Stress is a killer, no doubt about it. Everyone needs ways to escape it, to mitigate it, and to give their mind and body a break from the pressures of stressful situations.
There are all sorts of products out there and suggestions for how to manage stress, but in the last few years, there has been a marked increase in what are known as “stress toys” or “fidget widgets.” Sure, stress balls have been around for years, but now we have things like fidget spinners, fidget cubes, tangle toys, and more. These items are specifically designed to be played with, but they have no actual GOAL built in. Often, these items are played with while the person focuses on other thoughts.
And that’s the key. Many people find puzzles and games relaxing and distracting, but the fact that there is a goal attached — solving the puzzle, completing or winning the game — means the item is less effective at managing stress than other items where there is no inherent goal beyond play.
As reported by The Atlantic, a study by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University stated that playing with small toys can help relieve stress, enhance productivity, and aid in memory. Yes, that person doodling during the meeting might retain more information from it than the person intently staring at the speaker. Who knew?
Some folks suggest Play-Doh, paperclips, magnetic balls, or pipe cleaners as reliable fidget widgets. Today, we thought we would offer some puzzly options for small, stress-relieving puzzly items that could help you get through the day.
I’ve seen Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles suggested for something like this, but again, the implied goal of the Rubik’s Cube – solving it – disqualifies it from this list. Although the mini Rubik’s Cube keychains are sometimes cited as good stress toys, we’re going to focus on things with less of a reputation or mental association for being challenging.
For instance, let’s look at Knot Dice.
These beautiful patterned dice can obviously be used for puzzling or gaming, but many of the folks I’ve introduced to Knot Dice simply enjoy the experience of playing with them and observing what patterns emerge. There is no end goal, just the joy of watching paths form and seeing beautiful knot-like designs appear.
I know several people who keep Knot Dice close at hand as a tool for distraction or letting their minds work on other things in the background while they play with the dice.
Our friends at ThinkFun have several puzzly games that would make good stress toys. While Fidgitz and Backspin come to mind, I think Block Chain is the best current example. These linked cubes can twist and turn and fold over each other to create cubes, but that feels secondary to the idle joy of simply watching how many patterns you can make with simple movements.
The design of the cube changes wildly based on your choices, and just fiddling with it and then folding it up is terrific fun. Plus the wild and varied imagery offers a nice change from the static colors and designs of many brain teasers, twisty puzzles, and other fiddly items.
But the puzzly item I find myself returning to most, something to keep my hands occupied while I puzzle over a problem in my head, is Lightbox. The simple action of lifting, twisting, and reconnecting the many stacked plates in different combinations — then seeing what pattern of light is created — has a certain associative aspect that really pushes my brain in positive directions.
Seeing the cube light up in different ways feels like getting that metaphorical lightbulb to appear over my head, and rarely do I need to spend more than a few minutes fiddling with this delightful device before some little burst of motivation, inspiration, or reinvigoration is unlocked inside me, and I can get back to being productive.
What are your go-to items when it comes to stress toys or other items you find yourself idly playing with during the workday, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
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