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Stress balls, also known as anti-stress balls or squeezy balls, have become an increasingly popular desk accessory and stress management tool in recent years. The squishy, rubbery balls are intended to be squeezed as a means of relieving tension and anxiety. While using a stress ball may seem harmless, there are some potential downsides to be aware of.
Stress balls don’t address the root cause of stress
While squeezing a stress ball may temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety, the activity doesn’t get to the root cause of the stress itself. Stress balls provide a distraction and short-term relief, but don’t equip someone with long-term coping skills. Relying too heavily on stress balls can lead to an unhealthy dependence without dealing with the underlying issues. For some situations like workplace burnout, more substantial changes may be necessary for managing chronic stress levels.
Overuse can lead to hand problems
Excessive squeezing of stress balls, especially hard ones, can put a lot of repetitive strain on the hands over time. This constant mechanical force can inflame tendons or cause cramping in the hands. For people predisposed to conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis, overdoing it with a stress ball could exacerbate pain and inflammation. Alternating hands or taking frequent breaks while using a stress ball is advisable.
Not a replacement for breaks from work
Taking short breaks throughout the workday is healthy and recommended for maintaining focus. However, stress balls shouldn’t be viewed as an adequate substitute for getting up from the desk, stretching, snacking, chatting with coworkers, or other screen-free activities. While stress ball squeezing can be done seamlessly alongside working, it doesn’t provide the benefits of fully disengaging from mental tasks.
Can be a distraction in work/school environments
A stress ball can serve as a fidget tool to help some people concentrate. For others, however, the presence of a stress ball in their workspace or classroom can be distracting and counterproductive. The temptation to focus on the stress ball rather than the work at hand can potentially reduce overall productivity. This may be especially true for students or those prone to distraction.
Choking hazard for kids
For young children who haven’t yet developed the ability to chew properly, stress balls pose a choking risk. The balls’ round shape and rubbery consistency can completely block airways if swallowed. Supervision is extremely important when anti-stress balls are given to babies, toddlers or preschoolers. Deflated stress balls can be an alternative option for kids, but parental discretion is still advised.
May spread germs
Office stress balls and other communal squeeze toys have the potential to spread germs, especially during cold and flu season. While the rubber or foam material itself won’t directly transmit viruses, regular cleaning is still a good idea for balls that are passed from person to person. Anti-bacterial wipes can help minimize the spread of bacteria and viruses via shared stress balls.
Can reinforce nervous habits
For those dealing with anxiety disorders characterized by compulsive behavior like skin picking or hair pulling, stress ball use could potentially enable unhealthy coping habits. The sensory input from habitually squeezing a squishy ball could turn into a self-soothing compulsion. Stress balls generally aren’t recommended as a treatment option alongside behavior therapies.
Not recommended with anger issues
Squeezing a stress ball excessively while in a state of anger or high frustration can reinforce aggressive tendencies. The physical outlet could become a problematic habit in situations where learning anger management strategies would be more beneficial. If stress ball use seems to increase rather than calm feelings of anger, it may be advisable to reduce or eliminate use.
The sounds that emanate from squeezing, squishing or fidgeting with stress balls can be disruptive in a quiet workplace or classroom setting. To be courteous of others, the noisiest stress ball activities may need to be avoided in favor of subtly manipulating the ball. If necessary, taking it to a more private location is an option.
Potential for mess or damage
Low quality or aged stress balls have a tendency to break open and leak contents like cornstarch, gel or other materials. This can be inconvenient at best and problematic at worst if the leaking substances damage floors, furniture, electronics or clothing. Regular inspection and replacement of worn out stress balls can help avoid messy accidents.
Many common squeezable stress balls are made of vinyl, latex or rubber – materials that won’t biodegrade and are sourced from petrochemicals. As waste, they’ll end up in landfills. Seeking out alternative eco-friendly materials like cotton, salt crystals or buckwheat for stress balls can be an option for the environmentally-conscious.
May become an obstacle for natural coping methods
Having an easily-accessible stress ball on hand could discourage people from trying more holistic stress relief solutions first like deep breathing, taking a short walk, or having a quick chat with a coworker. While using a stress ball isn’t inherently harmful, it shouldn’t replace developing healthier long-term coping mechanisms. Being mindful of this potential downside is important.
In summary, while stress balls can provide temporary, short-term anxiety relief, they also have some possible disadvantages. From hand strain to germ transmission to noise disruption, improper use of stress balls has its risks. They should be considered just one tool among many for managing stress. Getting to the root cause of anxiety through positive lifestyle changes, therapy and learning calming techniques is optimal for mental health. When used in moderation alongside other coping methods, stress balls can be a helpful de-stressing tool. But understanding their limitations is wise.