Do Stress Balls Work?

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Between rush hour traffic, pesky bills, and keeping the kids in check, there’s enough going on during the day to make anyone go crazy. That’s why it’s awesome to have a stress ball in arm’s reach. These squishy lifesavers are not only helpful, but they can also come in fun shapes that fit our vibes, whether it’s a baseball stress reliever for a slugger or a brain stress reliever for a neurology office.

Do stress balls actually relieve stress? How can they help with serious medical conditions? Squeeze in a little time, take a break from all those bills, and let’s explore how stress balls work.

The Science of Stress Balls

Stress is caused by taking information from two channels – both through primary senses like sight and touch as well as through our intellectual channel: the brain. When the wires get crossed, we get overwhelmed and feel ready to tear our hair out. Squeezing a stress ball makes us feel like we’ve got our primary channel under control, leaving our brain free to focus on the task at hand.

The Science of Stress Balls

Aside from increasing focus, stress balls also give our bodies the chance to release physical tension. We clench up when dealing with frustrations and squeezing a stress ball activates our arm muscles to contract and release. This improves blood circulation and gives us much-needed relief.

The Science of Stress Balls

Stress Balls and Concentration

The workplace is often the cause of most people’s stress. However, that isn’t to say others don’t feel tension every day as well. For example, students, whether they are in grade school or college, feel overwhelmed by tests, homework, pending projects, and annoying bullies.

That’s why stress balls make such a great addition to the classroom. The sixth graders at Thomas County Central Middle School in Georgia sure seemed to agree, using theirs to increase their focus during language arts.

Their teacher, Sheryl Stalvey, observed these students for seven weeks and recorded the number of distractions that occurred for the students with stress balls vs. the kids who didn’t have one.

It was found that kinesthetic learners (those who need to fidget) had an increased attention span compared to other learners when squeezing the stress balls. These students had improved paragraph structure and better interactions with their peers. All it took was a little foam toy to keep them on track and enhance their creativity.

Figure 1. Number of distraction incidents during 5-minute intervals of direct instruction and independent practice with (SB) and without stress ball (NSB) use. Error bars indicate standard deviations.

Instructional Environment
Instructional Environment

Instructional Environment

Sheryl Stalvey, Heather Brasell, Journal of At-Risk Issues

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The stress ball helps me with my attention and concentration.

– Elementary Student at Thomas County Central

Bring in the Stress Balls, Stat!

Stress balls not only help with concentration, but they also have many health benefits. Doctors and nurses turn to squishy toys to improve the blood pressure, arthritis symptoms, and anxiety levels of their patients.

Stress Balls and Blood Pressure

Alarmingly, 1 out of every 3 American adults has high blood pressure according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are simple steps you can take to get on better track with your health and that includes picking up a stress ball.

Dr. Robert Brook, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, suggests squeezing a stress ball to help lower blood pressure. This is referred to as “isometric handgrip exercises,” which are short bursts of working your hand muscles.

Stress Balls and Blood Pressure

This is the recommended exercise:

  1. #1. Get a stress ball that fits comfortably in your hand.
  2. #2. Set a timer and hold in a squeeze position for a full 90 seconds.
  3. #3. Switch to the other hand and hold the squeeze for another 90 seconds.
  4. #4. Repeat the exercise three times for each hand.
  5. #5. Do the exercise twice a day for six weeks.

According to University Hospitals, a medical center that provides training and education, your blood pressure will significantly improve at the end of the six weeks. You still shouldn’t pile salt onto your French fries, but the stress ball is a great start when it comes to positive changes in your blood pressure.

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When people are exposed to long periods of stress, their bodies give warning signs that something is wrong. These signs should not be ignored. They are signs that our bodies need to slow down, relax more, and give ourselves a break.

– Laura La Bella, Author of Blood Pressure Basics

Stress Balls and Arthritis
Blood pressure is a common ailment in the United States, but many others suffer from arthritis, which is inflammation in the joints that causes pain and stiffness. In fact, an estimated 50 million Americans are dealing with these symptoms.

A study by the University of Oxford found that stress balls are a good way to relieve arthritis in the hands. Patients who squeezed stress balls in tandem with their normal treatments had significant improvement in hand flexibility, dexterity, and muscle strength.

Stress Balls and Arthritis

The exercise that’s recommended is simple:
Take the stress reliever in one hand and squeeze it 10 times for a few seconds. Repeat the process for your other hand.

The best part about this exercise is it’s easy and can be done anywhere, from sitting in the waiting room to standing in line at the grocery store. A stress ball isn’t the cure to arthritis, but it will help reduce pain in the joints and strengthen hand muscles.

Stress Balls and Anxiety

While stress balls are great for improving blood pressure and arthritis, they can also improve our mental health. Dr. Jane Ogden, a psychology professor at the University of Surrey, reports that stress balls significantly reduce anxiety, particularly for those who are in high-stress situations like surgery.

Ogden and other researchers at the University of Surrey evaluated 398 patients who were undergoing varicose vein surgery. The team used a system of measurement called the S-STAI (state-trait anxiety inventory) to track the anxiety levels of each patient as they awaited the procedure. Some of the patients had a distraction, like a stress ball to squeeze, DVD to watch, or nurse to chat with, while others awaited the surgery without anything else to direct their focus.

Stress Balls and Anxiety

The study found that stress balls and other distractions not only made the patients feel less anxious, but also helped reduce their pain. Who knew a little foam toy could be that impactful?

Stress Balls and Anxiety

What Are the Other Benefits of Stress Balls?

You can use stress balls to improve the quality of your everyday life. There are many benefits in using stress balls at work, home, and everywhere in between!

Better Sleep

Better Sleep
When we’re stressed, we tend to stay up all night tossing and turning. Stress balls eliminate some of those feelings and make us hit the hay a little easier.

Better Sleep
Hand Strength

Hand Strength
Ready to compete on “American Ninja Warrior?” You can get better grip strength by regularly squeezing a stress ball. This is also recommended for people with muscle atrophy (decrease in muscle mass).

Hand Strength
Healthier Heart

Healthier Heart
A team at Harvard Medical School found that stress can lead to heart disease. Physical activity, like squeezing a stress ball, helps our mind and body relax and improves our heart health.

Healthier Heart
Good Mood

Good Mood
Your work load isn’t going to get smaller by squeezing a stress ball, but it does give your brain a moment to reset and focus. This will stop you from feeling bummed out by stress.

Good Mood
More Energy

More Energy
According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a decorative workspace leads to more productivity and energy. Stress balls in fun shapes and colors are an easy way to add style to your desk.

More Energy
Boost Performance

Boost Performance
A German study found that soccer players and martial artists performed well when they squeezed a ball in their less dominant hand (right for lefties, left for righties) during competition.

Boost Performance
Improved Memory

Improved Memory
In 2013, college students were given a list of words to remember as they clenched a small pink ball. By squeezing with their right hand, they activated the left side of their brain and performed well on the memory test.

Improved Memory

The work/life balance can be difficult to manage, but tiny stress balls make it a little easier. Find one that fits your personality and keep it right in your purse or pocket for those moments when you need a quick mood, health, or energy boost.

Advertising with Stress Balls

Advertising with Stress Balls

Not only are stress balls great for your health, but they are also a wonderful way to advertise if you own a business or want to bring more attention to your event.

Take for example the cow stress relievers from the Manitowoc County Historical Society. These toys were an utter delight at the annual Thresheree, an event that gives kids the chance to participate in a cattle auction and learn how to milk a cow. Along with a certificate of ownership, the youngsters also received small cow stress relievers with the historical society’s logo.

The cow stress balls were a fun souvenir the kids could take home at the end of the day. In a world of tablet games and YouTube, they’re a squishy little reminder to enjoy the great outdoors and bring friends to next year’s event.

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The stress relief milk cows not only worked as an adorable child take-away, but also a memorable toy, where they can see our logo, remember their visit, and hopefully return to experience more of our living history.

– Alexandra Brendemuehl, Program Coordinator at the Manitowoc County Historical Society

Stats for Success

According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress costs US industries over $300 billion a year.

A study found that engaging our sense of touch, like squeezing a stress ball, increases our attention span by up to 33%.

86% of Americans sit at a desk every day. Stress balls can boost their energy and mood.

The Bottom Line

Stress balls work for many different reasons, from traffic jams to medical conditions. If that isn’t enough, they’re also a lot more fun than business cards when it comes to advertising. Next time you’re feeling at wit’s end, or just want something cool for your desk, make stress balls your main squeeze!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a super cool Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. She’s a fan of diving into the history of some of the earliest promos on the planet. If you need her, you’ll find her buried in research, in the middle of a phone interview, or singing way off-tune in her office.