March Mindfulness is our new series that examines the explosive growth in mindfulness and meditation technology — culminating in Mashable’s groundbreaking competitive meditation bracket contest. Because March shouldn’t be all madness.
Reaching for your phone as a distraction from uncomfortable situations has become a reflex at this point. It’s a handy tactic to avoid eye contact in public, but bolting to social media or even self-care apps when you’re stressed or anxious could subconsciously be making you feel worse.
It’s time we find something to focus our energy that’s more productive than listening for Twitter’s refresh “pop” sound every five minutes.
Mindfulness and the focus on focus aren’t new by any means, but have increasingly been in the spotlight due to a mass fixation on self care. Sure, being open and curious about the present without judging other ideas rattling your brain sounds great, but here’s the thing: It doesn’t come easy for everyone. Mastering mindfulness can take time — and the right level of expectations. For those who aren’t ready to hop on the meditation train, there are other options to help you chill out.
Enter: stress toys. When social media has become a dumpster fire and self-care apps just aren’t cutting it, something as simple as a physical toy can help you decompress. And while the fidget spinner is now just a memory rolling around on the floor of your car, its short life had a bigger impact than making Toys R Us airfreight tens of thousands of them to meet demand: It opened up the conversation about stress, nervous energy, and how seemingly useless little toys can affect how we focus.
There hasn’t been a lot of peer-reviewed scientific research done on the science of fidgeting, but the mass obsession with the fidget spinner leads us to believe that stress toys are something people really want — and is hopefully opening the door for more research on the benefits. Forbes journalist Bruce Y. Lee dove into the idea of fidgeting:
“One thought is that fidgeting may occupy parts of your brain that otherwise would distract the rest of your brain with random thoughts. […] Fidgeting may prevent your mind from being occupied by obsessive and unhealthy thoughts such as what is the meaning of life, what do other people think of you, why aren’t you more attractive, why do others seem more successful on Facebook than you, and why isn’t Justin Beiber [SIC] returning your phone call?”
The modern stress toy market has expanded past fidget spinners and long beloved stress balls in an attempt to satisfy all the different ways we can work through this excess energy: Whether that’s squeezing, squishing, spinning, rolling, molding, building, or a mix. Similar to the way meditation apps guide you through breathing or have you stare at bubbles, these toys provide a way to regather yourself during an overwhelming situation or to simply channel some nervous energy.
A few seconds of focusing your energy on a stress toy — or simply giving your fingers something to do that’s not nervously biting your nails or picking at your skin — can help you slow down. Toys may not free you of other thoughts like meditation aims to, but they’re something that can help you pause when everything else is spinning. Plus, they’re perfect for daily use.
TL;DR: Everyone needs an outlet for stress sometimes, and it’s totally fine if yours is a stress toy. Here are eight of the best new stress toys you can buy on the internet.
Stimulates multiple senses at once • Nine scent options
Reviews mention receiving the wrong size
Knead your worries away with this pliable dough that feels great on your hands and smells good, too.
1. Pinch Me Therapy Dough
Knead your worries away with this pliable dough that feels great on your hands and smells good, too.
Spa, beach, melon, spice, ocean, sun, citrus, chill, tropics
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t touched Play-Doh in 20 years. The satisfaction you get from rolling, molding, and kneading something squishy doesn’t go away with age.
Pinch Me Therapy Dough comes packed in perfectly portable jars and is designed to release tension via kneading, squishing, and rolling. Available in nine colors and scents, like lavender, spice, and melon, you’ll be able to squish your way to inner peace and enjoy some calming aromatherapy in the process. Aromatherapy’s whole thing is about using scents to promote relaxation and general wellbeing, but we can’t prove that it actually works. However, getting a whiff of something pleasant while sitting at your mundane office job could definitely be comforting.
Something you can wear every day • Unique gear design
Keep your fingers busy without whipping out a toy with this mesmerizing spinning gear ring.
2. Spinning Gear Ring
The gears in this stainless steel ring move in unison and subtly keep your fingers busy.
Stainless steel, gold, rose gold, gunmetal
For serial finger tappers, pen clickers, or nail biters, this spinning ring keeps your fingers busy thanks to its gratifying turns and silent clicks. Its main selling point is the unique working gear design — but for anyone who cares about style, the stainless steel and intricate details make it a stellar accessory to boot.
Unlike other spinning rings that work with a smaller band inside a larger one, these micro-precision gears actually turn in unison like the gears in a bike. Just watching the video is hypnotizing, and seeing it IRL is guaranteed to have people asking to try it on. (But if you let them, you might not get it back.)
Adds an element of creativity • 31 color options
May be even smaller than you expect • Individual balls are easy to lose
Speks has found a way to make magnetic balls squishy, and with 31 color options, the possibilities are endless.
3. Speks Magnetic Balls
Meet the tiny magnetic balls that squish like dough and can create limitless geometric designs.
31 colors to choose from, sizes range from 512 balls to 1,000 balls
When we think of fidget toys, we think of Speks. One of the pioneers in this new wave of stress toys, Speks has found a way to make magnetic balls squish-able. If you’re worried that dough will look too much like playtime when your boss walks by, these are a fun alternative that won’t get your fingers sticky. (It’s such a cool concept that about 15 imposters have popped up on Amazon alone, but Speks is the OG.)
Described as “the original mashable, smashable fun,” these colorful metal sheets are composed of 512 tiny, shiny magnetic balls. (We love anything described as “mashable” for obvious reasons, but these are seriously awesome.) The rare neodymium magnets are strong enough to hold your creations, but can be pulled apart and molded in whatever way that you need. It’s also nice that your creations can be destroyed without making a mess.
Be warned: 2.5 mm is smaller than you realize. This toy should definitely be kept away from children, and maybe people with not-so-nimble fingers.
Looks like decor when not in use
Balls only come in one color
Build, roll mindlessly, or store paperclips —whatever it is, Speks Super offers a variety of methods to distract and decompress.
4. Speks Super
These supersized magnetic balls can help release tension, then act as decor when it’s time to be professional.
Green base, blue base
Good things may come in small packages, but we’re here to make a case for this oversized stress toy. If the tiny magnetic balls just didn’t look like something you’d use, Speks Super is the supersized version that fits (just barely) in the palm of your hand.
At 33 mm each, these balls come in packs of five and magnify the fun of playing with magnets (pun very much intended). Mindlessly roll two in your hand when you’re on a boring phone call, see how well other magnetic objects stick, or build a museum-worthy sculpture with the included base.
Speks Super is unique because it doesn’t look like a toy — and doesn’t always have to be. When they’re not being used, the balls can hold your paperclips, house your business cards, or simply be disguised as modern industrial desk decor. No one has to know.
Doubles as an everyday object • Shock-resistant hardshell case
No hole for the pairing button
Air Vinyl Design takes an iPhone accessory you’ll already be carrying and makes it an outlet for stress relief.
Carry your AirPods in this leather case that doubles as a fidget spinner.
While the once trendy fidget spinner has now found a home in the cheap toy graveyard of Amazon, the attraction to that mindless movement is alive and well. When you need something to spin but aren’t about to carry around an actual toy, ZenPod is an AirPods case that doubles as a fidget spinner. Air Vinyl design might be onto something here.
The case itself is pretty standard: a polycarbonate frame, impact-resistant lining, and classy leather exterior take it a step past the white Apple case. Though the anodized aluminum spinner is a seemingly small addition, it turns something that AirPods owners already carry into an outlet for nervous energy.
Sure, it won’t charge your AirPods or connect your AirPods to your phone when opened, but a fidget-friendly iPhone accessory is just plain neat, and it looks great, too.
Multiple outlets in one toy • Comes with a carrying case • Fun color options
Sound effects can be annoying • Looks childish
Why be locked into one way of fidgeting? This cube has up to 12 different stress relievers including buttons, sliders, and massagers.
6. The Fube Fidget Cube
Looking more like a gizmo from “Rick and Morty” than a toy, this cube has 12 different ways to fidget away nerves.
Spinning, clicking, sliding, pushing
Blue/white with 6 sides, blue/black with 6 sides, black/multicolor with 12 sides, green/multicolor with 12 sides
If a Rubik’s cube and a Bop-It had a baby, it would be this fidget cube — AKA the Fube. Once you get past the fact that it kind of resembles a dog’s chew toy, the attention to detail in this thing is awesome. Buttons, joysticks, gears, and squishy silicone balls are just a few of the stress relievers this toy has to offer.
PILPOC offers two variations of the Fube, both of which are available in two different colors. The first has a total of six sides and a few less knobs and buttons than the other, but offers some serious distraction methods nonetheless.
The 12-sided cube is where things really get interesting. Here, you’ll find a joystick, buttons, silicone balls, gears, sliders, a switch, a finger massager, a rope to pull, a rotating disc, and a worry stone. (Not sure about that last one, but moving on.) It’s easy for fingers to get tired of a single motion when done for too long, so the variety here is key. On a shitty day, this is the ultimate toy for taking out some stress.
Just plain adorable • Simple method that can be taken anywhere
The simplicity of popping a pea out of its pod has made these keychains one of the internet’s favorite stress toys.
7. Squeeze-a-Bean Keychain
Squeeze out as much stress as you need with these popping bean keychains that are also extremely cute.
Sometimes, all you need is a cute face to squeeze. These soybean keychains are as satisfying for fidgeters as they are adorable, and have quickly become one of the internet’s favorite stress toys. (Just read the reviews.)
How can something so simple be so satisfying? The simplicity is literally the answer: They require no brainpower and are simply there for you to squeeze to your heart’s content. Once a pea is popped out, it immediately goes back into its pod, creating a loop of endless satisfaction.
Instead of brooding in stress or picking at that zit on your nose, popping these peas over and over can be the outlet you need — and at the very least, they’ll keep your fingers busy as a distraction. They come in packs of three, so your most-used bags and keychains can always have one handy.
Acts as a protective phone case • Subtle satisfaction on the go
Some iPhone models are left out • No options for Samsung or Googlee • Could get annoying for people nearby
Popping bubble wrap is no longer a special occasion — this iPhone case lets you do it anywhere.
8. Bubble wrap iPhone case
Take your bubble wrap infatuation everywhere with this iPhone case that can be popped over and over again.
iPhone X in white/pink/black, iPhone 7 in white/pink, iPhone 7 Plus in white/pink/black
Everyone knows at least one person who asks “Can I pop that?” when anyone gets a package with bubble wrap. If that person is you, this bubble wrap iPhone case lets you satisfy that need to pop things — anytime and anywhere. The bubbles can be popped and re-popped as many times as needed to de-stress, and the silicon acts as a relatively impact-resistant shield.
We have a hunch that combining tech and stress toys could very well be the future of the market. Not everyone is comfortable whipping out therapy dough on public transportation, but sensory phone cases or other tech accessories with an added stimulus are an easy way to fidget wherever you are.
Warning: Not everyone loves popping bubble wrap as much as you do (surprising, we know). This phone’s popping sound effects may get annoying to people around you, so keep that in mind before you pop in close quarters.