Stones: gemstones, beachstones and worry-stones

A while ago I wrote about Gravel.  This week stones have been on my mind.  One day during the week my grandson (5) rushed out of school and excitedly told me he had something to show me.  He fished in his trouser pocket and pulled out a perfectly round, small, warm stone.  ‘It’s for you,’ he said.  It was warm from having been held against his leg all afternoon.  He was thrilled with it.  ‘Do you know?’, he asked, ‘When I found it, it was covered in sand, and now it’s clean.’ I felt it to be the most lovely gift and it’s on my table now, as I write.

At another point this week, I was with a friend, and she had her hands in her hoodie pocket and seemed to be rubbing her stomach as we walked. I asked her if she had a stomach ache.  ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m turning over my stone’.  In her pocket she had a lovely, egg-shaped beach stone– it nestled in the palm of her hand, looking ready to hatch.  ‘It’s my worry stone’, she said. 

I’d heard of worry beads – indeed, I have a set myself – but not of worry stones, but then I looked them up when I got home.  I find there’s a whole body of info and commerciality around them.

The info partly comes from the mind/spirituality community e.g. ‘Worry stones have been around for centuries—and for good reason. [They] couldn’t be easier to keep on hand, ready to grab whenever worry should strike. They’re wonderful when you’re feeling stressed, soothing to the touch, and an excellent addition to your self-care routine.’

The info on the benefit of worry stones also (perhaps) comes from the cognitive behavioural therapy community.  I couldn’t find real evidence of this, though a couple of articles made passing reference to them e.g. A clinician’s perspective in the management of functional seizures  and Treatment Engagement: Building Therapeutic Alliance in Home-Based Treatment with Adolescents and their Families

And this one, Enhancing Therapy Process With Movement Strategies proposed a clinical trial of the use of worry stone.  The study aimed “to investigate exercise during a therapy session as a potential intervention for enhancing therapeutic learning, particularly ability to better cope with emotional topics and experiencing intense emotions. In this study, patient participants will complete a therapy session while using an exercise machine and a separate therapy session while using a worry stone (control). Both patient participants and therapist participants will make ratings of a variety of items, including ability to discuss emotional topics and comfort in experiencing emotions.” Unfortunately, it never got off the ground.  (“Terminated:  Feasibility – unable to recruit therapists to enter the study”).

Not put off by the lack of empirical research on the efficacy of worry stones, as an experiment I chose a biggish roundish, egg sized stone, from the garden, that fitted into the palm of my hand and put it in my coat pocket.  I walked off to get the bus and found that I was absentmindedly turning it around and around.  It did feel beneficial in some way.  It gradually got warmer – I imagined that if I carried it in my coat pocket for the next 20 years, it would get a lovely polished patina.  (Would that take 20 years?), and absorb any stress I felt at the times of turning it.

I remembered several years ago, when I was extremely strung out about my aging mother, someone told me about black onyx – “Black onyx has a calming quality, which can be beneficial in working with challenging emotions such as grief and anxiety. Black onyx also helps to balance yin and yang. It helps us to feel centered, make wise decisions, and get to the root cause of issues.”

For that reason and at that time, I bought a ring with black onyx stones set it in as a talisman, wanting to believe the notion that ‘By carrying or wearing the onyx daily, you will be able to shield your aura and prevent negative energies from attaching themselves to you.’   I hadn’t worn it for years, and I’ve no idea if it helped me with my mother. I am a gemstone properties sceptic, although curious about their possible placebo effects.  But I have the ring on again now, as I work through the ripples and impacts of difficult times.

The worry stones described in Wikipedia, are of this purchasable gemstone type, not the free beach stone type: ‘Worry stones are smooth, polished gemstones, usually in the shape of an oval with a thumb-sized indentation, used for relaxation or anxiety relief. Worry stones are typically around 3 centimetres in size. They are used by holding the stone between the index finger and thumb and gently moving one’s thumb back and forth across the stone. This action of moving one’s thumb back and forth across the stone is thought to reduce stress.’  I noted that Wikipedia is a bit of a sceptic too, warning that ‘Some of this article’s listed sources may not be reliable.’ And ‘This article needs additional citations for verification.’

The market for gemstone worry stones seems large, or at least, a lot are on sale.  There’s an alarming (worrying?)  amount of choice – although most conform to the thumb size indentation and the 3 cm size.  Which gemstone to choose as a worry stone depends on …  what?  I’m not sure, there is no standardisation of the supposed spiritual properties of each gemstone or the type of worry the gemstone is supposed to assuage.    Then there’s an additional worry of where the gemstones are coming from, as one report notes,  “many are mined in deadly conditions in one of the world’s poorest countries.”  I am not going to get a gemstone worry stone. 

Unfortunately, I don’t know the provenance of my black onyx ring, or even if it is truly black onyx, though that’s what the sales receipt said.  However, for the moment I am going to continue wearing it, for either its real but non-provable effect or for its placebo effect and because I like the look of it.  I’m also going to continue my experiment of carrying the egg- shaped beach-stone to turn around in my pocket.   I like the feeling of it.  It just is.  It’s not quarried, polished, or incised or by human hand. It feels strong, undaunted, calm.  The poem Stone, by David Whyte,  captures some of this essence.  Here’s an excerpt:

“you have never looked into the immovability
of stone like this, the way it holds you, gives you
not a way forward but a doorway in, staunches
your need to leave, becomes faithful by going nowhere”


P.S. Someone just asked me if I thought stones were animate. The question reminded me of a scene in the film ‘What we did on our holidays’, where the child named her stones Eric and Norman. See the lovely clip of that sequence.

One thought on “Stones: gemstones, beachstones and worry-stones”

  1. A Mary Oliver poem: Do Stones Feel?

    Do stones feel?
    Do they love their life?
    Or does their patience drown out everything else?
    When I walk on the beach I gather a few
    white ones, dark ones, the multiple colors.
    Don’t worry, I say, I’ll bring you back, and I do.
    Is the tree as it rises delighted with its many
    each one like a poem?
    Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?
    Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.
    I refuse to think to such a conclusion.
    Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.”
    -Mary Oliver, Blue Horses


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