There are lots of ways to deal with stress, and there are plenty of tools out there you can buy that make relieving stress easier.
Stress balls are a favorite by many people, and you’ll often find employees with stress balls stowed away in their desk drawer.
There are many different kinds of stress balls out there, ranging from cute and cheap designs to expensive, self-massaging stress balls.
While all of them claim to be a great source of stress relief, can you really trust them to make you feel better?
Stress balls can be effective, and there’s a scientific reason why.
How Do Stress Balls Relieve Stress and Anxiety?
Although they belong to a booming market of stress relief tools today, the original stress ball dates back to the Ming dynasty in ancient China.
Baoding balls are made of enamel and feature figures popular in Chinese culture such as the dragon or phoenix.
When rolled, these balls can help activate pressure points on your hand and create a relaxing sensation that helps soothe anxiety and alleviate stress.
Baoding balls also elicit a soft chime each time they are gently pushed together, which can be a helpful focusing tool and destressor for many people. Boading balls are still popular in many forms of meditation today.
It’s believed that using these stress balls help align the Chi, the Chinese word for the life force or energy that powers every living being.
Traditional meditation balls are made of a hard material like stone or marble. Using them along with some stress and anxiety-relieving meditations or breathwork can be a helpful way to calm the mind and redirect your thoughts.
The soft, squishy stress balls most people know and love today are more popular than traditional baoding balls, but both of them function similarly.
When we’re stressed or anxious, our body’s nervous systems begin to receive messages from special messenger chemicals in our brain called neurotransmitters.
How Stress and Anxiety Affect Your Nervous System
Stress and anxiety both activate the body’s sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the “fight or flight response” that keeps us safe in times of danger, causing us to act out and defend ourselves or flee the scene.
Unfortunately, high levels of stress can lead to anxiety that makes us always dread something or feel like we’re at risk.
Stress balls provide a sensory input that can help disrupt the anxiety signals coming from our brain and body, bringing us back to the present moment.
Although the present is the last place some people want to be when they’re stressed, tuning into the here and now is actually a powerful way to overcome the worry stress and anxiety produce.
How a Stress Ball Helps
When you feel caught up in your thoughts, a stress ball provides a physical distraction that makes your brain stop in its tracks and begin to process the new sensory input.
Whether it’s a traditional baoding ball or your everyday squishy stress ball, the input from our hands makes our brain stop fixating on whatever’s stressing us out and begin to focus on what we’re holding.
Another benefit of squeezing a stress ball is that it activates our muscles and forces them to contract. Many people hold muscle tension when they’re stressed, which creates that “bundled” or “tight” feeling that makes it impossible for people to relax.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a common technique used to treat stress and anxiety. In order to truly find reprieve from anxiety and stress, we have to work on relaxing the entire body, not just the mind.
However, addressing negative thoughts and stressors require physical relaxation. Before you can take a closer look at what’s bothering you mentally, you have to make your body feel comfortable.
Stress can make it feel like our own bodies are working against us, and progressive muscle relaxation techniques are a way to reclaim a sense of control and feel more at ease.
When you hold a stress ball, you channel tension into a specific part of your body. As your hand releases, the pressure you’ve placed on the muscle begins to dissolve, which can be carried throughout the rest of your body.
How to Use a Stress Ball Properly
Try this exercise the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed. First, take a stress ball in your hand and sit upright. Make sure that your posture is straight but not rigid. Drop your shoulders, loosen your jaw and hold the ball in your palm.
As you slowly squeeze the ball, inhale to the count of five. Hold the ball and your breath for three to five seconds, then release, exhaling through your mouth and allowing the ball to slowly rise back to its original shape in your hand.
Pay close attention to how much tension is in your hand when you squeeze and how much is released as you let go.
Imagine as you release the ball that you are also releasing the anxiety and stress in your body. It may even be helpful to imagine a red light, the bundle of negative energy, moving from your mind to your fist and evaporating as you clench and unclench the stress ball.
Repeat this act several times, and notice how your hand becomes more relaxed and your body feels calmer.
Although a stress ball won’t permanently keep stressful, anxious thoughts out of your head, they are an excellent tool to help you refocus and find some clarity so you can address the bigger problems and develop healthier coping strategies.