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The Journey of Clay and Stress - Part 2

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

Charlotte, a trainee with us under the SGUT traineeship scheme, shares with us her reflections on pottery and pacing herself.

Read Part One here.

The art of sculpting a bowl from clay can’t be stressful, can it? After all, many people take up pottery in an effort to de-stress, so, logically, it shouldn’t add to stress, right? Not so much in my experience.

We hear time and time again that taking time to ‘self-care’ is great for stress management. There’re lists of activities - i.e. nature-walks, meditation, journaling - but the thing is that rest and replenishment strategies like these won’t help everyone. Sure, healthy eating habits and a proper sleep schedule would benefit just about everyone but a ‘de-stress’ ‘self-care’ activity like pottery didn’t work for me where it definitely worked for my friend Jae.

Jae, my crafty best friend since P5.

The fact of the matter is that everyone is different and has very different personalities, so your version of ‘self-care’ really should be personalized to your particular tastes. For Jae, pottery worked out. For me, I prefer chilling with my dog (fun fact: petting a dog releases feel-good endorphins!) and watching Criminal Minds.

But pursuing self-care activities is just a step in the process. Rest and replenishment strategies might help with the symptoms of stress (e.g. exhaustion) but it won’t address the root cause of it. How you handle and process a stressful situation is important.

“Stopppp!” She half-yelled, sticking her hand out in a way reminiscent of Chris Pratt with his raptors in Jurassic World. “It’s perfect! Don’t touch it or you’ll ruin it! ” In the same spirit as my very enthusiastic pottery instructor, I’ve come to realize that fixating on something doesn’t do much good-- in fact, it can produce the opposite. Getting caught up in an impossible deadline then falling down the pit of obsessing over it brings nothing but added despair and, most importantly, doesn’t address the actual issue (the deadline).

In his talk, Pacing Yourself: Taking care of ourselves as we care for others and champion our causes”, Narash brought up the idea of ‘reframing the perspective’ as a means of handling stressful situations. The idea of ‘making the inflexible flexible’, an initially mystical notion, became clear when I reconciled it with my apparently perfect clay bowl.

While fixating on the perceived problem could lead to ruin, taking a step back, refocusing, and taking in the bigger picture could potentially solve it. Going back to the deadline example for a moment: instead of stressing on the deadline and the insurmountable task, take a step back and identify the problem. Maybe the deadline is impossible because it’s way too tight? Now that this is figured out, asking for an extension is not only wise but reduces overall stress.

Boundaries in pottery class are clearly defined. The class duration is fixed at two and a half hours, we’re to clean our utensils and wipe down our wheel after we’re done with it, and we’re to put any unused or left over clay in the clay recycling bin. However, in the Covid phenomenon of ‘work from home’, boundaries are murkier.

I don’t know about you but, I find it excruciatingly hard to just ‘switch off’ when the clock hits five. The temptation to just push on and finish the task no matter what has been something I’ve fallen into more than once. Ironically, my efforts to be more productive have only hampered my productivity when I end up burning the midnight oil and suffering the consequences the next morning. This is where boundary-setting has worked spectacularly for me. Barring any time-sensitive projects, when the alarm I’ve set on my phone goes off at five o’clock , I stop. Interestingly enough, I’ve actually been wiser with how I spend my work hours and been more productive as a result.

Beyond what I, as an individual, can do to handle stress, I’ve come to realize that I can lean on others sometimes. In my own life, I’ve found ‘check-ins’ to be really helpful. Usually, Jae and I have bi-monthly Saturday sessions where we catch up over brunch. During these ‘sessions’, we talk about what we’ve been up to, share challenges we’ve been facing, and offer advice where necessary.

While the newly heightened restrictions have made dining in (and therefore brunching) impossible, connecting over mediums like Discord, Facetime, and good ol’ text messages is still impactful. I know from experience that a ‘what’s up’ here and a ‘how have you been’ there can go a long way.

While in-person meetings are always great, psychosocial support, however, doesn’t just end with friendships and family. Your workplace can offer up support in the form of job training from superiors and more experienced co-workers. As a trainee in a brand new field, I have found that picking the brains of my (very patient and kind) superiors and colleagues is super helpful when it comes to tasks that are very new to me.

“The best antidote to burnout… is interpersonal interactions.” - Narash

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re not alone in your situation. Help is out there and there is absolutely no shame in seeking it where you need it.

Like wet clay under my hands, good mental health is something that is carefully shaped. I might mess up sometimes, external pressures might affect my art work, but with the right support and constant practice the end result is worth the effort.

After careful sculpting and a few failures: a rice bowl!
After careful sculpting and a few failures: a rice bowl!


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