12 Stress-Relief Toys and Products That Actually Work
Some days, life can make even the calmest person feel anxious. Find your zen with one of these calming stress-relief toys and products.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Stress relievers you haven’t tried, yet
Stress is something everyone deals with at one time or another. Although you may already meditate for stress relief, or eat foods that can reduce stress, sometimes you need a little boost to help you cope with unexpected stressors—especially in times of crisis. Little things, even toys, could make a difference. Here are some items that worth adding to your stress-relief arsenal.
There is a lot of excitement around the potential benefits of weighted blankets—one being less anxiousness and stress. In a study exploring the therapeutic effects of weighted blankets, 63 percent of participants said they felt less anxious after using one. Choose a blanket that’s about 10 percent of your body weight and crawl beneath it to experience deep tissue pressure stimulation that may reduce anxiety, increase relaxation, and improve sleep. (Here’s what doctors want you to know about weighted blankets.)
Art therapy workbook
Board-Certified Registered Art Therapist Jill Howell created Color, Draw, Collage to help individuals deal with the stress of everyday life through creativity. More than just a coloring book, this art therapy workbook also teaches practical coping skills and helps users get to the root of their problems. Don’t worry if you can’t draw a straight line; a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that making art can significantly reduce the stress hormone cortisol, regardless of skill level.
Sound therapy machine
These stress-relief machines are based on vibroacoustic therapy, which has been around for years and which some research shows cause relaxation. HUSO combines this ancient tradition with modern acoustic technology; the company essentially remixes the vocals from sound healers with vibrational frequencies and sound engineering for maximum relaxation. For a more transformative experience, there are also wrist and ankle pads that vibrate. (Check out these other stress-busting ways to unwind after a hard day.)
One of the oldest stress-relief toys on the market, stress balls are still one of the best. “When you get stressed you also tense up, and the act of repeatedly squeezing and releasing a stress ball helps you relax,” says marriage and family therapist Andrew Sofin, MA, RMFT. He also recommends them for clients with nervous energy, who have the tendency to “get lost” in distracting behaviors such as playing with their hair, biting their nails, or tugging on a sweater thread.
Weighted sleep mask
There’s a reason why doctors treat migraine patients by applying constant pressure to their face while covering their eyes with wet towels. According to emergency room doctor Wallace B. McKinney, MD, activating deep touch receptors in the body triggers comfort signals in the brain. Filled with soothing microbeads, NodPod uses deep pressure touch therapy and cozy light-blocking fabric to promote relaxation and a night of deep restful sleep.
Don’t underestimate the power of smell. A study published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine found that individuals who inhaled a soothing essential oil blend of lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree, and peppermint felt less stressed and depressed than those who didn’t. An essential oil diffuser, which disperses tiny scent microparticles into the air, is a quick and easy way to enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of aromatherapy at home. Here’s why lavender oil is also good for stress relief.
Lizzy Mello, co-founder of Litt Wellness, recommends YogaToes to relieve tension in the feet. “They bring space between the metatarsals and create a gentle stretch without strain,” she explains. Slip them on while you’re reading or watching a movie and let the stretching begin. While you won’t get the same full-body relaxation as yoga from these stress-relief toys, your tired feet will certainly thank you. What kind of stress is yours? Here’s how to find out, and how to ease it.
White noise machine
It might seem counter-intuitive, but a little bit of sound can actually help you fall asleep—which can be hard to do when you’re feeling stressed. Constant ambient sound, or white noise, can reduce “the difference between background sounds and a ‘peak’ sound, like a door slamming, giving you a better chance to sleep through it undisturbed,” according to the National Sleep Foundation. If the whir of a fan is soothing but the chill in the air keeps you awake, check out Snooz, a portable white noise machine that mimics the sound of a fan without the breeze.
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation device
Alpha brain waves, which are linked to a calm mental state, can be increased through mindfulness, meditation, and cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES). Lauren Dummit, LMFT, co-founder and clinical director of Triune Therapy Group in Los Angeles, began researching at-home devices after seeing how much one of her patients benefited from CES while in a residential treatment program for an eating disorder. She now recommends this light and sound machine to other patients with eating disorders, as well as those with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and insomnia.
Light therapy is one way to beat symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and also shows promise in improving function in patients with bipolar disorder, according to 2017 research in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Bright light exposure can even help individuals without a mood disorder; most of us aren’t getting as much sunlight as our bodies need, especially in the winter. The HappyLight Liberty by Verilux, a portable light box, is small enough to carry in a purse or briefcase to the office yet emits as much light as lamps ten times its size. Here’s one woman’s story about using light box therapy. (And if you want more options, here are the 10 best light therapy boxes on Amazon.)
$4.50 to $9.99 per month
Developed by co-workers who used to text each other messages of encouragement, Shine offers stress relief in two ways: Shine Texts are bite-sized, research-backed bits of advice sent daily, while Shine Talks are short app-based talks on topics related to self-care. “Shine helps people reduce stress and feelings of anxiety by using affirmations that build skills and provides an individual with a new, more positive choice in self-care. In psychology, we call this being able to take committed action,” explains Anna Rowley, PhD, a consulting psychologist and adviser to Shine. (Learn these other life secrets from people who never seem frazzled.)
Reflexology foot massager
These stress-relief devices may resemble medieval torture devices, but those nubs and ridges are meant to stimulate trigger points that can relieve pain and improve your mood. In reflexology, the feet are a map for the body, and ailments—including anxiety—can be treated by applying pressure to the correct location on the foot. Research in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that it’s effective for treating chronic diseases, including stress, as well as a generally good practice to maintain your wellbeing. Next, check out these instant stress-busters.
- Occupational Therapy in Mental Health: "Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket"
- Jill Howell, a board-certified registered art therapist
- Journal of the American Art Therapy Association: "Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants' Responses Following Art Making"
- Institute of Informatics and Telematics: "Physiological Impact of Vibro-Acoustic Therapy on Stress and Emotions through Wearable Sensors"
- Andrew Sofin, MA, RMFT, a marriage and family therapist
- Wallace B. McKinney, MD, an emergency room doctor
- European Journal of Integrative Medicine: "Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants' Responses Following Art Making"
- Lizzy Mello, co-founder of Litt Wellness
- National Sleep Foundation: "Hear"
- Lauren Dummit, LMFT, co-founder and clinical director of Triune Therapy Group in Los Angeles
- American Journal of Psychiatry: "Adjunctive Bright Light Therapy for Bipolar Depression: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial"
- Anna Rowley, PhD, a consulting psychologist and adviser to Shine
- Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: "Revisiting reflexology: Concept, evidence, current practice, and practitioner training"