Could Clay Be the Secret to Reducing Your Stress?

Photo: Stocksy/Ellie Baygulov
When you're feeling stressed (hello, holiday season!), you probably have a go-to person, place, or thing that helps to ease your anxieties and focus your mind. For many, the person is a spin instructor, the place is a yoga studio, and the thing is a pair of running shoes. But more and more, people are turning to a pottery teacher, a ceramics studio, and clay during tough times.

Hands-on art as a form of self-care is now a thing.

According to The New York Times, pottery is a new outlet for the Pilates set. "The studio was my sanctuary," Urooj Khan, a 29-year-old lawyer who turned to Bklyn Clay ceramics space a few years ago to help her get over breakup, told the Times. "I would spend entire weekends at the wheel. Clay requires a lot of presence. There are so many subtle movements that require attention and precision.... My brain hurts after long days at [work], poring over documents and law treatises, and being at the wheel releases that stress."

"People are overwhelmed and feel totally powerless. But they feel empowered when they make something. If you do something with your hands, it means you're taking action." —Nora Abousteit, CraftJam founder

Khan definitely isn't alone, and throwing pots is part of a new wave of wellness practices—one that doesn't require clip-in shoes, sweaty sports bras, or a quiet, Zen, ready-for-meditation mind. "Ceramics has attracted so many new makers because it is such an engaging practice," Jenni Lukasiewicz, the education coordinator at Greenwich House Pottery in Manhattan, told the Times. "You put clay on the wheel. It gives you a little fight, and you get past it, and there is this object."

That "little fight," or the resistance the clay gives back to the handler, is part of what gives the practice power. "Paint stays where you put it," says Ashley Warner, a psychotherapist and ceramic artist who says studies show that creative work can actually alter the brain's natural pathways, helping alleviate symptoms of depression. "But clay talks back. Working with clay integrates mental, emotional, and kinesthetic brain functions. It's a full-on experience, and a great way to get out of a slump."

So if meditation isn't your thing, and even a 90-minute spin session can't help distract you from the current political climate or your never-ending list of errands, consider hitting a different kind of wheel before your morning meeting or late-night to-do list. "People are overwhelmed and feel totally powerless," says Nora Abousteit, founder of CraftJam. "But they feel empowered when they make something. If you do something with your hands, it means you're taking action."

And at the end, you'll have a cute new pot, planter, or plate that'll no-doubt add mood-boosting character to your Zen den.

If the kiln's out of order, try these stress-busting methods from wellness pros. (And throw a few crystals in your apron for good measure.)

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