Fidget spinners aren’t the only anxiety and energy-relief toys on the market. Here, a psychologist breaks down other calm-inducing toys you can tinker with.

By Julia Naftulin
Updated May 17, 2017

Fidget spinners, touted for their ability to stimulate children with ADHD and calm those with anxiety, have invaded schools. But however effective these spinning toys are, teachers are citing them as distractions and hazards to educational environments—one child even swallowed and choked on a piece of her fidget spinner. So what’s a parent to do if his or her child benefits from a spinner? And what if you’re a full-grown adult in need of a little anxiety relief, but can’t fathom bringing a toy to the office?

Fortunately, devices for soothing ADHD and anxiety symptoms are nothing new, and plenty of alternatives to the fidget spinner exist, says Steven Meyers, PhD, a professor and associate chair of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago. “Within anxiety populations, anything that serves as a distraction or source of comfort could work,” Dr. Meyers says. For people with ADHD, an object that increases stimulation will help the user focus.

When choosing your energy and anxiety relief object, have modest expectations of its effectiveness. Other actions, like exercising on a regular basis and practicing 30 minutes of deep breathing every day, are shown to dramatically reduce anxiety even more so than these objects, says Dr. Meyers. “Severe anxiety symptoms should be talked about with a medical professional,” he says. “But if treatment isn’t readily available and your anxiety is moderate, these techniques and objects could work well.”

Here, a few simple objects that can do just that. The best part: they’re affordable and may even be readily available in your home.

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Rubber Bands

Dr. Meyers says rubber bands are the most common anxiety relief tool among adults. “The physical stimulation from snapping the band around your wrist reinforces the need to shift focus away from anxiety and worry,” he explains. When anxious thoughts creep in, snap the band to remind yourself to actively think of other, more soothing thoughts.

Stress Balls

A classic relief device, stress balls provide comfort because of their squishy texture (not to mention they’re downright enjoyable to play with). Stress balls are typically used in times of anger, but people with ADHD can use them as a stimulation tool as well, says Dr. Meyers. “They’re easy to find and are inexpensive and unobtrusive ways to release excess energy.”

Worry Stones

Objects that provide comfort and relieve anxiety have had a long history, says Dr. Meyers. Worry stones are are an early example of the concept that can still be found today. The user can use these small, smooth-to-the-touch objects to impart a greater sense of meaning, like a reminder to take deep breathes or think of something calming, when touched. Plus, these objects can be easily concealed in your pocket. “Playing with objects like these prevents other manifestations of anxiety, like tapping, biting nails, and fidgeting,” says Dr. Meyers.

Rubik’s Cube

This pocket puzzle requires greater attention than a fidget spinner or stress ball, but for those with higher energy or anxiety levels, it could be the perfect tool. “The person has to find it sufficiently engrossing, or it won’t have that useful effect,” says Dr. Meyers. The distraction of a puzzle could be the answer for people with pre-presentation anxiety. But if you simply want an outlet for pent up energy, a stress ball is likely a better option.