One of the oldest stress management techniques is the good ol’ stress ball. I mentioned it in my list of 170 Stress Management Techniques but didn’t go in depth. Companies give them away at events, there’s at least one in every office, and there’s a huge market for them. Clearly they’re popular, but the question is do they work?
Before I go into the “do they work?” spiel, I want to take you back to the origins of the squishy stress ball a lot of us use today. The idea of the stress ball actually originated in China. Traditional stress balls (known as Baoding Balls) are made out of metal or wood. Unlike the stress balls we use here in the U.S today, the Chinese stress balls aren’t squeezed; you roll them around in your hand. They’re hollow and have bells or chimes in them that make sounds when you roll them around. The sound is actually very relaxing.
Baoding balls are supposed to help your Chi and balance out your energies. In addition, they’re also great form or therapy for your hands.
Here’s a video that gives more insight into what Baoding balls are and how they work (the whispering videos are actually pretty relaxing as well).
The Answer: Do Stress Balls Work?
Stress balls absolutely work, and there’s science to back it up. When we get stressed out, our brain has two channels. A sensory channel (sight, sound, feel, and smell) and an intellectual channel that tries to makes sense of how we feel and put it into context.
When your sensory channel is blocked or occupied, your experiences aren’t as intense or vivid. In other words, when you’re physically occupied with something (squeezing the stress ball) your mind isn’t focused or concentrated on whatever is stressing you out. This is why some of the best stress reducers are physical activities.
Research has shown that our brains take in and process a lot of information that comes through our hands. That’s what makes stress balls and Baoding balls so effective. When squeezing a stress ball, your brain has to use a lot of it’s resources to process the sensation and activity coming in through your hand. This means it has less resources to dedicate to your stress.
Think about a baby sucking on a pacifier. The pacifier occupies them so that they’re not focused on whatever was making them cry. The same concept applies to stress balls. All of your energy and focus is being redirected and taken out on the stress ball.
According to stress expert and author of Is Work Killing You?: A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress, Dr. David Posen,
“The benefit of squeezing is that it releases some kind of energy — it also induces you to relax”.
There’s a term called Muscular Relaxation that describes what Dr. Posen is referring to.
To get an idea of what muscular relaxation is, make your hand into a fist and squeeze for about 5 seconds.Now relax your hand and pay attention to the tension leaving your hand.Take it a step further and squeeze your hand into a fist again. But this time, breath in when you clench your fist and exhale when you relax your fist. The feeling that you get when you relax your tensed hand is muscular relaxation. It’s all about releasing tension.
Stress Balls Are Not A Permanent Solution!
Another important point that Dr Posen makes is that stress balls aren’t a long term solution to stress. They work best when you use them right when you’re feeling stressed to help relieve some of the tension you’re feeling right at that moment.This is the reason why a lot of people keep stress balls in their desk at the office. You’re bound to have tons of stressful situations when you’re at work so it’s nice to have something close by to squeeze.
If nothing else, stress balls are always something nice to fool around with when you’re on the phone or otherwise pre-occupied. The reason I like stress balls is because they’re a cheap and easy way to help relieve some tension even if it’s only temporary. Back when I was in high school working retail, I used this Infectious Disease Ball A LOT.
If you’ve never used one before, get one and see if it helps with your stress. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, get some Baoding balls and practice with them (I intend on getting some for myself).