Stress balls

Originally Published: May 4, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 9, 2011
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Hey Alice,

What are stress balls and why do people use them?

Dear Reader,

This is a stress-reduction question, but welcome to those who were hoping to read about some dude and his overtaxed testicles. Stress balls are those slightly-smaller-than-tennis-ball sized things that you squeeze to decrease muscular and overall tension. When you make a fist, with or without a stress ball in your hand, you're creating muscle tension. When you release your grip, muscular relaxation follows.

Try it now: make fists, squeeze a little bit, and hold for a few seconds. Okay, relax them, and feel the tension leave your hands and fingers. Wait a moment and then do the same things again; this time, breathe in when you tense your hands, and exhale when you let them relax a few seconds later. If you try this two or three times, squeeze a little harder each time as you go along.

This process is called progressive muscular relaxation. This is a technique that involves tensing specific muscle groups and then relaxing them to create awareness of tension and relaxation. Why is it progressive? Because it proceeds through all major muscle groups, relaxing them one at a time, and eventually leads to total muscle relaxation. This stress management exercise can flush out a huge amount of muscle tension from your head to your toes. People respond differently to various stress-reduction exercises. Some people may feel calm and relaxed, while others may notice little change. With practice, your relaxation should increase.

Back to your balls: whether they know it or not, people using stress balls are practicing what can be a very powerful stress management tool. A lot of folks are playing with their balls while in meetings and on the phone. They'd probably relax even more if they took a few minutes just to tense, release, and relax, other various parts of their bodies.  If you are a Columbia student, Stressbusters is a team of students who deliver neck and back rubs to the Columbia University Morningside campus. You can get a back rub for free at select CU public events, or you can request an event for your organization, residence hall, school or office. Stress balls can also be found at Stressbusters events. Talk about major relaxation!