How I Keep Calm: Adult Silly Putty

It doesn't matter what exactly you're doing with your putty so long as it keeps your hands busy.

This past Hanukkah, my boyfriend and I decided to forego one “big” gift for eight “little” gifts. One night he gave me a pair of excellent scrunchies. Another night I gave him a box of waffles in the shape of Christmas trees. And on the last night, he gave me the greatest gift of all: silly putty. But like, for adults.

Before that moment, I had only known silly putty to be a beige sticky substance that comes in a plastic egg. Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with the original silly putty, and I remember being mesmerized as a kid to learn you could smush some putty down on a newspaper and the ink would transfer onto the goo (this was back when print newspapers were readily at hand, lol). But the gift I received this past December involved no plastic eggs, but rather two sophisticated tins labeled “HAND PUTTY” with a less-sophisticated tagline, “They broke the mould with this one!”

It was, quite frankly, the perfect gift.

I’m the kind of person who, when feeling anxious, turns against oneself. I’ve suffered from compulsive skin-picking my entire life, tearing at my cuticles, my heels, and any little bump I can find on my skin (which, when you’re looking for them, turn up quite a lot). It’s a really frustrating problem, one that’s left scars all over my body, one I’ve seen specialists and therapists about, one I’ve cried over too many times to count. Because skin-picking has basically become an ingrained habit, I do it every day, no matter what’s going on, often without really realizing I’m doing it. But it gets exponentially worse when I’m stressed. If there’s too much going on at work, or I’m anxiously awaiting a response to an email, or there’s a global pandemic causing mass hysteria and panic and self-isolation and uncertainty and your country seems to be completely ill-equipped to handle a crisis of this magnitude and you’re not sure when you’ll see your family again and nobody really has any answers, my fingers start working in overtime, tearing up my skin.

Unless I have, you guessed it, putty!!!!!

How do I love putty? Let me painstakingly list the ways. First off, this is the particular putty I’m talking about, which I received in gold and silver. The silver is beautiful — shiny, a little sparkly, super smooth to the touch. My gold tin was a little less attractive, veering more toward brown than gold, which does indeed make it look like a clump of poo. But it’s my anxiety-soothing clump of poo, so I’ll take it.

Now, there are so many things you can do with putty. You can roll it up into a ball and bounce it off the ground. You can do this sort of continual pulling action where you stretch it out, fold it up, stretch it out again, fold it up again, and repeat ad nauseam or until your next nap. You can attempt to make shapes out of it (I’ve gotten pretty good at dumplings). You can snap it off in pieces, which makes an incredibly satisfying snapping sound. You can squeeze it around in your hand until air bubbles form and start to pop (making another Very Good Sound). Sometimes I like to make a rectangle out of putty and flatten it as thin as I can get it without tearing any of the surface. You can attempt to make a mold of your nose. You can attempt to make a mold of your belly button. There are so many things you can attempt to mold.

putty dumpling
A putty dumpling.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what exactly you’re doing with your putty so long as it keeps your hands busy. Because even if you’re not a compulsive skin-picker like me, chances are you’ll find it useful to have something for your hands to do when you’re wondering if your shortness of breath is being caused by a virus or anxiety, whether your supply of Ritz crackers will last you through the week, or why your parents seriously won’t stop leaving their house. It’s actually been proven that busy hands help to alleviate anxiety, so, you know, science!

Now, before you go ordering up all the putty online (please don’t do that, be reasonable, we all need putty), a few important things for you to keep in mind: When you’re done puttying for the day, put the glob back in its tin. Leaving it out for one night is fine, but it will soon start to dry out. Also, don’t putty your clothes. I know you want to putty your clothes, but the putty particles will stick to the fabric and you won’t like that. And lastly, don’t fall asleep with the putty in your hand, because then you will inevitably wind up puttying your clothes (unless you’re naked, which, respect), and you’ll wake up to find out that you’ve ruined your boyfriend’s favorite t-shirt. Yes, the same boyfriend who bought you the putty in the first place. Ack!

how I keep calm

How I Keep Calm is our new series featuring different ways people manage anxiety. If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail with “How I Keep Calm” in the subject line.

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