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The Best Anti-Stress Toys for Squeezing Away the Existential Anxiety

The stress is real, but what comes after the fidget spinner? Kinetic sand, food-shaped squeezables, and a forever ball sack.
sand fidget balls pen
Photo: Composite by VICE Staff

While out on the town at around midnight the other week, I was asked by a Bar Rando if I wanted something called “kinetic sand.” I said yes, because why the hell not, and he proceeded to pull out a purple wad (a slop? a sploosh?) of this squishy, sandy material from a 10-pound plastic bag. It didn’t look exciting, but it felt like a newborn cloud. It could be stretched apart and sprinkled any which way, but always got molded back together with a kind of gentle magnetism. It felt like a scene from a cautionary German folk tale, but with negronis. And I wanted more.

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A bit of Googling later, and I learned that kinetic sand is a fidget toy made up of fine sand and polydimethylsiloxane, the latter of which is a material used in common sealants, anti-foaming agents, and lubricants. All of this information just makes me go huh, and continue to roll the dice and fidget with my sand because every time I touch it, it feels like my hands have their own memory foam mattress. I fidget with it during Zoom calls, and find myself a little more focused; I squish it while getting through an episode of Cosmos without obsessively checking my phone. I share it with everyone who comes over to my house, and pretty soon, I imagine I will also be pulling out my own 10-pound bag at the bar for someone. 

Fidget and decompression toys aren’t new. Remember fidget spinners? They were everywhere, and they left such an impact that you can now get fidget spinner tiles for your home. Aside from just being really fun, fidget spinners have also purportedly been found to alleviate anxiety for those living with ADHD or autism spectrum disorders—although there’s plenty of debate over their effects. Some educators say they can be more distracting than helpful, while other psychiatrists disagree, arguing that there’s no reason why folks with hypersensitivity or anxiety shouldn’t find relief in a habit that could sub out nail biting or tapping. After all, one study showed that people who squeezed a stress ball during surgery could lower their anxiety by 18 percent and pain by 22 percent

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It’s not in our wheelhouse to talk about the potential psychological or medical benefits of fidget spinners, and, frankly, their cultural moment has come and gone. Let’s move on to their torch-bearers, which include not only kinetic sand, but a kind of poppable plastic fabric that is all over my TikTok, Instagram, and in the slew of tourist shops in my beachy hometown. Let’s start squishing the decompression toys that look like chicken wings, peaches, and transformer pens. After all, there’s always something to be stressed about—but we’ve got to find ways to cope, even if those methods may include squeezing fake testicles.

If you’ve never tried le squish, click, or pop, I implore you: Give it a go. You have everything to gain—or rather, release—and but a dusting of sand to lose. Now, let’s meet our players... 

Circles in the sand

You can get this stuff in pretty much any color or quantity, but I’m partial to a classic purple and/or green, as a lover of 1990s Nickelodeon. 


$7.99 at Amazon

$7.99 at Amazon

$9.99 at Amazon

$9.99 at Amazon

The new ‘It’ fidget toy

These. Are. Everywhere. Find them right between the mood rings and shell necklaces at your closest seaside tourist shop (maybe they’re for the kids to stay busy on vacation?). Let us know how it goes if you give one to a wee babe. 


$16.99 at Amazon

$16.99 at Amazon

$4.50 at ROMWE

$4.50 at ROMWE

You fidget with your pens

You ever seen a pen with its own strap-on? [Hits joint] How about one that becomes a little dog? 


$15.99 at Amazon

$15.99 at Amazon

Play with your food

So, we’re kind of wondering if some of these aren’t just dog toys? But if so, woof, because they’re rad. You and your pup can nibble on faux chicken wings together, or throw silicone ravioli at the wall during your next dramatic dinner party. 


$16.98 at Amazon

$16.98 at Amazon
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$2.65 at ROMWE

$2.65 at ROMWE

$25 at Etsy

$25 at Etsy

More squish

It’s either this, or juice a bag of lemons. Some of the squishable toys out there are firmer than others, so figure out where you land on the spectrum from soft boiled egg to kinetic sand. 


$5 at Urban Outfitters

$5 at Urban Outfitters

$7.98$0.78 at Cost Plus World Market

$7.98$0.78 at Cost Plus World Market

You’re more into the visuals… 

… And probably owned a lava lamp at some point. This is for people who need a little a distraction, but don’t want to fidget with their hands. It is also for Phish heads.  


$13.99$8.19 at Wayfair

$13.99$8.19 at Wayfair

A ball sack stress ball? No...

But also: yes. These balls come in four shades, “Pinky Gold,” “Minky Brown,” “Tim’s Balls Brown,” and “Shameless Blue,” which deserves its own David Lynch movie. 


$20 at Etsy

$20 at Etsy

You’re in ‘Labyrinth’

Not *that* far off David Bowie’s crystal in the cult Jim Henson movie, as far as lightly spinning orbs are concerned. This one feels very Adult Objet d’Art, but be assured: It is also for silly gooses. Put one in your home office to see if it also attracts babies and kids with great eyebrows, and report back. 


$155 at UncommonGoods

$155 at UncommonGoods

Happy squishing. Next time, we’re talking about ASMR objects.  


The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.