Do Stress Balls Help Kids with Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues facing children and teens today. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 32% of adolescents aged 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder at some point. With anxiety on the rise among youth, many parents are looking for tools and techniques that can help their children manage symptoms and find relief. One method that has become increasingly popular is the use of stress balls. But do these little squeeze toys actually help with anxiety?

Stress balls are small, pliable balls made of rubber, foam, or other materials that conform to pressure. The act of squeezing a stress ball can provide a constructive outlet for nervous energy and anxiety. It also stimulates the senses, which can have a calming effect. While research on stress balls is limited, studies suggest they may offer some benefits:

  • Improved focus – One study found that children with ADHD demonstrated improved attention spans while engaging with a stress ball. The sensory input helped them concentrate on tasks.
  • Lowered heart rate – Stress balls have been shown to lower heart rate and reduce nervous system arousal when used for short periods. This can help relieve anxiety symptoms.
  • Release of calming hormones – Kneading a stress ball requires effort and movement from the hands. This motion may stimulate the release of oxytocin and serotonin, hormones associated with calmness.
  • Distraction – For kids, manipulating a stress ball can provide a welcome distraction from anxious thoughts or feelings. This mindful redirection of focus can stop the cycle of rumination.
  • Emotional release – Simply squeezing a stress ball enables the physical release of tension. Allowing anxious energy an outlet in a controlled manner can prevent outbursts.

While studies suggest some potential benefits, experts caution that stress balls should be utilized as part of an overall anxiety management plan. Used in isolation without addressing thought patterns and emotional skills, they are unlikely to produce lasting relief. But when incorporated with cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, exercise and other therapeutic techniques, stress balls can be a helpful self-regulation tool.

Parents should also keep realistic expectations when introducing stress balls. They serve mainly as an in-the-moment coping mechanism for relieving mild to moderate anxiety, not warding off or eliminating anxiety completely. Working with a pediatric therapist or school counselor can help determine if stress balls are an appropriate recommendation for a particular child’s needs.

Though more research is still needed, stress balls appear to be a safe, affordable and accessible option for allowing kids of all ages a tangible way to manage their anxiety. When used in moderation and with proper guidance, these little squeeze toys may indeed provide some much-needed stress relief.

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