Stress Balls - The Surprisingly Simple Solution for Stress Relief

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 06/21/2022

Whether we bought it ourselves or it came as some sort of promotional item, we’ve all played with a stress ball at some point in our lives. Stress balls come in all shapes and sizes. Despite the word ‘ball’ in its name, it doesn’t have to be spherical since it’s not going to bounce around all over the place. This has resulted in stress balls that come in amusing shapes and colors, all enticing you to touch them, manipulate them, or just squeeze them. These balls have been around for a long time in several cultures, indicating just how effective this simple solution truly is for stress relief.

What’s The Point Of Stress Balls?

Squeezing stress balls is essentially a hand exercise. But, a lot of people agree and claim that fidgeting with these balls helps them tackle stress. The benefit of stress relief is both widely and universally acknowledged. No matter how you engage with these balls, you’re likely to find some level of stress relief.

Stress Balls And Culture

To be honest, the use of stress balls for stress relief isn’t a worldwide phenomenon. While some cultures don’t use them, others give them a unique personality depending on the region itself. For example, most likely, in the US, you’re going to end up with a beanbag type ball similar to a hacky sack.  It will be a small, round bean bag-like toy with sand or plastic filling. Even if you’ve never actually squeezed them, chances are you’ve played the game before: standing in a circle, trying to keep the ball off the ground for the longest. These things were all the rage in the 90s at schools everywhere. In fact, not only is the ball itself stress-relieving, but the nostalgia that often accompanies may also play a bit of a role in its stress relief properties. But, in actuality, hacky sacks have been around in the West for at least 50 years.

Interestingly, there is evidence of documented use of stress balls in Asian cultures much longer. While you may come across a crocheted ball from time to time, what matters is what is inside. In most cases, your stress ball will have a plastic pellet filling. However, there are also stress balls that have sand or dirt filling. Despite the difference in sensory gratification from the different types of stress balls, they all offer stress relief.

Which Type Of Stress Ball Should I Buy?

Of course, suppose your primary vision of engagement is to squeeze and manipulate while you digest your stress levels. In that case, you want a material that you enjoy touching and is essentially personal preference. While stress balls come in different materials, the most common is a material with a rubber finish. Other options include plastic and crocheted yarn. Neither of these is very comfortable to handle for a prolonged period.

When deciding which type of stress ball is right for you, you want to think about how you will use it. This is important because these balls can sometimes leak. You don’t want dirt spilling on your computer table in a climate-controlled cubical. If you’re just planning on squeezing it, you could go with any type. However, if you see yourself kicking it around orbiting it, you’ll want to pick a stress ball made of more durable material.

In addition to outside material, you also have options for filling materials as well. While many stress balls come standard with plastic pellets or sand/dirt, you can also find filling made from lead shot, steel shot, BB pellets, seed bead, and tungsten shot. These materials bring with themselves properties you could put to your advantage. They feel differently, but some can also be molded into different shapes, providing a different type of stress relief.

There is even the possibility to create your stress ball from your unique combination of materials. Stress balls tend to weigh between 40 and 65 grams. If you opt to choose your materials, make sure you know what you’re getting and why. This is important because complex tricks require the right blend and the right materials–what works for freestyling may not be so good for squeezing and tossing around at your desk, etc.

There is no wrong answer. Simply choose the ball that feels the most comfortable and works with your space (i.e., avoiding sand around electronics). Even if you find yourself using it three or four times, you’ve more than gotten your money out of the small one-time investment. You’ve found an activity that engages you, taking you away from the reinforcing negativity of bad thought processes, meaning your stress has likely met its match.

Where To Get A Stress Ball?

Finding a stress ball is easy. All you have to do is head on over to a site like Amazon and purchase one of the many options and varieties available. Just keep in mind, your ball will take a bit of time to get to you, depending on the shipping option you choose.

On the other hand, if it turns out to be an emergency, most office supply stores, such as Walmart, Target, Office Depot, Staples, etc. will have a selection of stress balls for you to choose from. If you want immediate satisfaction, then you’ll be stuck with whatever variety is available at your local store. Otherwise, online gives you more options. The benefit of buying it in person is that you can test the different materials and determine which one is right for you without the worry of needing to return it.

Free Stress Balls

Many of us have likely encountered free stress balls. In a pinch, free stress balls can get the job done to provide some stress relief, but they are rarely ideal for a long-term solution. Free stress balls are often used as a promotional item; the meaning has a brand logo printed. Because your stress ball is something you will ideally be using frequently, it should be something you enjoy looking at and using. If something on it triggers you (such as a logo from a past employer), it’s best to just pass the free stress ball on to its next home. You want to get over your stress, not bring on more by bringing up old memories.

Hard Stress Balls Or Baoding Balls

So far, we’ve discussed soft stress balls. But not all stress balls have to be this way. Hard stress balls, also called Baoding balls, can also help in stress relief. As the name implies, hard stress balls are meant to be solid and not squeezable. These balls tend to come in pairs. The idea is to roll them together and conjure soothing sounds, coupled with a smooth sensation. Quite often, these are metallic and referred to as health balls in the Oriental culture of their origin. While originally designed to improve dexterity, the exercises provide relaxation for the muscles in hand. They also help in the gradual recovery of muscular strength and sharpening of motor skills (which can help after surgery).

There is a long history of these Baoding balls being used for stress relief. Many hard stress relief balls are still produced in Hebei, China, where they are thought to have originated during the Ming dynasty. They are sometimes also known as iron balls for obvious reasons, but they stand out because there is no filling. Each ball contains a second chiming ball, generating a soothing sound when the inner sphere collides with the outer sphere. If you bought one today, you’d probably see brass wire decoration on the top. This is to prevent chipping when the balls are being rubbed, dropped, or otherwise nicked.

These balls can also be crafted out of stone, including marble, and those on the expensive side with Agate or Jade. Such balls can often be solid; however, hollow balls are considered more therapeutic. Of course, you’ll have to exert more if you bought a heavy ball to rotate and engage. As a result, these balls are also commonly used for resistance training. The way the training works is to start engaging with basic exercises involving holding balls and rotating them while keeping them in contact. Once you’re able to get this far mindlessly, you may find yourself rotating the balls faster until the balls begin to separate in your hand. Gradually, you will learn to rotate the two balls completely in one hand, without letting them touch one another. There are several other techniques and nuances, and you would be encouraged to take these exercises in your direction.

Do I Need A Stress Ball?

Most of the touted health benefits of stress balls have not been substantiated by scientific evidence. However, the voluminous personal corroboration, across time and cultures, at least call for personal experimenting. For a few dollars, you may very well find yourself engaging in some sort of physical activity that can only be good for your constitution. Therefore, it is far better to develop personal opinion and experience and see if you want to continue using them.

If you get a stress ball and find it is not helping and that other stress-relief measures are also not working, it may be time to talk to a licensed counselor to help you learn the stress relief techniques that will work for you. A counselor can help you get to the root of why you are getting stressed and help you on your journey to healthily dealing with stress. Take this stress test today to find out how stressed you are to find the techniques that will help you ease the stress in your life.