Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy

Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy

We chat to mother of three and creator and owner of Happy Hands Happy Heart, Emma Clohesy, about how she uses playdough to manage adult and child anxiety.

How did anxiety lead you into starting your own business?

Back in early 2014 my anxiety was becoming more difficult for me to manage. I started to play with playdough. It was an activity that kept my hands busy, fulfilled my need to make and create, and didn’t require ‘me’ time, because I could play along with my three young kids too. This worked really well for me, so I started creating my own playdough range to enhance and encourage calm and wellbeing, with additional health benefits to encourage calm creative play, as well as helping others deal with their stress and anxiety.

Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy

In what ways can playing with playdough reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety in kids?

The simple act of squishing, rolling and kneading the dough with your hands is very therapeutic. The soft smooth texture of our playdough encourages calm while it’s being worked through your hands. All of our playdoughs are made by me, by hand, with a whole bunch of love and care using natural hues and scents designed specifically to enhance wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety in the same way that aromatherapy and colour therapy is used.

Playdough is a useful tool to inspire imagination, creativity and to rest and restore when anxiety, stress, worry or strong emotions are creeping in.

I personally find it extremely therapeutic to spend time creating something, then when it’s complete, squishing it up and popping it back in the jar.

What are some of your favourite things to make with your playdough? Your Instagram feed is a work of art!

I love being challenged with new items. Inanimate objects, flowers, animals, food. I’ll have a crack at just about anything. I’m often inspired by things around me, or special days of the year, or just current events.

My children love sitting down and just making alongside me. Donuts come up very often though. They also love playing with our number and letter stamps to make their names or favourite words. Although my youngest favourite thing is to smoosh out my creations in the end!

Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy

Do your children inspire your playdough designs, and if so, how?

Absolutely. They are constantly coming up with ideas for me. They are my little muses and my biggest fans and supporters. They often brain storm, giving me suggestions for playdough creations to make for Instagram, new scents or colours to make and try. They are involved in every aspect of my business and it wouldn’t be what it is without them. No colour or scent has ever hit the shelves without getting their three thumbs up.

Was creativity encouraged when you were growing up?

Absolutely. My Mum, Nan and Grandma were always making, crafting, sewing, creating something. And I was naturally drawn to it too. There were always resources around to get my teeth stuck into a project.

I have always loved playing with playdough, I think every child does. But I don’t remember my creations as a child being any more creative than anyone else’s. I have definitely honed my playdough skills over the last few years. My kiddos are way more creative with playdough than I ever was as a kid!

Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy

Have your own children suffered from anxiety? If so, what are some of the coping methods you use with them?

Yes. Slowing down, breathing deeply and finding some quite space to think about how they are feeling. Mild distraction of some creative play usually does the trick. This is always coupled with a chat and a cuddle.

Sometimes I think they just need permission to stop and reset, and sitting down together to do something creative often helps the flow of the conversation, and encourages them to find the words they need to describe how they are feeling inside.

Then you can work together to help them understand how they are feeling and ways to cope with it. I have also found the lovely book I Have A Worry by Tanya Balke a really awesome resource, and we read it often.

What are some other natural play activities you get your children to do?

My kids’ other favourite activity is to go outside and just quietly collect and gather. Wandering around outside in the fresh air, collecting sticks, stones and acorns it always a winner! Their foraged items are often used to create something exciting too.

How much time a week do you dedicate to your products and what does a typical working day involve for you?

Each day is different. My business runs around my family, and the hours dedicated to it depends on their needs on any given day or week. I roughly spend about 20 hours on my business every week, but these hours are broken up into a few hours here and there, when it suits our family.

Our days are filled with the standard family stuff too such as; school runs, kinder runs, helping out at school and after school activities. The rest is filled with an eclectic mix of making, playing, creating, household jobs, and general errands like catch ups with friends, emails, social media, playdough art and lots of cups of tea, with my youngest little love by my side. I dedicate Tuesdays to making playdough, but most of the other aspects of my business happen when my little ones are tucked away in bed.

Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy

What do you have in place in your current life that allows you to be a mum and also be a creative?

I just have to be flexible. I can make plans, but life doesn’t often follow them. I work a lot of crazy hours, lots of late nights, but these unconventional hours and flexibility also allows me to be at home with the kids, whilst also running a business I love, with time being creative. I really feel like I have hit the jackpot.

Finding a creative outlet, which can also involve the kids was how this business all came about.

Of course, I couldn’t do it without the support of my husband, who has accepted and embraced the crazy fact, that playdough is a big part of our life. Also the support of my sister is who constantly comes to my aid when I have again bitten off more than I can chew. My little kiddos, nieces and nephews all love to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, and are extremely understanding and supportive. And the gorgeous tribe of awesome humans who are both friends, mums and local business owners, are always there when I need to chat, ask advice or vent. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s worth all of the hard work.

We’re all about celebrating Australian motherhood and creativity at CHILD Magazines. What does it mean to you to be an Australian creative, who is also a mother?

As parents we have the responsibility to encourage our children to express themselves, do things they love and follow their passions and finding a creative outlet is so important to do so. Whether its music, painting, drawing, dancing, gardening, cooking or playing with playdough, everyone needs an outlet and a way to express themselves and find something that feeds their soul.

I think it is imperative that we all find our passion. And creativity plays such a huge role in our health and wellbeing that we need to encourage it wholeheartedly.

I know how blessed I am to be able to follow my creative pursuits and make an income from it whilst raising my young family. We are so lucky to be living in Australia, where we have the privilege to do so, whilst being surrounded by so many talented creatives who support, encourage and inspire each other.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with other mums who may be trying to combine their lives running a creative business and being parents or caretakers?

Most importantly, be yourself. Don’t do something because someone else is. Be original, be innovative, and find your own point of difference and voice.

Running your own business, especially a creative one is not easy. You have to put a lot of yourself out there to make it work, which can be extremely daunting. It can be crazy and chaotic (but also a lot of fun). You may have to make sacrifices, have sleepless nights, and you will often doubt yourself. But know your why. Why are you doing what you are doing. If you know your why, it will keep you going, when you might feel like giving up. Surround yourself with positive and inspiring people, and trust your instincts. But also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one can do it alone, and you shouldn’t have to. Find your tribe (those positive and inspiring people you have surrounded yourself with), love the heck out of them, and help each other out, that way you can all succeed.

It is hard work, but it is so rewarding. Just give it a crack.

Playing Away Anxiety With Emma Clohesy


Emma Clohesy, 35, is the owner and creator of Happy Hands Happy Heart. She lives in Victoria with her husband Greg and three children; Matilda, 7, Tasman, 6, and George, 3. You can find more about Emma’s amazing playdough at her website and also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Interview by Jenna Templeton / Images by Emma Clohesy

Jenna Templeton
Jenna Templeton
jenna.templeton@childmags.com.au