Baking To Improve Mental Health?

Baking has been a favorite pastime of mine since my early teens, and often people have asked me “Why?”.  Well, some people like to exercise because it helps them deal with stress, I like to measure flour and sugar. To each their own I guess. But recently I have been thinking about it more and more, trying to figure out what it is that makes baking so therapeutic. I am an anxious person and have trouble sleeping at times when I am stressed, and the process of baking 12 muffins relaxes my mind enough. The Great British Bake Off is one of the most watched segments on TV in the UK. That says something…

According to a study, published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy in 2004, baking is beneficial to mental health. Some benefits include:

  • Increased concentration
  • Sense of achievement
  • Boosted confidence
  • Relieved mental anxiety
  • Easier coping with stress

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Thinking about the endless possibilities

I quite like how limitless my options are when it comes to cooking. It is impossible to run out of new things to try (especially when you have Pinterest). Just looking for inspiration and recipes can charge me with enough positive energy. And that is before I’ve even begun. I can go for hours just looking at different types of baked goods and then the plethora of ways to prepare each of those, picking the one that I think might be best for me.

Keeps your hands busy

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I don’t know if any of you have seen Charmed (which you totally should by the way), but in one episode Piper says how she’s not cooking anything in particular. She’s just keeping her hands busy. And it’s so true. Sometimes you just need a distraction from what’s going on in your head. And if you’re a serial overthinker, then there is nothing better than keeping your hands busy with a repetitive task, such as whisking, kneading or shaping dough. It requires attention and precision, but only to the extent where you don’t have to think about it. Your hands get used to the motions, and you do them automatically, without having to consider a potential deviation from the technique. It reminds me of meditating and the repetition of a mantra. It is about repeating that same word or phrase until it fills your consciousness beyond thinking about the things you’re trying to escape from. The mantra is a positive affirmation, seeking to achieve a particular effect, but I believe it is mostly used as a tool for freeing your mind from the nagging thoughts that you can’t silence. Think of kneading the dough as having a similar effect.

The expected outcome

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Life these days is pretty hectic. Most days are just a race against time. You can’t be late; you need to finish a task quickly, this and that. But sometimes however much you try, life doesn’t want to turn out the way you planned it. Or it takes agonizingly longer than you hoped for. You don’t always get the job that you knew you’d be good at. And it wasn’t up to you. You couldn’t control that situation. Some people take this type of uncertainty a whole lot worse than others. For those people, baking and cooking, in general, might be a good escape. Because with these endeavors, if you follow the recipe, you will get what you expected to get. Not too many variables at play. I mean, granted there are definitely things that can mess up your bread that are out of your control, but most times – it’s up to you. I like the feeling of control that gives me. And seeing a red velvet cake that it turned out perfectly gives me an odd sense of pride.

People pleaser

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There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re a people pleaser. Although it’s frowned up, some people just like to please those around them, and I don’t think that’s a particularly bad thing. So you take your personal anxieties or negative thoughts and use your hands to create something that makes others happy as well. For most people, having someone love their baking is also pleasurable. It’s a win-win. Naturally, pleasing people should never come first. But in this case, you’re making yourself happy as well, so I’m gonna say it’s okay.  A cake or batch of chocolate chip cookies can rapidly bring the whole family together at the table…and it’s a nice feeling.

It’s a creative outlet

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As I mentioned before, there are countless options when it comes to baking at that stimulates the imagination, similarly to the way that painting does. Decorating sugar cookies is as much of an arts-and-crafts moment as it was when you were 8. It is good to allow yourself to spend time with an activity that does not limit your creativity. You can go in any direction you like – shape, texture, color, taste, smell, etc. The potential combinations are endless, and the result is the brainchild of your aesthetics and creative flare. Sounds like fun to me. It comes as no shock to read that psychologists have found a strong connection between overall wellbeing and creative expression.

Baking Releases Endorphins

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While we typically associate the release of endorphins with sports, scientists now state that baking and cooking have a similar effect on the brain. A study by the Journal of Positive Psychology found that young people who take on a small, creative project throughout (such as cooking, baking, painting, etc.) their day, are more relaxed in comparison to those who do not. They also report feeling happy and excited about their daily routine more frequently than does who do not engage with creative endeavors daily.

Sometimes you just want some cake

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Honestly, sometimes it’s just that simple.  Let me know your thoughts!

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