How a simple piece of clay can help to cope with anxiety

This blog is about anxiety and creativity.  just breathe

For me, one of the most crippling features of anxiety is its power to strip away any essence of creativity. As for myself, someone who has always been considered a creative person, to have that removed or more accurately torn out is beyond comprehension.

To me, creating was always was a synonym for feeling – feeling the structure of clay, shape, and direction it offers. It’s a deeply felt inner knowledge and tactile feeling through your fingers rather than just a combination of visual aesthetics and technical processes of a premeditated design.

Finding the way of getting back to working with clay was essential for me as an artist but also and foremost for my own personal recovery and healing.

It had to be an undemanding, pressure-free, “no-fail” project, yet meaningful enough to feed and satisfy my artist’s Ego.

Clay Birds based on basic pinch pot techniques seemed a good enough starting point. Reaching for a piece of clay while in a state of high anxiety is a task in itself, requiring a lot of willpower and self-convincing, however, when you have that piece of clay in your hand you get absorbed into feeling the weight, depth, and texture of the clay. It is an almost immediate transformation of your presence to here – and – now.

I purposely avoid using any pottery tools to intensify the connection and sensory experience. Using only your hands as a means of forming and smoothing the clay lets your body activate the feeling of direct connection that goes beyond the simple manipulation of an object. The overwhelming power of Anxiety is suddenly secondary, absorbed by a simple lump of clay.

I shared my new “anti-anxiety weapon” with my friend and gave her one of the finished birds to hold.

The first thing she said was how grounding it feels. How it sits perfectly in the hand (a result of shaping it against your palm during the making process) and also how it provided you with a feeling of safeness and control.

Light-bulb-lightbulb-clipart-free-clipart-images-clipartix.pngIt was a lightbulb moment for me. I have created something that could have a purpose beyond just a process to combat anxiety. It was also something that might give a sense of comfort to another human being.

These birds are usually made during evening anxiety attacks. Those more familiar with the process of pottery making will know that the next day, clay still has a certain degree of malleability in its leather hard stage. You still can smooth bumps and uneven spots on it or inscribe letters or patterns. So I added another part of my “clay therapy” for morning anxiety moments, less messy but still requiring a full focus on the task.

I started to engrave clay birds with words and phrases that I find helpful during moments of anxiety. Here are a few of them.

Just Breathe – You are enough – This too shall pass – One day at a time – Be gentle

Clay work is like the Cinderella of the art therapies. She still waits to be discovered with her magic, her beauty, and her ability to transform the wells of human suffering into places of insight and celebration. Her dark earthy solid mass, often appearing in greyish, brownish, or terracotta dress, is hardly alluring at first sight. Touching this sticky cold mass, you sense she has a longing and determination to merge with your skin. Clay calls to be known, to become explored by the senses, to be pushed, pulled, moulded, hollowed out, and to be added to piece by piece by piece. She brings many gifts to the therapeutic process including responsiveness to human feelings; the expressiveness of the inexpressible; tangibility of the intangible; knowingness of the unknowable; visibility of the invisible” (Sherwood, Patricia 2004. The healing art of clay therapy. p. 5)

Here is a link from to the step by step guide on how to make your own flock of clay birds. How to make clay birds


Don’t be afraid if you don’t have all of the listed “special” pottery tools. The same result can be achieved by using just your fingers or adapting some of the kitchen utensils you already have. My family is always looking in my studio for “missing” things from the kitchen cupboard.

If you don’t have access to a pottery kiln, the great alternative is air drying clay which can be obtained from most craft suppliers or ordered online. I successfully used it in my workshops previously and it has all the benefits and sensory feel of the clay, except the finished project, which will have to be handled with more care as it won’t go through the 1000C firing stage.

There are many clay manufacturers and distributors who offer good quality air-drying clay. My personal choice always is Valentine clays> 

For this particular project, I would advise not to resort to the small packets of modeling clay from stationery shops. While it is a great option for various children’s projects it does not have the same tactile feeling as air drying clay (which is an important part of this whole project) and is more expensive than air-drying clay.

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