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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp


Stress balls have become very fashionable since the first day they first appeared. The evidence of their popularity is striking. Every year more than a million executives in North America and Europe search on the internet for information on them.

But do stress balls really work?  Do they have really stress relieving benefits? Are the benefits confirmed by scientific research?

I am sure you have seen many of your colleagues using stress balls.  They squeeze them to release tension before an important presentation, a difficult meeting with the boss or tough negotiations.

For sure you have asked yourself many times if these small colorful toys really reduce stress. Can you actually relax using these silly stress balls?  Should you invest in them or rather focus on other stress management techniques?

This article will answer the question, “do stress balls really work?” We will present the scientific evidence and all potential benefits of these small stress-relieving gadgets.

But before jumping in, let’s see how stress balls work.

 

How Do Stress Balls Work According to Their Manufacturers?

The producers of stress balls maintain that they block the so-called sensory channel and, in this way, reduce stress.

What is a sensory channel? Let me explain.

Neuroscience says you feel stressed if your body receives stress signals simultaneously from two channels: the sensory and the intellectual channel. The sensory channel consists of your five senses: sight, touch, sound, etc.  The intellectual channel is your brain’s reasoning function. The theory says that to reduce stress, you need to block one of the channels.

Squeezing a stress ball helps obstruct the sensory channel. It keeps the hand occupied doing a simple, repetitive activity that directs the stress toward the ball. And the mind is now free to focus on other tasks. When the sensory channel is occupied, the brain experiences external stressors less intensely, hence it focuses less on the object of stress and anxiety.

This means that a good portion of the brain’s resources is dedicated to distraction. In simple words, your brain is more focused on the squeezing motion and less on your stress.

 

And What Does Science Say?

Let’s a look at the scientific perspective on the question: “Do stress balls work?”

First of all, scientific literature confirms the strong connection between the hands and the brain. According to medical research, our hands are very strong sensory organs. They are equipped with 17,000 touch receptors and nerves that pass on the information arriving from the environment to the brain.

The neurologist, Frank Wilson, in his famous book, “The Hand”, saw a direct evolutionary link between human intelligence and the hands.

If you are like me, you learn by writing. Putting words down helps me assimilate new concepts much faster. Is this also true for other people?  Yes, it is! Here is the link to the respective study.

Taking the above into account, there is no doubt that when we squeeze a stress ball, our hands send signals to the brain.

But do stress balls work for stress specifically?  This is, at least, is what their manufacturers claim. 

In fact, according to some studies, stress balls do work for stress.

For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) published German research from the University of Munich that proved that squeezing a stress ball with the left hand helped some athletes reduce game pressure and maximize performance. 

Did you pay attention to the last sentence?

With the left hand!

The athletes who used the right hand were less successful in stress reduction!

Each hand activates a different hemisphere of the brain. To achieve stress reduction, you need to activate the right hemisphere by squeezing the stress ball in the left hand.  

In addition, stress causes muscle tension as body muscles flinch when stressed out due to hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones prepare the body for fighting or running away (the “fight or flight” reaction). But at the office, neither is an option. Therefore, you need to reverse the symptoms of the hormonal reaction.

Stress balls can help release muscle tension by rhythmically squeezing them. This technique is called PMR: progressive muscle relaxation. According to stress experts such as  David Posen, the author of, “Is Work Killing You?”, the benefit of squeezing (stress balls) is that it releases some type of energy which, in turn, reduces stress hormones and induces relaxation.

The University of Michigan confirms that progressive muscle relaxation does work against stress.

So, we recommend you put a stress ball at your desk to beat the stress you deal with in the workplace.

Are you interested in other stress relief toys? 

The Best Stress Relief Toys for Busy Executives

 

Other Benefits of Stress Balls for Executives

But do stress balls work only for stress? Despite the name of these balls, their benefits are not limited to stress.

Research supports other psychological and health benefits as a consequence of squeezing these small balls at the office or home. Here you have a list:

 

1. Stress Balls Improve Your Concentration

Intense focus at work wanes after some time for most executives. Read this study on diversions that improve productivity: A study at the University of Illinois.

One of these diversions to improve focus is squeezing a stress ball. This benefit is not only for executives. Stress balls help people in other spheres of life, such as students. A research study done with sixth-grade students in a rural South Georgia school showed that using stress balls improved focus and concentration as well as performance during language arts.

Don’t hesitate to take a stress ball next time you need to increase your attention span and avoid distractions at work!

Do you want to stay focused and prevent the wearing out of your brain at work?

Learn How to Train Your Brain to Focus

 

2. Stress Balls Reduce Anxiety

Another benefit associated with stress balls use is the reduction of anxiety. Researchers at the University of Surrey assessed patients undergoing varicose vein surgery. They tracked the patients’ anxiety levels prior to surgery, some with and some without stress balls. The patients using stress ball showed less anxiety as well as reduced pain.

So, next time you feel anxious at the office after an argument with your boss or a co-workes, take your stress ball and squeeze away! Use this simple distraction tool to reduce your anxiety.

 

3. Stress Balls Improve Mood

Stress balls can also improve mood among executives. It can’t help with the workload, of course, but it does allow the brain to rest, reset and focus.

With distractions, it gets easier to deal with the piles of work staring you down at your desk.

 

4. Stress Balls Boost Memory

Additionally, these balls boost memory. College students were provided with a list of words to learn while using stress balls during memorizing. The squeezing movement activated the side of the brain that deals with this function and the result was better scores.

So, why don’t you squeeze a stress ball while you try to memorize data for a presentation with your clients?

 

5. Stress Balls Improve Your Sleep

Stress balls not only reduce stress and anxiety levels, but these balls also improve the quality of sleep. Stress-related issues  interfere with sleep and, in turn, further aggravates stress levels.

Using stress balls before sleep and during the day, whether at work or home, can help with a poor sleep situation.

 

6. Stress Balls Control Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a very common health concern among adults. Stress balls can help control it. As the hand muscles experience bursts of action while squeezing the ball, blood pressure goes lower, according to professor of medicine, Dr. Robert D. Brook, at  the University of Michigan.

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the key causes of high blood pressure, as confirmed by this study. Importantly, the correlation between sitting long hours and blood pressure is independent from physical activity done after working hours.

 

7. Stress Balls Reduce Arthritis Symptoms

Another important health benefit of using stress balls is reducing arthritis pain and symptoms. Arthritis is a common ailment that results from inflammation in the joints, causing discomfort and stiffness.

It is difficult to focus on the tasks at hand or type on your computer when you have pain at your wrists.

According to research at the University of Oxford, stress balls are an effective tool in relieving arthritis of the hands. Patients using stress balls coupled with their normal treatment protocol showed improvement in muscle strength and flexibility.

Stress balls can be used anywhere and although they don’t cure arthritis, they make it more manageable.

 

Conclusion

Managing home and work life is a challenge for everyone, not just for executives and entrepreneurs.  The world runs at a fast pace and many want off the emotional roller coaster. There are so many stressors with long hours and looming deadlines.

No wonder executives feel overwhelmed, making tension relief and reduced stress a must.  Stress balls cannot directly change these situations but squeezing these toys can greatly improve one’s ability to deal with stress.

They let you take a breath and relax while you gain other benefits, such as improved concentration and mood or a boost in memory function. All of these are supported by Science!

Whether you need more information about the usefulness of stress balls or want to share your personal experiences, please leave a comment!

If you are looking for advice to reduce your stress in the office, consider reading one of these Stress Management Books or this Guide with 70+Ways to Relieve Stress Permanently That Really Work!

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