Here’s the problem with mainstream stress relief toys
I’ve never been a fan of stress balls or fidget spinners.
They are two of today’s most well-known stress relief toys, but to me, they feel manufactured, inauthentic, and gimmicky.
While most toys are associated with fun and entertainment, lots of people turn to wooden toys for their educational benefits. But there are very few resources discussing wooden toys’ ability to relieve stress and anxiety.
That’s what I’d like to talk about with you today — how wooden toys can make a positive contribution to an individual’s overall mental health.
Some people find the greatest relief from writing down their negative thoughts. I’ve found that the tactile experience of handling physical blocks offers a similar release.
It’s not for everyone. But it works wonders for people like me. In the midst of a stress epidemic, I’ll take all the help I can get.
America’s stress epidemic
Stress and anxiety are more prevalent today than ever before. It’s a society-wide epidemic that has been linked to all sorts of physical, cognitive, and emotional health problems. If there’s ever been a time to focus on stress relief, it’s now.
- Americans are the most stressed-out people in the world. A 2018 study shows 55% of American adults report being stressed “a lot of the day”, compared with just 35% globally.
- Anxiety among Americans is on the rise. Another 2018 poll shows nearly 40% of American adults are more anxious than they were at this time in 2017.
- And that was before COVID-19. If stress and anxiety increased that much during 2018, just imagine how bad it is in 2021.
Wooden blocks and mindfulness?
I know it’s an out of the box idea, but I’d like to share with you where my own personal journey has led me. I now use wooden blocks to relieve stress and incorporate them into various other mindful practices.
Wooden blocks and mindfulness? For me, the two isolated things just kind of serendipitously came together.
I’d always found playing with blocks to be a soothing activity.
I’d begun exploring mindfulness in the same ways most people do.
One day, the idea serendipitously sparked just like that, “why not try meditating with blocks?”
I tried it and loved it.
The uncommon practice of wooden blocks for stress relief
Now with more experience, the idea has become much more developed. I’ve become a firm believer that wooden blocks support mindfulness in many ways. If yoga blocks can support the process of strengthening your body, then can wooden building blocks support the process of strengthening your mind.
These are my thoughts.
These are my blocks.
They work together just like that.
I now practice mindful block play regularly, and exploring toys for mindfulness, I am not alone!
Today, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite exercises — for a focused session using wooden blocks to relieve stress.
How do wooden blocks relieve stress in the first place?
Not all wooden blocks are specifically designed for stress relief, but in my experience, they’re one of the best stress relief toys for people seeking mindfulness in general.
Stress relief toys work on the principles of taking you out of your mind, and into your body — but there’s usually just one thing you can do with them.
Open-ended wooden blocks, on the other hand, create a controlled environment where you can freely traverse the mind, body, and physical world.
Specific to stress relief, wooden blocks allow you to distance yourself from your angst and frustrations, and transfer your difficult emotions onto the blocks themselves.
It’s like a little vacation from the situation you’re facing.
Beyond your mind and body, the blocks are an instrument to explore your emotions in physical space.
How to use wooden blocks for mindful stress relief
The method I’ll show you today is a wooden blocks stress relief exercise I particularly enjoy.
Out with the bad, in with the good.
It’s a two simple step process that allows you to replace negative thoughts with positive intentions — transforming your stress and anxiety into calm and serenity.
Lots of people write down their feelings in a journal to clear their minds of negative emotions. This process uses wooden blocks for the same purpose.
By focusing on one emotion per block, you’ll let all your thoughts out, organize them, and replace them with positive intentions.
Step #1: Out with the bad
Start by getting out your blocks and tossing them onto any surface. You don’t need to be careful — they’re durable wooden blocks — dumping them any way you feel is a healthy, non-destructive way to vent a little frustration.
The blocks that lay before you represent your stress — disorganized, messy, chaotic.
Next, you’re going to isolate individual stressors and detach from them by assigning that negative emotion onto a block.
Pinpoint one specific thing that’s causing you stress, and pick up any block you choose to represent that feeling. The very first thought that comes into your head and the very first block that feels right are exactly what you should choose.
At this point, visually focus on the block and say the single thing that’s bothering you. Feel free to either think in your head or speak out loud. Personally, I find speaking aloud to achieve greater relief. For example:
- “When Betty spoke over me at lunch yesterday, I felt disrespected, embarrassed, and weak.”
- “I am scared to death that I won’t make my next mortgage payment, and I don’t know what to do. I feel insecure, angry, and hopeless.
- “I can’t remember the last time I did something just for me, and I feel overworked, under-appreciated, and lost.
You’ve successfully rid your mind of the negative emotion and put it onto the block.
Set the block aside and repeat the same step for each negative thought that comes into your frame of mind. Choose a different block each time, and set them all aside — one by one into a straight line flat on the table.
This line of blocks represents the new clarity and perspective you’ve gained over your negative emotions. What was once a dark cloud of unmanageable stress, is now a tidy sequence of wooden blocks.
You’ve got your thoughts in order!
Step #2: In with the good
You have a line of negative emotion blocks in front of you.
In this next step, you’re going to transform them into the building blocks of positive intent.
Pick up any one of your negative emotions blocks, and respond with a positive affirmation, uplifting aspiration, or practical solution. Following the examples above:
- “Betty’s behavior does not determine who I am as a person. I am intelligent, interesting, and a fun person to be around.”
- “Missing one mortgage payment is not the end of the world. I am a resilient individual who will find a way to overcome this debt. I have family and friends who will stand by me no matter what.”
- “This weekend, I will finally make the time to try that new Polynesian restaurant on Mission Drive.”
You’ve successfully transformed your negative emotion into a positive intention.
Your first block is the foundation for your positive intent. Place it in a new area. Then repeat the process for your other negative emotion blocks.
This time, building blocks on top of each other. You’re building a structure up into the sky.
You’re building yourself up.
When you’re done, keep your positive emotions block structure standing tall, and clear away the pieces you didn’t use.
Your block structure is a well-deserved reminder of your new positive outlook and something to be proud of.
Your blocks when you need them. By keeping a small set of wooden blocks on your workplace office desk or in your bedroom cabinet, they’ll be easier to access in moments of heightened stress. Any kind of blocks will do the trick, but we might recommend zen blocks, which are intentionally designed for mindful play.
Over to you!
You might think it’s silly, and you’d be absolutely right. But not more silly than any other mindful activity, or repetitiously squeezing a stress ball for that matter.
If you’re interested, please give it a try! I’d love to hear all about your experience using wooden blocks to relieve stress.
If nothing else, I hope this post has piqued your curiosity and helped you reaffirm that stress relief can be anything you want it to be. Whatever works for you.
Let me know in the comments below.