Workshop Exercise for Stress Management: "Keep Your Balloons in the Air!"

This is an extremely simple exercise that demonstrates how easily we can get overwhelmed, the value of teamwork and how stress builds up. It can be shortened by cutting out the writing on the balloon part. Note: Although the description seems long, it IS a quick exercise!

Especially Good for: Groups of all sizes - especially large groups. Great for Everyone (especially Moms, Parents, Youth), Team-building, Energising, Bringing Fun to Stress, Time-management, Overwhelm and Prioritising.

Equipment Needed: Balloons, pens to write on balloons with (ie. not ballpoint or smeary felt-tip - something that will stick and not pop the balloon!).


  1. You can start by talking about sources of stress or overwhelm OR you can just launch into this exercise to warm people up and get them engaged at the beginning of your workshop. It  depends on your workshop design.
  2. Get your attendees into groups of 3-5 people (can be very random, it doesn't matter) and give balloons and pens out to your audience so that every group has a balloon and a suitable pen.
  3. Giving your groups just a few minutes, ask them to write their sources of stress or overwhelm on the balloons. Optionally, to ensure everyone is heard you could suggest that the balloon is passed around the group for each person to write an item on there before it passes to the next person (like a talking stick).
  4. When the time is up, ask one person from each group to read out what is on their group's balloon. Tip: It's good if you, the workshop leader, then write these out on a blackboard, flipchart or slide as people read them out. This makes the audience feel validated and helps spot patterns and common issue or themes.
  5. Once all the groups have read out their balloons, discuss common themes. What does the audience notice about the overall list of stress or overwhelm items? What are they surprised is on there? What is missing from the list?


  1. Ask for 3 volunteers to come up to the front with their group's stress balloon.
  2. One volunteer starts by hitting and trying to keep their balloon in the air. Then give the volunteer another balloon and ask them to keep 2 balloons in the air. Finally, give them a 3rd balloon to keep in the air. Once they stop:
    - Ask the person, "What did you notice about that exercise?", "How did it feel?"
    - Ask the group, "What did you notice as observers?"
  3. Ask one of your other volunteers to try the same exercise, first with one balloon, then two and then three. Again:
    - Ask the person, "What did you notice about that exercise?", "How did it feel?"
    - Ask the group, "What did you notice as observers?"
  4. Did anyone step in to help the people trying to keep their balloons in the air? If so, ask "What was it like to have help?", "How did it FEEL to have help?" and ask the group "What did you notice as observers?"
  5. Ask the third volunteer to have a go with first one balloon, then two and then three. THIS TIME, specifically ask the other volunteers to help keep the balloons in the air. And then ask, "What was it like to have help?", "How did it FEEL to have help?" and finally ask the group "What did you notice as observers?"
  6. Ask your audience to applaud/thank the volunteers before you ask them to sit down again.
  7. Reflect with the group on what they learned from this exercise about stress, overwhelm, juggling many things at once, getting and asking for help.
    Note: This is a great kick-off point to talk about prioritising.

Exercise Adaptations:

  1. SAVE TIME: You can cut out the writing on the balloons part and go straight to Part 2 - the balloon juggling exercise to demonstrate overwhelm/asking for help etc.
  2. FOCUS ON PRIORITISATION: When juggling the balloons, you could instead give the volunteer 3 balloons each representing a different priority item on their task list - and ask them to juggle as before, then ask what they learned about prioritising.

Watch out for:

  • Watch for and deal with any negative comments - even if in jest - about the people trying to keep the balloons in the air. Tip: One way to deal with this is to get them to come up and try it!
  • Also, make sure there is enough room for the balloon hitting exercise - you don't want any trip hazards for the people actively participating!
  • Have spare balloons ready so that you have replacements if they pop!
  • Find (and test) pens to write on the balloons with - some pens will dissolve, pierce or pop the balloon.

So, enjoy - and we'd love to hear how you adapted this icebreaker for your participants in the comments below!

If you liked this Workshop Icebreaker Exercise, you may also like:


Workshop Icebreakers Activities Exercises Page


Find this exercise (Exercise 12: "Keeping Your Balloons in the Air!") in our
21 1/2 Workshop Games & Exercises Workbook

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Office worker hands with balloons by XiXinXing via Shutterstock


    • sametta thomas

      This is very good, never thought about stress in this manner.

      • Michela Phillips

        We're glad you like the article, Sametta.
        - Kindly, Michela

  1. Marwa Rushdy

    a good exercise, especially with large groups that are always overwhelmed with work and anxiety
    Thank you

    • Michela Phillips

      So glad you enjoy the exercise, Marwa.
      - Kindly, Michela


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