Does Squeezing a Stress Ball Raise Blood Pressure?

Stress balls, also known as squeeze balls or anti-stress balls, are small malleable balls made of rubber, foam, or other materials that are designed to be squeezed in the hand as a stress-relieving activity. Stress balls have become increasingly popular over the years as a simple self-help tool for managing anxiety, stress, and frustration. But can the physical act of squeezing a stress ball actually increase your blood pressure? Here’s a look at what research says.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps. When blood pressure rises and stays elevated over time, it can damage the heart and lead to health problems. Acute stress can temporarily cause blood pressure to shoot up, while chronic stress can contribute to consistently high blood pressure. Given that stress balls are intended to relieve stress, it would seem logical that using them would reduce, not raise, blood pressure.

Surprisingly, a few studies have found that squeezing a stress ball can temporarily increase blood pressure:

  • A small study published in the International Journal of Therapies and Rehabilitation Research in 2014 looked at the effects of squeezing a stress ball on cardiovascular parameters like blood pressure. They found that systolic blood pressure increased by an average of 11 mmHg while diastolic pressure increased by 10 mmHg.
  • In a 2015 study in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, participants were asked to complete a stressful math task. Those who squeezed a stress ball during the task had increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings afterwards compared to those who did not use a stress ball.
  • Another small study in 2017 reported that squeezing a stress ball led to a significant rise in diastolic blood pressure, increasing it by an average of 14 mmHg. Systolic pressure showed a smaller increase.

The rises in blood pressure seen in these studies were temporary and returned to normal within a short time after participants stopped squeezing the stress balls. But the results suggest that vigorously engaging the muscles in the hands and arms to repeatedly squeeze a stress ball does appear to temporarily raise blood pressure.

Researchers theorize that the physical exertion of sustained or forceful squeezing can trigger your sympathetic nervous system and activate your “fight or flight” response, which includes faster breathing and heart rate. This may lead to tightened blood vessels and higher blood pressure. Simply holding a stress ball without vigorous squeezing, on the other hand, is unlikely to have the same effect.

More research is still needed, but the evidence so far indicates that vigorously squeezing a stress ball could temporarily increase your blood pressure. However, when used appropriately, stress balls can still be an effective way to provide comfort, focus your attention, and help manage anxiety and everyday stress. If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, it may be best to simply hold the ball gently rather than engage in forceful sustained squeezing. As with any self-help tool, be sure to check with your doctor about what’s right for your unique health needs.

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