Good folks of the Internet, the last month and a half have been ROUGH. I’m working as a therapist at a high school right now and my clients just seem more scared every day. See, the school where I work is full of brilliant Black and brown kids who aren’t sure what the government is going to do to them and their families. Between the (overturned and forthcoming) Muslim bans, rescission of protections for trans kids, and anti-Latinx sentiment going strong, we’re all more than a little worried.
To help, I’ve got a Saturday afternoon project that’ll get your mind off the state of the country for half an hour and help you cope with it when real life comes back into focus. Because while we keep fighting, we’ve got to sustain ourselves with moments of joy and silliness. Making playdough is one tiny thing you can do today to give yourself a break from the darker stuff.
I use playdough in sessions with my clients all the time. The shy kid and I play together until they’re comfy enough to talk. The anxious kid gets a ball to take with them to squeeze in class when they get called on. The angry kid smashes playdough instead of plates when they can’t handle their dad’s yelling anymore. The kid who finally feels a little better asks for playdough to share with a friend who’s going through a rough time. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it helps.
There are tons of ways to use your playdough therapeutically, but fidgeting, smashing, and observing are three of my favorite places to start.
Sometimes you want to talk about what’s bothering you but don’t know where to start. Sometimes being in big crows of people really freaks you out. Sometimes you’ve got all this nervous energy that makes you tap your feet and annoy your co-workers. Why not ride that uncomfortable wave and fidget it out?
Progressive muscle relaxation – tending and relaxing muscles – has successfully been used for coping with stress and is similar to what happens in your hands and arms with you play with playdough.
Smash out anger
Is Donald Trump pissing you off? Build him out of playdough. Then smash his guts out.
Bottling up anger is good for no one. Instead, look for healthy ways to express it: punching a bag, yelling at a protest, or throwing a ball. If you can’t get out of your office or apartment, smashing playdough is a good play to go.
Pay mindful attention
Mindfulness has been getting a lot of lip service lately – and for good reason! It’s an evidence-based practice that is used to help people with with stress, anxiety and PTSD, substance use, depression, and fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Mindfulness is nothing more than nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. It’s grounding yourself by paying attention to everything you’re experiencing.
When you feel out of control, something like playdough can help you pay attention to your immediate experience by giving you something specific to focus on. You can notice how it smells or looks. You can close your eyes and smash it around and just pay attention to the way it feels in your hands. Asking yourself how smooth or cold or dry the playdough is brings your awareness to the present and slows down your sympathetic nervous system (we’ll talk more about the SNS in another post, but in general, it’s the part of your body that is activated in dangerous or anxiety-inducing situations).
The spreadsheet below lists the ingredients in both mass and volume measurements. If you want to make a larger or smaller batch, make your own copy in google drive (“File” > “Make a copy” > “OK”). Enter the amount of playdough (in grams or cups) you want to make in the pink box and the spreadsheet will auto-calculate ingredient amounts for you. The sheet with also auto-calculate the price based on my local prices so that you have a general idea of what the project costs.
When flour and water combine, the gluten starts forming long, flexible chains that give playdoh it’s moldable quality. Salt and cream of tartar act as preservatives, making the dough inhospitable to harmful bacteria and yeasts that hate salty, acidic environments. Oil is an emollient, keeping the dough moist and preventing it from sticking to your hands. Koolaid adds color and scent.
- Stir the dry materials together in a small saucepan.
- Add the oil and water and stir until you have a thick paste.
- Cook over medium-low heat, stirring the whole time. You’ll notice the water start to evaporate and the dough start to thicken up where it’s touched the pan.
- Once a dough has formed, scoop it out onto a clean surface and knead it until it’s uniform.
- Store in a well-sealed container.