Some people find that moving, spinning, or handling an object can help soothe or calm them. For example, those with a form of anxiety called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) find comfort in repetitive actions, such as twirling their hair or picking their cuticles. They use these repetitive behaviors to neutralize or counteract their obsessions and anxieties.
However, although this response can provide immediate relief, it may not help with some of the symptoms of anxiety in the mid and long term. For example, exposure therapy is a common treatment for OCD that aims to expose a person to a situation that causes anxiety. This helps them learn to confront the source of anxiety and stop engaging in compulsive behaviors.
For some people, fidgeting may engage and stimulate parts of the brain involved in attention. Repetitive movements can act as displacement behaviors to relieve stress. Although this may affect people differently, some research Trusted Source has suggested that fidgeting provides more relief for men in high pressure situations.
The idea with spinners, cubes, and other fidget toys is that they not only alleviate stress but may also improve concentration. However, one 2018 study involving 60 children with ADHD demonstrated the opposite effect. The researchers found that fidget spinners reduced activity, distracted children, and caused them to pay less attention to their surroundings.
This may be due to the fact that the spinner itself was a distraction, as it requires voluntary movement and intentional fidgeting. For example, other research Trusted Source has indicated that unintentional fidgeting may instead help with attention.
There are various fidget toys available for people with anxiety. Types include:
- squeezable stress balls
- fidget spinners
- playdough or putty
- chewable pendants or straws
- six-sided fidget cubes