“Few people today would dispute that chronic stress is a hallmark of our times, or that anxiety has become a kind of cultural condition of modernity. We live, as has been said many times since the dawn of the atomic era, in an age of anxiety,” Scott Stossel
Growing up is a seemingly never-ending period of awkwardness and uncertainty, trial and error as you figure out who you are and where you belong in this world. Very few of us make it out unscathed. On top of this, when you add in all of the fun hallmarks of modernity—technology, social media, politics—you get the perfect cocktail for sensory overload.
There’s no doubting that Gen Z is an anxious generation. White-nationalism, gun violence, climate change; it’s nearly impossible to escape these issues as they seep into our digital lives. Yet, our generation addresses these problems them with vigor and strength no matter how exhausting the fight may be. Because, after all, choosing to ignore politics is a political choice. So, in the case of online (say you’re looking at a blood-boiling, ignorant tweet), you have the option of retaliating and interacting with the thing that’s causing you grief, or consciously ignoring, all the while sits in the back of your mind, boiling inside of your brain. All of these stressors and all of these emotions, disillusionment, and what-ifs, left unexpressed, ball up into a massive amount of energy that must be released somehow.
This is where anxiety toys come in. Himalayan salt lamps, noise machines, magnets, slime, meditation apps, essential oil diffusers, scented soy candles, weighted blankets, ASMR videos, fidget spinners… the anxiety economy has become a million dollar industry. “When you’re stressed, your body tightens up,” says Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder of the Stress Institute, “so a physical release helps to let go of some of that energy.”
Anxiety toys are not a new concept. In ancient China, the Han dynasty trained their focus during combat by squeezing walnuts. The Greeks have komboloi (aka worry beads), which are stranded together like a rosary, only their sole purpose is to promote relaxation. There hasn’t been a ton of big studies looking into how fidget toys work, but it seems that the repetitive nature of these toys can have a calming, positive effect. Today there’s been a resurgence of these gadgets as it is believed that they can help with attention, stress, and promote a state of mindfulness so rarely achieved in all this noise.
Our bodies’ fight-or-flight responses are rooted back to caveman days, where self-preservation was a full-time job. Our heart rate rises, our air passages dilate, and our blood vessels contract, increasing blood flow and oxygen levels. Today, self-preservation is still a full-time job, only now much of our survival lies in protecting ourselves from ourselves. In her New Yorker essay entitled, “The Seductive Confinement of Weighted Blanket in an Anxious Time,” Jia Tolentino writes that the weighted blanket’s popularity “arrived deep into a period when many Americans were beginning their emails with reflexive, panicked condolences about the news.”
With all this being said, important to note that anxiety manifests itself (physically, mentally, and emotionally) in every person differently. There are many different forms of anxiety disorders (as well as co-morbid disorders), and in no way should these illnesses be taken lightly. It is equally important to recognize that mass amounts of people are experiencing anxiety on varying levels and that There is no set self-care routine for everyone. Anxiety toys can help you reach a certain state of calm, but they will not tell you to log off of Instagram at 3 am when you’re staring at a picture that Donald Trump posted of himself as a champion boxer. I think the point of all this is become aware of when you’re about to fall down a sensory spiral, to teach yourself to tune out, to preserve and cultivate your energy. One of my favorite quotes by Audre Lorde, and it goes,” Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Elizabeth Donohue | Web Director, Author
Jenna Carapezza | Creative Director, Stylist
Julia Kremer | Art Director, Assistant Stylist
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