Worry beads have been around forever, and modern occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, education centers and workplaces are starting to more actively support the use of tools like stress balls, physio putty, worry beads and fidget gadgets to help direct attention and calm nerves. Here’s the goss:
There is a powerful link between our thoughts, feelings and body sensations. The Strozzi Institute talks about our three brains – the one in our head, the one in our heart and the one in our gut. Polyvagal theory tells us about the vagus nerve which intimately links our breathing and our body with our emotional stress levels. Mindful Self-Compassion tells us that our emotions have a cognitive component as well as a physical body component. “I think, therefore I am,” is not longer really accurate: it’s more, “I sense, feel and think, therefore I am.”
In a NICABM web series, Dan Siegel told us that our understanding of the mind is expanding beyond the grey matter in our head to appreciate that our mind is in our whole body. The Strozzi Institute tells us that there is more information moving from our visceral system/gut to our brain/mind than from our brain/mind to our visceral system/gut. As we settle in our body we will also correspondingly settle in our mind – the body settles the mind. So how do we do that?
Enter Fidget Widgets! Here’s what the folks at Fidget Widgets say:
“For those of us who suffer with attention issues, it’s not that we can’t focus, the issue is that we get BORED, so our mind begins to find other ways to amuse itself. We might make a grocery list or start working on a new design project or planning a birthday party or remember something we should have told our spouse… and these thoughts are much more interesting than the conference call I was supposed to be paying attention to! Fidget devices are meant to keep that “busy body” part of your brain occupied so that the part that needs to pay attention, can.”
Those of us who have studied and practice self-compassion know that boredom is a form of suffering, and worthy of our self-compassion and kindness. Boredom is me wanting to resist my present moment experience, wanting to escape. So having a fidget widget to direct that attention toward is an act of self-compassion that helps us stay focused on the task at hand. Certainly anchoring my awareness in the breath or internal sensations or the sense of touch are very skillful ways to keep my focus, but these practices are sometimes too subtle and can’t adequately address the degree of our mind wandering.
Dr. Michael Karlesky from New York University and Dr. Katherine Isbister from University of California, Santa Cruz are currently researching what happens when we use a fidget widget of some kind to calm or focus our mind. They consider a fidget widget to be an “indirect productivity tool aiming to subtly enhance your creativity, or give you focus, or decrease stress just when you need it.” What they’ve learned so far is that people like to fidget with “a very pliable, stimulating, and satisfying tactile experience in their hands.” So here’s where the fun starts – finding a fidget widget that satisfies!
If seems that fidgeters often start with less durable items that are at their disposal like fingernails, hair, skin, pen lids and pencils and then graduate on to a more durable item that gives a similar level of satisfaction. Fidget items are highly personalized, but there are plenty around so it’s a matter of trying some out. Here are some options:
- Alerting fidgets can help children, teens and adults reach and maintain a level of alertness and somatic comfort. Alerting fidgets include spinner focus gadgets, sensory balls, and office desk toys. These help to keep us alert, “wake up” fingers before handwriting activities, and promote focus and concentration.
- Calming fidgets can be very effective sensory self-regulation tools. Calming fidget gadgets might be similar to the alerting fidgets for some individuals, and can include things like therapy putty (especially with an essential oil like lavender folded in for extra stress reduction), stress relief squeeze balls, worry beads, and smooth stones. Therapy putty and stress balls come in different resistance levels so you can find the one that is just right for you.
- Soothing sand windows, hourglasses and gel timers (like lava lamps unplugged) offer visual soothing in the workplace or whenever you need something to anchor your awareness in.
One other really neat way to address anxiety at work is to make sure you get enough sleep. Read all about that here.
And there’s always Attention Restoration Meditations to help rest your mind and refresh you for the next task. You can find video meditations here and audio meditations on the beautiful meditation app, Aura – just look for the HeartWorks channel.
Somatic Self-Compassion focuses on our whole bodymind to offer tools for self-soothing through the senses. It uses what we know about the connection between our brain and the rest of our body to automatically settle our system, to make ourselves feel a sense of safeness from within rather than looking outside of ourselves.
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