Some try music, others – TV, books, and games, some try indoor exercises, others – meditation. And while all of those have merit and we definitely support any type of physical exercise, we’d like to offer another great stress-relieving alternative – baking!
Sarah Weinberg from the Delish blog recently posted her latest batch of homemade cookies and followed it up with a suitable dad joke:
“If I were a middle-aged father of teenagers with a propensity for dad jokes, this is where I’d also acknowledge—with a wink, of course—that stressed spelled backwards is desserts…but I’m not…so I won’t.”
Creativity Lowers Stress
Sarah is a huge proponent of “stress-baking” as she finds it to be a nice distraction from all that’s going on outside. She also quotes Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a clinical psychologist with a disaster stress management background and a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, San Antonio, who says that a huge part of stress management is to allow yourself to be creative.
According to Dr. McNaighton-Cassill, things such as adding flavor, forming shapes, switching colors, as well as stimulating your taste and sense of smell, are all great ways to deal with stress.
“The smell of spices and vanilla are comforting, and [they] often remind us of happy times. Olfactory scents are particularly linked to areas of the brain that involve emotions and memory,” Dr. McNaighton-Cassill says. There’s also the magic of it all: “Mixing inert substances together, and watching them rise can bring out the mystic, or the chemist, in all of us.”
She also points out that people have a natural craving for routine tasks and baking fits this description as well.
“There is a rhythm or pattern to baking,” says Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill. “It feels familiar and can even lead to a mindful state.”
Mindfulness is a word you’ll hear often if you talk with psychologists. They describe it as the quality of being engaged and aware and it’s widely known as one of the best ways to avoid anxiety and depression. And since baking is one of those activities that force you to be alert and engaged, it’s a great way to relieve stress.
Plus, there’s the added benefit of ending with something physical and tangible in your hands as a reward for your efforts – another great boost for our psyche!
“One of the stressors of modern life is that, for many of us, our jobs don’t have a tangible outcome. We work all day—in customer service, healthcare, education, accounting, insurance—and feel tired when we get home, but we don’t have a discernible way to measure what we have accomplished,” Dr. McNaughton-Cassill says.
Even if you love your software, business, or online job, we all have the need for seeing the physical manifestation of our labor.
“In contrast, throughout much of history people had to engage in physical, survival-based activities like growing food, building their own homes, and sewing, which while physically hard, provide a strong sense of accomplishment. I think this is why there has been such a resurgence of interest in crafts, home remodeling, and cooking. We want to feel that we can still do things that impact the environment.” The doctor continues.
And many of Sarah Weinberg’s Instagram followers seem to agree, judging by their reaction to her cookie photos.
Valerie Van Galder from the Depressed Cake Shop says that “There’s something really rich and rewarding about it for people who are feeling a bit lonely or isolated,”
And that’s what she and her team have dedicated a lot of their efforts over the years. The Depressed Cake Shop is known for regularly organizing and hosting pop-up bake sales across the country and then giving the proceeds to local mental health charities such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Baby Blues Connection.
And while traveling around the country isn’t exactly an option right now, Valerie continues to try and spread joy.
“So often we knock social media,” she explains, “but I think this is a time when it actually can be really, really healing because it makes you feel much less alone. People who have common interests, they’re able to find them through places like Instagram and they can feel the love of the community.”
Recently, Valarie started the Twitter hashtag #bakeyourmindoffit where people share their photos of intricately scored sourdough and toilet paper-shaped cookies, for the fun of it.
Valerie also agrees with the conclusions of Dr. McNaughton-Cassill – “Baking is super absorbing, so it’s very difficult to have anxiety. It chases bad thoughts away because you have to focus on making sure that you measure your flour. You have to have exactly the right amount of baking powder and exactly the right amount of baking soda if you want the result to be what you’re aiming for.”
And while hashtags are not the same as support groups, maybe they are close enough at times of social isolation. Ali Maffucci from the Inspiralized blog also joined in on the fun recently.
“So I keep saying it, but cooking is medicinal for me,” she wrote in her Instagram Story. “It’s really helping me keep calm amidst all the unknown right now. So, I’m starting a hashtag that I hope you’ll join me in.”
The hashtag in question is #letscookthroughthis and it’s already been used hundreds of times.
“I received an influx of direct messages from people saying that they loved the idea, the positivity, and that they felt similarly—that cooking is providing a therapeutic outlet right now,” Ali explains. For her, it’s not just a fun thing to do, it helps her connect with her family too. “I’m cooking more than ever with my toddler son, Luca. He used to just be my resident cheese sprinkler, but now I have him involved in more steps: whisking eggs, sprinkling fruit into his oatmeal, pouring ingredients into baking batters. There’s definitely more love in my kitchen than ever.”
So, how about baking? Whether you’re a fan of cooking or you generally hate it, maybe try baking anyway? Dr. McNaughton-Cassill seems to agree. “I haven’t heard [of it] before, but I like the idea a lot,” Dr. McNaughton-Cassill reasons. “I do have friends who say that watching cooking shows relaxes them, so maybe we need to find the Bob Ross of baking.”
Of course, the drawback of stress-relieve baking is pretty clear – if you do it too much you’ll end up with more cookies than you can handle. Or, at the very least – more cookies than you should handle. So, as with every other good thing, it’s good to be mindful about how much you bake not only about how you bake it.