Are Fidget Rings and Pop Its Stress-Relieving Tools or Modern-Day Snake Oil?
Is it better to fidget or not to fidget? It's not so much a question as it is a statement.
Whether or not there is a pandemic, we are an anxious species. "Humans aren't intended to sit there all day and utilize only our minds," explains Katherine Isbister, Ph.D., research director of the University of California, Santa Cruz's Social Emotional Technology Lab. But we must sit – in class, at work, while waiting for our daily cappuccino. And as we're doing so, our hands are looking for anything to do. It's only natural to have a fidget aid - something to automatically spin, squeeze, and push — from prayer beads to stress balls, spinning rings to pop pops. But why is that? Is there an advantage here, and if so, what is it? Are these items truly stress-relieving, mind-calming, and relaxing? Is this all snake oil, squeezable, pokable, and spinnable?
Fidgeting has been used to calm and focus individuals for decades, according to Isbister, a genuine specialist in this field (yep, we found one!). Consider prayer or meditation beads, which individuals hold in their hands and fondle or rotate. "I consider those to be old fidgeting technology," Isbister explains. "So there's some ancient human knowledge here." Spinner rings [also known as Pop Its] may be the most recent incarnation of a mobile object that helps to relax the mind."
Why do we fidget in the first place, according to Isbister, has an evolutionary component. "Our forefathers were always going around, altering their posture and utilizing their hands," Isbister explains. "I believe fidgeting is a normal response to the unnaturally long periods of sitting required for job or education." Sure, but does all this squirming help us in any way, or is it just a waste of time, like our appendix or road rage? To put it another way, can an object genuinely help to relieve stress? Isbister responds, "That is the $20 million question." "When we ask people to self-report, they frequently remark that fidgeting with different things helps them relax or concentrate. So, based on that, the simple answer is yes – if playing with a ring makes individuals feel calmer, then spinner rings are probably effective."
The long answer is that there isn't enough concrete evidence to tell for certain. Isbister believes that in-depth neuroimaging studies are needed to see what's going on within the brain in order to verify that spinner rings and other fidgeting gadgets genuinely function against anxiety (or that they don't). Fortunately, she has secured funding to do such study, so we may soon have these answers.
"Great if you think a spinner ring will help you alleviate stress in the near run so you can keep doing what you're doing." But it's always worth going a little further to figure out what's causing your concern."
For now, the greatest evidence comes from research like Isbister's, which ask individuals to rate their stress levels before and after fidgeting. "We've found a few trends from talking to folks," she says. "Repetitive movements, such as spinning something around, are said to be relaxing. Also, a smooth object, such as a ring, feels pleasant in the hand and is easy to move about. It's been described as "something to focus on that gets you into the present moment and out of your thoughts." She goes on to say that this is very similar to anxiety breathing exercises in that you bring yourself into your body and into the present moment.
Fidgeting also serves as a form of distraction, since it diverts your attention away from a more stressful situation. But there's more to it than that. Isbister says, "You could divert yourself with just about anything... [like] thinking about anything else." "Fidget rings do fit into that enormous bucket of diversions, but they also have a physiological soothing effect."
In light of this, Isbister feels that spinner rings are a safe and effective way to reduce anxiety. Furthermore, they frequently resemble normal rings. Unlike frantically clicking a pen, which can drive everyone around you insane, the action may be subtle – and silent.
While a spinner ring may be beneficial, it will never be a cure-all for anxiety. "It would be foolish to expect a dramatic difference after using one," Isbister explains. "Anxiety signals to us that something is out of balance and that we need to address it." If you believe a spinner ring can assist you lower stress in the short term so you can keep doing what you're doing, that's fantastic. But it's always worth going a little further to figure out what's causing your concern."
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