What do you do when you are anxious? Do you pace? Do you chew on a pencil? Do you wring your hands or purse your lips or click a pen?
In the past I’ve spoken about how fidget toys can be helpful and different ways to use them. Fidget toys for focus, fidget toys for calming, and now fidget toys for anxiety. But why are fidget toys even a thing? Well, let’s talk about why fidget toys are a thing. Let’s talk about anxiety and how fidget toys can be used for anxiety.
There are so many reasons why someone might have anxiety. The daily stressors of life for anybody can lead to ongoing anxiety. Life itself is full of reason for someone to be anxious. All the proverbial straws on the proverbial camels’ backs. Even for those of us that seemingly have our stuff together. But life piles on and things add up and we all get anxious. .
What exactly makes us anxious?
1. Big life stuff.
A death in the family, relationships needing work, money, moving, new job, new school, so many “big deal” reasons! All can lead to anybody having anxiety. Even for those of us with our ducks in a row.
Trauma left untreated (or even treated) can create anxiety. Not feeling good in our own skin and difficulty dealing with events of the past in our head is hard for all of us. But having traumatic events in our lives can easily lead to different forms of anxiety.
In the moment stress, built up stress, chronic stress, all the stress you can think of. It adds up and does a number on our nervous system which is responsible for regulating our emotions. When stress is high, anxiety is high. When anxiety is high, stress doesn’t seem to go away.
4. Having a neurological disorder.
Life is tough enough but when a brain works differently than most other people then navigating the world daily can be extremely stressful. Being on the autism spectrum, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, any kind of neuro diversity often means difficulty meeting general societal demands. Having difficulty processing sensory input, struggling with motor skills, or communication can lead to short and long term anxiety.
5. Some of us are just wound tight
That’s just the way we are. Some of us rev our engines high, we are in our own head a lot, and things must be just so. This is totally normal and part of being human. But in the end this alone can cause anxiety.
Struggling with any of the above can mean it can be hard to get to a regulated state. This is the job of the nervous system. Our nervous system is responsible for our emotions and our movement. Our emotions will dictate our movement and our movement can also dictate our emotions. And this is where the use of fidget toys for anxiety comes in.
What do you do when you are anxious?
Do you pace? Do you chew on a pencil? Do you wring your hands or purse your lips or click a pen? I do anxious cleaning. When I get upset, I clean the house. In fact, my wife has admitted to tapping into my anxiety for me to be cleaner around the house. No cool, Abby. Not cool. But that’s what I do. I also go for walks or exercise to clear my head. But what I’m doing is getting my brain to a more organized state through moving. Emotions and movement are linked. Always. Whether happy, sad, anxious, or relaxed. You can usually tell someone’s mood by their body language. Our emotions dictate our movements, and our movements dictate our mood. Therefore, there are fidget toys for anxiety.
There are many ways to fidget. From large gross motor movements to small fine motor movements. It really depends on what you like and what situation you’re in. If you have the space and the time then going for a walk, exercising, or folding laundry can be excellent ideas. This is more of a movement break but it’s still somewhat the same thing. If you must focus on something when sitting at a desk or engaged with someone then perhaps jumping and walking around the room can be distracting. If I’m a student I can’t just get up and do jumping jacks (although I think you should but that’s for another blog). And this is where fidget toys for anxiety come in.
What are fidget toys for anxiety?
Fidget toys for anxiety can be used to keep the hands busy to help the mind stay even keel. Things like the marble maze or fidget popper from Lakikid that can be kept on the lap or held in the hands while engaging in a conversation, listening to the teacher, or quietly working at a desk. These are perfect fidget toys that provide movement but don’t get in the way of learning. And in some cases, can be incorporated in the learning.
Using fidget toys for anxiety can come in many forms. The principle is movement and to make it as least restrictive as possible while not interrupting the learning or of the child or of others. These are two specific fidget toys to use for anxiety that are both tried and true, and effective.
Fidget Popper: The Lakikid Fidget Popper has letters on it that can be used for educational purposes like spelling, reading, even math. Who says multiple choice has to be written down? Not only are we engaged in learning but now we are moving our body. This requires focus, attention, and gives the body a chance to move to help with regulation. The fidget popper can be kept in a lap or under a desk to keep hands busy while attending to a task. The Lakikid Fidget popper is FDA approved and can even be used to chew on. The jaw has huge masseter muscles that when exercised provide a lot of input. This is a reason why people chew on things when anxious. The Fidget Popper is an excellent fidget toy for anxiety.
Marble Maze: I like to use the Lakikid Marble Maze as both a transition activity and to keep hands busy. When done with work a child can use the maze as a transition task from one thing to another. Finish work, complete the maze, move to the next activity. Also this can be kept under a desk or on a child’s lap to fidget with while engaged in learning.
Incorporating movement in everyone’s day is important for mental and physical health but also makes everyone more productive in the long run. Fidgeting is a form of movement and movement helps keep us engaged as well as reduce anxiety. Some of us need more and bigger movements than others while some of us need less and smaller movements. We all differ in this way but in the end we all end up moving somehow to keep ourselves engaged on whatever it is we are trying to be engaged in. And the more proactive we are about it then the less reactive we have to be.
Find what fidget toy and movement works for you or your kid’s anxiety. Because chances are you’re doing it anyway and not even realizing it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founder of Sensory Fitness. As an occupational therapy assistant, personal trainer, and special education teacher Matt Sloan has directed his experience into specialized fitness programs for everyone while catering to sensory difficulties, neurodiversity, or any special need. Matt also brings sensory education and strategies to educators, parents, fitness professionals, and anyone working with a sensory difficulties to provide sensory strategies, create sensory friendly environments, and promote the importance of movement in learning and everyday activities.