful for people who tend to chew their pens.
Fidget Tools can be many different types of items that provide different types of sensory input. Wondering what the best fidget tool for you or someone you know is? Get in touch with us using the form on our website, and let's talk about fidgets! We are all about chewy fidget tools and other anti-anxiety toys for children and adults. Visit our shop to see the full collection, and follow us on Instagram to see what's new.