Do Stress Balls Make You More Stressed?

Stress balls have become an increasingly popular desk accessory in recent years. The squishy, squeezable balls are intended to provide stress relief and focus for restless hands. But could the opposite also be true? Could constantly squeezing a stress ball actually make you more stressed? Let’s take a closer look.

What is a Stress Ball?

A stress ball is a small, pliable ball made of rubber, foam, gel, or other malleable materials. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. Some look like regular balls, while others are designed as animals, food items, smiley faces, planets, and more. The act of squeezing a stress ball repeatedly with your hand is intended to provide a releasing outlet for nervous energy and anxiety. The repetitive motion is calming and centering for some. Stress balls are marketed as tools to help relieve everyday stress, aid focus, and provide hand exercise.

How Do Stress Balls Work?

Using a stress ball is thought to activate certain pressure points in the hand that connect to areas of the brain responsible for stress and anxiety. Squeezing motions can help relax the nervous system by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Much like kneading dough, the rhythmic flexing provides distraction and release. The physical sensation of pressing into the squishy exterior redirects your attention and allows you to channel excess energy into your hands. Stress balls can also strengthen your grip and prevent repetitive stress injuries associated with computer work.

Do They Really Reduce Stress?

There is some evidence that stress balls and other sensory-based tools can be effective at reducing anxiety and nervous energy. One study found that slowly squeezing a stress ball minimized anxiety and lowered heart rates in college students waiting to give a public speech. Other researchers reported students were better able to focus on tests after using a stress ball. The physical outlet helped them concentrate better. For people who suffer from nervous tremors or fidgety hands, having an object to keep their hands occupied can reduce overall restlessness.

Potential Downsides of Stress Balls

While they provide benefits for many, stress balls may also have some unintended consequences:

Dependence – If you rely too heavily on stress balls for anxiety relief, you may become dependent on having one with you at all times. This could prevent you from developing healthier coping strategies.

Distraction – Some find that constantly squeezing a stress ball is more of a distraction than a benefit. If you need to focus intently on work, the object may divert more of your attention than it relieves.

Loss of Effectiveness – If you use a stress ball too frequently on low-level anxiety, it may become less effective when you really need stress relief. The squeezing action can lose its impact over time.

Increased Tension – For some people, excessively squeezing a stress ball can create tension in the hands and forearms, which leads to soreness. Too much repetitive motion can increase strain.

Noise – Loud squeaking or squishing sounds from certain stress balls can annoy coworkers and those around you. Some people find the sound stressful.

Germs – Stress balls pick up dirt and germs more easily because they are frequently handled. If used by multiple people, they can spread sickness.

Do Stress Balls Make You More Stressed?

At the end of the day, the answer is likely no. For most people, stress balls present more benefits than downsides. When used properly at appropriate times, they offer an outlet for nervous energy and anxiety. Their effectiveness really depends on the individual. Here are some tips for using stress balls in a healthy way:

  • Use them intermittently as needed, not constantly throughout the day. Take breaks to avoid dependence.
  • Make sure they are not causing increased tension or pain in your hands. Discontinue use if you experience soreness.
  • Pick quieter stress balls if noise is an issue for you or coworkers.
  • Avoid sharing your stress ball with others to prevent spreading germs.
  • Try other methods like deep breathing, meditation, and breaks when stress balls alone aren’t enough.

While they aren’t a cure-all, stress balls can be one helpful tool in managing everyday stress and anxiety. Approach them as an complementary outlet, not the only solution. Pay attention to your own reactions. If stress balls start to create more stress than they relieve, then they have lost their purpose! Evaluate whether they are serving your needs or not. With some prudent use, they can effectively help channel nervous energy into productive focus.