BY TAMRA BOOTH, KEEEPS
That hammering heart before giving a presentation. The drop of the stomach when something doesn’t go to plan. Your shoulder muscles tensing as an important deadline looms. All are the physical effects of stress we face in everyday life, but what exactly is stress and how can making pottery help?
What is Stress?
Stress is a release of chemicals and hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, caused by perception of a threat or major challenge which triggers the fight-or-flight response. It gets your heart beating faster and sends blood to muscles and organs, creating energy and a heightened awareness so you can focus on the threat at hand.
Back in our hunter gather days, stress played an essential role in everyday life, when life-or-death situations were faced on a far more regular occasion, to survive predator attacks and mammoth hunts. In fact, the human race simply wouldn’t have survived this long without stress.
Today, whilst the worry of potentially being mauled by a woolly mammoth in order to feed and clothe your family are a worry of the past, exhausting work schedules, exams, and financial worries (amongst MANY other things) are now the major stressors which keep us up at night.
Whilst we consider “stress” itself as bad, stress in small doses can focus your mind, enhance motivation, and help you get through difficult or challenging situations - we’ve all needed that adrenaline rush to give us that kick up the bum to get something done before a deadline; it helps you perform at your best.
It’s when we are stressed for prolonged periods of time that stress can cause long term physical and mental health issues and that’s what we are looking to avoid.
So, how do we avoid and reduce chronic stress?
The trick is having coping mechanisms in place that help you manage stress so that you can process stressful situations in a healthy way so that it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on health and mental wellness.
One way to cope with the stresses of life is through art therapy. Art therapy has long been known to help diminish stress and, has been used as a positive stress reliever for years. In a study published in Art Therapy last year, researchers found that levels of cortisol decreased in 75% of participants who had engaged in artistic production.
Even in the age of advanced medicine and with talking to a therapist becoming more commonplace than it was a decade ago, many people are turning to the ancient practice of pottery to help manage stress, anxiety and depression.
There is something about running hands over clay, giving it a form, feeling it come to life that provide a sense of calmness, joy and discovery which is totally soothing on the mind.
Whilst we at Keeeps may be bias about the healing effects that pottery has on the mind, it’s not just us saying this. In an interview with GQ, Brad Pitt said that his home pottery studio allowed him to have a moment of “getting to feel emotion at his fingertips” and Seth Rogan saying “I was surprised at how much I got from it. It’s meditative. It forces you to be very present”.
We couldn’t agree more. Pottery is one of the best stress-busting activities out there and “can be termed therapeutic” for many reasons.
How does making pottery reduce stress?
Making pottery is a mindful experience
Mindfulness is a form of self-care and has become HUGE in recent years and is the practice of being present, checking in with yourself, noticing your emotions and surroundings and sitting with it.
Mindfulness activities seek to reduce stress by providing an opportunity to be quiet and switch off for a moment and that doesn’t have to be by taking a yoga class or guided meditation, it can be as simple as taking a moment of quiet whilst you enjoy your morning coffee.
Making pottery is considered a mindful activity as it forces you to focus fully on the task at hand. Moulding, shaping and spinning clay leaves little room for distraction, particularly those offered by your phone. Clay covered hands mean no checking emails, taking calls or scrolling on social media, it’s just you and the clay.
Garthine Walker, therapist and psychotherapeutic counsellor, said that people suffering from anxiety, stress and depression can benefit from these mindful activities, as it “can help clients learn to self-regulate, to bring themselves back to the present when their thoughts and feelings have run away with them to the past or future.”
Many potters come to pottery following stressful life situations, to help them recover and reground themselves. At Keeeps, we have potters who have: fought and survived a brain tumour, a City worker who had a nervous breakdown, and a mother who uses it to manage the grief of losing her son.. There are many more stories like these, but it is often these life-changing situations that lead people to pottery. Being in the present moment with pottery is the ultimate distraction and initiator of calm.
Making pottery provides (some) physical activity
Whilst pottery isn’t exactly like taking a yoga or pilates class, going for a run or a sweaty gym session in terms of raising your heart rate, it can be surprisingly physical and it requires a lot of work with your fingers and hands.
The movement of making pottery is gentle yet strengthening to the hands, wrists, and arms and can be beneficial to those prone to arthritis in the hands, as it promotes joint movement and dexterity.
Our fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the human body and playing with clay can stimulate the pressure points in our hands which can have immense therapeutic benefits. Sitting at the wheel, controlling and wedging the clay can also be surprisingly physical!
Making pottery switches on your creative side
Tapping into your creative side can actually benefit your overall health, and engaging in creative activities, even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, can improve brain function and mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety.
Repetitive creative activities like making pottery help activate flow – the state you get in when completely absorbed in something. That feeling when you lose all sense of time and forget where you are and in turn helps you switch off and relax.
Many potters described clay work as a way to get out of their heads and into their bodies, much like meditation. Most people work alone on a project and there’s a kind of quiet, or flow-state, that comes over the artist as they allow themselves to join the clay.
Making pottery provides a result
In many professions, our day to day working life doesn’t actually produce a result. We might be working on month long projects for example which means good results are few and far between. When you create or succeed at something, the brain is flooded with dopamine, that feel-good hormone which motivates you and makes you feel happy and accomplished.
Making pottery is a laugh
It’s a known fact that a good laugh does you the world of good. From boosting your immune system to increasing endorphins to your brain, laughter is the best medicine. It can also help decrease cortisol levels by increasing your intake of oxygen and stimulating circulation throughout the body, which in turn reduces your stress levels.
Group pottery classes are such fun with friends and family, whether you are experienced or a beginner, and pottery studios are not only a place of concentration, but they also filled with laughter and chatter!
So why not try your hand at making pottery and see and feel how making pottery miraculously takes away your stress. If you want to dip your toe in, buy a home pottery kit from us and try playing with clay at home first with a few friends? And once those calming feelings kick in, we just know you’ll be smitten and ready to take a pottery class!
If you want to give making pottery a go at a class, our pottery studio on Marlow High Street will be open from January 2022 so sign up for our mailing list, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be first in line for any updates on the studio and the booking app.