What Liquid Goo is Inside Stress Balls?

Stress balls, those small, squishy balls that people squeeze when they’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, have become a ubiquitous part of modern life. Walk into any office, classroom, or waiting room and you’re likely to see a basket full of these curious objects just waiting to be grabbed. But have you ever wondered exactly what’s inside these squishy spheres? What gives the stress ball its distinctive tactile feel and stress-relieving properties? Here’s a look at what’s inside one of the world’s most popular fidget toys.

The Most Common Fillings

The vast majority of stress balls are filled with one of a few inexpensive, widely available materials that provide the perfect amount of squish and resistance. Most commercially produced stress balls contain either air, a gel, or microbeads.

Air-filled stress balls are simply rubber or vinyl spheres with air pumped inside. They tend to be more lightweight and affordably priced than other varieties, making them a popular giveaway item emblazoned with company logos and event details. The air inside is sealed in with a plug, valve, or glued seam so that the ball maintains its bounce and squish even when squeezed tightly.

Gel-filled stress balls take on that distinctive squishy, semi-solid feel thanks to hydrophilic polymers mixed with water. These cross-linked polymer chains composed of polyethylene oxide or polyvinyl alcohol have the ability to absorb and retain water while maintaining a soft, malleable texture. By adjusting the ratios of polymer to water, manufacturers can produce gels with different degrees of stiffness and elasticity to create just the right squeeze.

Microbead-filled stress balls offer another satisfying sensory experience, filled with thousands of tiny plastic beads that flow and conform to the hand. Manufacturers can choose from beads of various materials, sizes, and surface textures to fine-tune the tactile feel. The tiny size and smoothness of the beads allows them to slip over one another when compressed, providing a uniquely fluid, moldable quality.

Specialty Fillings

Though air, gel, and microbeads make up the vast majority of stress ball fillings, some manufacturers get creative with different materials for unique visual and tactile effects. Some specialty fillings include:

  • Flour/cornstarch – Finely milled flour or cornstarch compact well under pressure, offering a dry, moldable squeeze. The contents must be kept fully sealed to prevent leaking.
  • Sand – Ultra-fine sand yields a ​shifted, grainy, almost fluid feel when squeezed. Different sands can provide different degrees of texture.
  • Water – Water has a slippery, irregular squeeze but flows quickly back to shape. The outer shell must be extremely durable.
  • Oil – Lightweight and slippery, oil flows slowly within a sturdy outer shell. Provides smooth, meditative sensations.
  • Beads – Larger plastic beads allow for interesting visual textures and shuffling sounds. Different bead sizes and shapes provide varied feels.
  • Chia seeds – When soaked in water, chia seeds expand into a soft, bumpy gel perfect for relieving stress. The seeds must be completely sealed in durable plastic.
  • Porcelain putty – This oil-based modeling putty provides an interesting, moldable, clay-like texture. Best for reusable desk toys rather than squeezing.

While these specialty fillings can offer novel experiences, their unique properties make them more difficult and expensive to manufacture. As a result, they are far less common than standard air, gel, and microbead-filled balls.

Why Do They Relieve Stress?

There are a few key reasons why squeezing and manipulating a stress ball can be so soothing:

  • It’s a outlet for nervous energy. Squeezing the ball helps channel nervous energy and restless urges into your hands and out of your mind.
  • It facilitates mindfulness. The physical sensation brings your focus to the present moment.
  • It activates the senses. The feel of the ball in your hand engages the sense of touch to produce calming sensory input.
  • It simulates therapeutic massage. Deep squeezes can activate the same pressure points as massage therapy to induce relaxation.
  • It allows emotional release. Aggressive squeezing enables the symbolic release of stress, anger, and anxiety.
  • It boosts hand strength. The resistance engages muscles, increasing circulation and reducing tension.
  • It improves dexterity. Manipulating the ball enhances coordination and dexterity in the hands.
  • It substitutes a bad habit. Squeezing a ball replaces fidgeting, nail biting, hair pulling, and other nervous habits.

This powerful combination of sensory input, emotional release, and occupying restless hands allows the simple act of squeezing a squishy ball to quickly ease stress and anxiety for many people.

The Next Time You Squeeze

The next time you find yourself absentmindedly squeezing a stress ball, take a moment to appreciate just how much engineering goes into creating the perfect handheld fidget toy. While we often take these deceptively simple objects for granted, stress balls provide millions of people with an easy, convenient way to stimulate their senses, release nerves, and cope with life’s everyday stressors – one satisfying squeeze at a time. So go ahead and give that ball in your hand a gentle, appreciative squish.