Updated: Mar 27, 2020
I have recently become pretty much in love with fidgets. I know they look like they're toys... and, well, they are. But they're more than that! And they're just as valuable for kiddos as they are for adults. (Some links will take you to my Amazon Influencer store, where I get a portion of the sale at no extra cost to you.)
We All Fidget Already
So you know how you probably do something without being consciously aware of it? Okay, maybe not, since you're not consciously aware of it. But I'm talking about stuff like chewing your nails, tapping your foot/leg, clicking a pen, rolling your fingertips on the table or grinding your teeth.
These are all movements that we do because there's some level of sympathetic charge within us. It's probably a mild level of flight/fight energy that comes along with being still too long (especially during a boring meeting. Which they all are). Or maybe we've got that energy stuck within us and it's attempting to discharge. Or maybe it's returning - your body being in a shutdown state and not having access to the energy previously. Either way, it's there, no matter what path that takes.
When it comes to fidgets, these can be helpful during a meeting that's absolutely numbing your mind. Or for kids in a classroom that have a truly difficult time with being still.
But they're also useful as a way to release some of that flight/fight energy, like an aid to meditation. If you've got a fidget and the time, you can fidget with a purpose and learn more about yourself with some curiosity. If you don't have a fidget, I've got some collected in my Amazon Influencer store.
Fidget With a Purpose
Fidgets are handy for having a purpose to the movement. It's an opportunity to consciously point that energy in a single direction. But the key here is to bring the conscious awareness to it. The mindfulness. If you can notice that energy on a more aware level, while it does its thing, you may notice some shifts happen. Breathing may become easier. More energy may emerge or go through.
At least, that's what I have found for myself and the students I work with. When I really focus on the physical sensation of a fidget, those shifts happen. Same with my therapy clients.
Don't just fidget with the fidgets. Have a purpose.
I recommend first starting with the external senses. Like noticing the textures of the fidgets. The colors. The shapes. Then move to the internal sensations, like how your muscles feel when gripping them. And then how your breathing might change as you fidget. And then notice what thoughts pop into your mind. Memories or imaginings. As that physical stuff does its work, your thoughts are going to follow along with it and make some shifts of their own ("Story follows state." -Deb Dana)
Fidget With Curiosity
And this is key. We can't enter into some mindful fidgetyness from a place of evaluation. Allow yourself to be curious. Not judgmental. Go in with an expectation of learning. Like you're entering a class that you're super excited about being a part of. And the best part of this class is there is no grade. You're just there to learn.
But it's also okay to experiment. I think it's a great idea, actually. To hold these fidgets and do mini experiments. There is no right way to fidget. So when you hold something like this rubber ring, try to squeeze it with one hand, then pull it from both of your hands, then use both your hands and wring it like you're squeezing out water from a washrag. And then do whatever else pops into your head.
And you might find that one of those ways feels more grounding or releasing than the others. And congrats, you've learned something new about yourself and what your nervous system likes.
Everyone Fidgets Differently
You can probably guess that the way one person works with a fidget is going to be super different from the next person. So when I use those rubber rings, I like to pull on them. But for many of my clients, when I recommend they do the same, they don't like it. It's not what they need. Same with the infinity cube -
I love folding and unfolding it. But I get clients who try the same and are like, "That's it?" It just isn't for them, at least in that way.
But come from a place of curiosity and you'll learn what works for you and what doesn't. There's one more level to make things more complex too..
We Fidget Based on State
The energy that we have is going to be based on the polyvagal state that we are in. If we're in a flight energy place, the fidgeting might be more anxious and nervous. If we're in a fight place, it might be more tense, rigid and aggressive. And if we're shutdown, there might not be a whole lot of fidgeting going on at all.
I pull on the rubber rings when I'm in more of an aggressive place and need to use my upper muscles in my chest and shoulders and arms. When my clients attempt to use them when they are in their fight state, they get worried about breaking it. I encourage them to try to break it and assure them if they do, it's okay. (No one has been able to break it so far.) But when I'm in a shutdown place, that same aggressive pull movement isn't helpful for me.
I find that my clients who are in an anxious flight energy tend to gravitate toward things that are more challenging cognitively, like a Rubix cube, infinity cube, fidget cube, whatever these things are called or this ridiculously cool pen.
Point being, we all fidget differently. And the most helpful fidgeting is probably going to be based on what state we are in, combined with the right fidget and then combined with mindfulness. And also combined with being in a safe environment. Therapy can be a great opportunity to do this, wile processing what comes up for you. But I also think doing so in your own private time and space is fine as well.