We gripped, squeezed and fidgeted with 12 highly-rated stress balls to pinpoint the ones that actually help relieve stress, sharpen focus and improve hand health. The best stress ball overall is the Serenilite – Hand Therapy Stress Ball. The best stress ball for anxiety is the Revive Stress Solutions – Scented Therapeutic Ball. Keep reading for our best picks for physical therapy and concentration.
Who needs a stress ball?
Anxiety and concentration
While studies show that taking a break from a task will increase overall productivity, there are only so many breaks one can take at work. Stress balls can help improve focus while the task at hand is being performed.
According to one theory, no one can concentrate 100% on any one endeavor; at least a little bit of one’s attention span is always diverted to the surrounding area (an instinct that goes back to our ancestral roots). Giving the body a mindless physical activity to perform — like squeezing a ball — gives this “floating attention” something to chew on so the mind can focus.
One study by the National Dropout Prevention Center showed that sixth graders performed better in class and were less distracted when given stress balls, which acted as tactile outlets for movement without taking up too much of the students’ attention. Because stress balls are tactile and can be played with almost unconsciously — unlike, say, fidget spinners — they work well in both the classroom and the workplace.
Although no definitive conclusion has been drawn to explain why, scientifically, fidgeting helps alleviate stress. One study showed that fidgeting does actually lower the body’s level of the stress hormone, cortisol. Another showed that surgical patients who used stress balls felt less anxiety and improved their well-being.
The tactile surface of the distracting object is also a determining factor of its effect. While a smooth object is generally more soothing to hold in the hand, a spiny surface can help sharpen focus.
Stress balls aren’t just soothing for the mind; They’re good for the body as well. Squeezing a therapy ball can help rebuild muscle strength, relieve joint pressure, boost circulation and treat arthritis and carpal-tunnel syndrome. Therapy balls come in a range of sizes and hardnesses: Begin by squeezing a soft ball or even just curling your fingers around a large ball, and gradually work up to gripping a harder, smaller ball as hand strength increases.
The Serenilite – Hand Therapy Stress Ball received great marks across the board from our testers. With a 2.25-inch diameter, this medium-sized ball fits comfortably in the hand. It’s covered in smooth, sleek nylon that feels cool to the touch and comes in a variety of solid colors. Its gel core is pleasing to squeeze and firm enough to hold up against wear. Our testers also appreciated the Serenilite’s “silent squeeze”; unlike foam balls, which often make a whooshing sound when squeezed, the Serenilite ball was quiet — a bonus for office workers.
Revive - Stress Solutions
While squeezing the Revive Stress Solutions – Scented Therapeutic Ball is stress-relieving in itself, the ball’s standout soothing feature is its scent. Our testers liked the purple ball’s mild lavender aroma — just enough to create a gently soothing effect. The Revive ball comes in three other color/scent combinations: orange/citrus, blue/jasmine and red/mint.
Like the Serenilite, the Revive ball is a medium-sized, 2.25-inch ball with a soft gel core. Covered in smooth Lycra, the Revive ball has a slightly softer squeeze than the Serenilite.
The Impresa Products – Spiky Sensory Ball has a very soft, spiny thermoplastic rubber (TPE) surface that provides just enough tactile stimulation to keep you alert while working. One tester compared the ball’s texture to a dog’s soft chew toy (minus the squeaker).
Our testers liked the variety of stimulation these balls provided, depending on whether they squeezed them, rolled them across their palms, ran their fingers over the spines or bounced the balls on their desks. The ball can even be rolled over the arm or wrist to massage muscles and joints. With a 2.5-inch diameter, this medium-sized ball is comfortable to hold.
Out of the therapy balls we tested, we were most impressed by the range and quality of exercises possible with The Friendly Swede – Hand Grip Strength Trainer set. The kit comes with three egg-shaped balls in soft, medium and firm resistances that can be used in a variety of ways: squeezed in the palm of the hand, between the fingers, between the thumb and forefinger and between the palm and any of the fingers. Made from pleasantly squishy TPE, each egg’s textured surface helps keep it from slipping during therapy work.
The unique oblong shape of the Friendly Swede balls also helps them fit snugly between the fingers. The shape also gives users the option of squeezing the balls horizontally (less resistance) or vertically (more resistance and balancing required). Each set is available in small or large to suit different hand sizes and strength levels.
The MindPanda – Stress Relief Ball Set includes three Lycra-covered balls with gel cores. Each ball is a different color, firmness and scent: soft – jasmine, medium – lemon and hard – rosemary.
Our testers liked the smell of the lemon and jasmine stress balls but found the rosemary a bit perfumey. More strongly scented than the Revive stress ball, the MindPanda balls may be too potent for some. All of the balls in the set fit comfortably in the hand, but we liked the feel of the two smaller, softer balls the best.
Made of pleasantly squeezable TPE with a textured surface, the 321 Strong – Hand Therapy Grip Ball set includes three balls of different firmness.
The material and feel of these 2-inch balls are very similar to The Friendly Swede set. However, the 321 Strong balls are round rather than egg-shaped and are noticeably firmer. While the Friendly Swede set is available in small and large options, the 321 Strong set is only offered in one size.
We were impressed with the Vive – Therapy Putty as an alternative physical-therapy stress ball. The putty can be formed into a ball for squeezing and also rolled into virtually any shape or thickness for pinching and pulling to improve grip and build adduction and abduction strength.
Most physical therapy sets include three resistances — soft, medium and firm — but the Vive putty also has an extra-soft option for those who need an especially gentle start. Though the odorless silicone putty is non-toxic and latex-free, our testers noted that its colors do tend to rub off on skin and clothing when used for a long period of time.
Dr. Cohen's - Heatable acuBall-Mini
Not exactly squeezable, Dr. Cohen’s – Heatable acuBall-Mini is made of hard, surgical-grade PVC that can be heated to intensify its therapeutic effects.
The acuBall-Mini is meant to be rolled between the palms and any other sore spot on the body, such as the arm and shoulder muscles, the soles of the feet or the legs. The ball’s blunt spines massage muscles while stimulating blood flow, leading to a release of tension and soreness. Though a bit too intense for some of our testers, others felt that the ball did a good job of
If you prefer foam over gel stress balls, we recommend Stress Less. At 2.5 inches across, these balls fit comfortably in the hand and are pleasant to squeeze, if a little on the firm side.
Available in four color options, the balls come in a three-pack with a different motivational quote printed on each ball. Keep one and gift the others to your co-workers!
With their 2.75-inch diameter, the foam Teacher Peach – Motivational Stress Balls work best for large hands; our smaller-handed testers found them too big to grip comfortably for an extended period of time.
Of the balls printed with motivational quotes, our testers preferred the straightforward, focus-inducing sayings printed on the Teacher Peach balls. The balls come in six different color options.
One of the novelty stress balls we tested was the MorganProducts – LED Anti-Stress Ball, which comes in a set of two. This 2.5-inch “DNA” stress ball (which, when squeezed, looks like a bunch of grapes) is certainly fun and fascinating to play with, creating both a tactile and visual diversion with its glitter gel filling.
However, our testers did find that this ball helped reduce stress, simply because it was so distracting. Anyone aiming to improve their concentration and focus — or who has even a hint of trypophobia — should stay far away from this ball, especially when its LED light is turned on.
Twinklee - Squishy Unicorn
Our testers wanted to like the Twinklee – Unicorn Anti-Stress Ball. A unicorn-shaped stress ball filled with colorful water beads? What’s not to like? But from the first squeeze, it was clear that this ball is made of flimsy materials that are barely able to contain those water beads. We were afraid to squeeze it more than a couple of times out of fear that we would have an exploded unicorn (literally) on our hands.