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How Fidget Toys Can Aid Emotional Regulation

by Busines Newswire
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In recent years, fidget toys like fidget spinners, pop-its, and sensory cubes have exploded in popularity. While often seen as meaningless toys or distractions, research suggests these pocket-sized gadgets can actually serve an important purpose – helping both children and adults self-regulate emotions. Fidget toys provide a healthy outlet for restlessness and stress, two triggers for emotional dysregulation. By occupying restless hands and minds, fidgets can be useful tools for strengthening emotional regulation skills.

Emotional regulation involves managing feelings, controlling impulsive behaviors, and navigating mood swings. Those with psychiatric disorders like anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, or autism spectrum disorder frequently struggle with emotional dysregulation. But even among the general public, most people grapple with controlling emotions at times. Feelings like stress, frustration, worry, and impatience can boil over leading to outbursts, impulsive choices, or paralyzing anxiety. Therefore having tools to refocus the mind and channel nervous energy in a healthy way allows for more conscious, intentional emotional regulation.

Fidget toys serve as useful aids for supporting emotional regulation in several key ways. First, kinetic movement is known to help stimulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that stabilize mood and focus. Physically manipulating fidget toys like Rubik’s cubes, spinner rings, or worry stones occupies the hands while also engaging the brain. The resulting biochemical shift leads to improved concentration while also calming feelings of restlessness, impatience, and anxiety. Rhythmic fidgeting motions like clicking, spinning, or shaking provide a regulating effect for both the body and mind.

Second, fidget toys divert focus and attention away from negative rumination by giving the mind a more positive outlet. Emotional spirals are fueled by obsessive internal dialogues which heighten feelings of upset or distress. Fidgeting hands distract the mind from its unhealthy fixation while also releasing nervous energy. Having an engaging sensory toy to manipulate can interrupt cognitive patterns that induce stress or sadness. Similar to mindfulness, fidgeting forces a person to be present in the moment focused on a tangible sensory object rather than being wrapped up in their feelings.

Additionally, fidget toys can minimize impulsive behaviors resulting from emotions like stress, frustration, or excitement. When we feel restless yet unable to act on those feelings, we are more likely to engage in impulsive actions we later regret like emotional outbursts, overspending, substance use, or binge eating. A fidget gives an outlet for the pent-up need for activity and stimulation. It allows for focus on a single object in the present moment rather than being driven by emotional impulses. Fidgeting channels nervous energy into harmless repetitive motions reducing the likelihood of destructive impulsive actions.

Furthermore, fidget toys provide comfort through texture, weight, and repetition. The sensory input can have a self-soothing effect similar to the comfort of a child’s blanket or stuffed animal. Fidgets like stress balls or weighted plush toys stimulate the senses in a subtle but powerful way. Merely holding or squeezing them can elicit feelings of calm during moments of distress. The familiar texture and motions involved in manipulating a favorite fidget toy activates the parasympathetic nervous system to lower heart rate and anxiety levels.

Lastly, keeping the hands occupied with a fidget provides an emotional regulation tool right at one’s fingertips at any time. Fidget toys are portable, discreet and quiet making them easily accessible and appropriate for most settings. Schools are incorporating them in classrooms to help students self-regulate and focus on learning rather than feelings of distraction, impatience or anxiety. Adults can keep a stress ball or fidget cube in a pocket or on their desk for stressful moments. Manipulating them can restore a sense of calm and control when difficult emotions feel overwhelming. Fidgets are especially useful when it is not possible to take a time out or break when feeling emotionally escalated or agitated.

While some people dismiss fidget toys as a pointless fad, the research demonstrates they have tangible mental and physical benefits. Any device that discreetly helps us gain control over emotions and behaviors would seem to have inherent value, especially given our increasingly distracting, stressful world. Fidget toys empower wearers to consciously regulate themselves and constructively direct energy into an absorbing sensory experience. Incorporating simple fidgeting tools into more settings would equip people with an accessible resource to help manage emotions and maintain self-control. Just as fidget toys support focus in those with ADHD or autism, they show promise for helping all humans better regulate emotions through productive repetitive movement and sensory input.