Grab a fidget toy. And then...? How to know if a fidget toy will be effective for your body-focused repetitive behavior.

Grab a fidget toy. And then...? How to know if a fidget toy will be effective for your body-focused repetitive behavior.

If you’ve done any research about preventing trichotillomania, dermatillomania, onychophagia, and other body-focused repetitive behavior urges, you’ve probably seen a lot of people talking about fidget toys. 

Fidget toys are convenient tools that stimulate your sense of touch and can have a similarly satisfying tactile feel to hair pulling, skin picking, nail biting, and other BFRBs. However, fidget toys are not the only answer to managing a body-focused repetitive behavior. They’re great tools, and you might find a fidget toy that works really well for you, but it’s also important to remember that having a body-focused repetitive behavior means you have become dependent on one self-soothing skill. Grabbing a fidget to occupy your hands for a short period of time can be very helpful, but it is only one solution. 

When does a fidget toy work?

First let’s remember that fidget toys aren’t for everyone. Some people don’t prefer to use a fidget toy as a tool, or find that it doesn’t make too much of a difference. That’s okay! There are plenty of other tools that you can try to keep your hands occupied and your mind more balanced. 

That being said, for loads of us, fidget toys have a time and place. Remember that a body-focused behavior, no matter what the behavior is, has one goal: to soothe your nervous system. That doesn’t just mean comfort you in a distressing situation, it means that it is your subconscious mind trying to even out your stimulation so that you can reach homeostasis. For those of us with BFRBs, the most effective way to self-soothe is our BFRB; but it is not the only option. A fidget toy can help us with this by keeping our hands occupied and our minds with a little external tactile stimulus. 

Fidget toys in nature are usually repetitive and simple. They probably aren’t as helpful for focused sessions of picking, pulling, or biting, as much as they are helpful for automatic sessions. 

A focused BFRB session consumes all of your attention. You’re watching yourself pull, pick, or bite, in a mirror or otherwise. It isn’t quite done consciously, because you’re in a trance, but it is the most prominent thing that you’re thinking about at that moment.
An automatic BFRB session happens in the background of you doing something else. While you watch TV, study, read a book, or any other activity that is guiding your train of thought. 

Because of a fidget toy’s simple nature, they likely aren’t going to captivate your attention completely. They are helpful if you are working, studying, watching something, etc. At HabitAware, we’re fans of Calm Strips. Another good source to look for fidgets is the Picking Me Foundation's shop, as it's curated by the folks at Picking Me Foundation, a nonprofit that serves the Dermatillomania community. We are also advocates of looking at your junk drawer and getting creative! Twist ties, hair binders, clips, all could have potential to be a satisfying fidget toy for you. Do you remember when you were a kid sitting in a field and would pull out the grass strand-by-strand, or in fistfulls? Or maybe when you would play with a pencil instead of taking notes? You definitely have the ability to get creative!

Even in the case of a focused session, there are fidget toys designed to emulate the specific sensory experiences that BFRBs offer. Pick & Peel stones are a good example of being a fidget toy that is a little bit more mentally engaging, requiring visual attention as well as offering a tactile experience. 

No matter what fidget toys you find that work for you, HabitAware recommends keeping them handy. Leave them near spots where you’ll need them: by the TV, at your work desk, in a little “pause pouch” that you can carry with you throughout the day.

    When does a fidget toy NOT work?

    This is for you to find out. You are a unique person with unique needs. A fidget toy might be able to curb your urge for a bit, but you’ll only know through trial and error. However, we’ve noticed a pattern in many of the Keen family members that we’ve worked with over the years.

    Remember that a BFRB is self-soothing. Your body self-soothes for a reason.

    Here are 3 simple steps to using a fidget in any scenario:

    • Grab the fidget to keep your hands busy or release some restless energy.
    • Use the time that you are engaging with the fidget to explore your thoughts and feelings in that moment. Ask yourself what is triggering the BFRB urge? 
    • Whatever is triggering that urge, meet that need specifically. 


    If you are tired, you likely need a nap to get more sleep, or an invigorating activity like getting some fresh air outside. A fidget toy probably won’t affect your energy level.

    If you’re hungry or thirsty, or your body is uncomfortable because of your clothes or the temperature outside, a fidget toy won’t do much for that. Eat, drink, or bundle up/cool off. 

    Therapist Stacy Nakell shares a similar sentiment in her book, Treatment for Body-focused Repetitive Behaviors. She calls fidget toys "transitional objects, providing another way to soothe the central nervous system as clients begin to find the words for their feelings" (page 85). When you’re experiencing a BFRB urge, it is good practice to pause and ask yourself what your body is needing at that moment, and then give yourself permission to meet that urge. You are human, and your body has things that it needs to function optimally. 


    You might find a favorite fidget that you can use forever, or you might outgrow fidgets and need to swap them out regularly. Don't expect to find a one-size-fits-all-triggers fidget. Being more prepared is always better than being less prepared. 

    What works BETTER than a fidget toy?

    In this article, you’ve learned that fidget toys have a time and place. However, they are not the only answer to managing a BFRB. Let’s remember that body-focused repetitive behaviors are chronic mental health conditions. The keyword here is MENTAL HEALTH. Fidget toys can occupy your hands, but they do nothing to address the underlying reasons why your nervous system is off-balanced in the first place. Think of fidget toys as "training wheels" that give you time to learn healthier self-soothing skills.

    The most important lesson of body-focused repetitive behaviors is to take care of yourself. For many of us, we are out-of-touch with what our body wants and needs. That’s why it’s important to take time for yourself, and take action to prevent and replace these behaviors.


    Keen2 bracelet

    Keen2 is designed to help you with management, and prevention. Keen2 subtly vibrates when it detects you doing your behavior, effectively being your “self-care alarm.” When it vibrates, pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you need. Keen2’s vibration is giving you permission to take care of yourself. Stretch, take a drink of water, grab a fidget toy, do whatever you need in the moment. Build your awareness and practice taking care of yourself with Keen2. 

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    Breaking down the shame that comes along with BFRBs is another big topic that can help your mental health. Because a BFRB is a shame-cycle, simultaneously causing shame you shame and prompting you to release the shame with the same behavior, it’s easy to get caught in a spiral. When you talk to other people with BFRBs, make connections, and have constructive conversations about management, it can do a lot to release the burden of shame. Our BFRB Change Collective not only unites peers in a common goal (managing your BFRB), but it acts as a growth group, with Peer Coaches leading you every week to a healthier relationship with your BFRB.

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    The Keen2 bracelet was created out of personal need. It's gesture-detection technology allows it to vibrate when it detects you doing your behavior, and sends you a signal to take care of yourself. Identify triggers, find patterns, and redirect urges with Keen2.

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