Bake your mood better: the mental health benefits of baking
Eating freshly baked bread, meltingly soft cookies, or any other treat that comes out of the oven, is a decadence in which many people find pleasure. But as it turns out, the mood-boosting benefits of baked goods can be derived not just from eating them but also from baking them.
The process of baking, whether fully from scratch or with the assistance of a trusty boxed mix, is a good method of soothing mental distress and improving your mood. The official name for the process of using cooking and baking to improve mental health is called Culinary Art Therapy (CAT).
The theory behind this delicious therapy is that by focusing on a particular activity, your thoughts are forced to be redirected and your anxious inner dialogue is muted. Whilst some people might do exercise to ‘get out of their own head’, the step-by-step process of baking can be just as effective.
Think back to the last time you might have baked something. Did you direct your full attention to following a procedure? Did you engage with each individual ingredient? For example, by focusing on the technique of kneading dough beneath your fingers- Did you remember the feeling of having a clearer, unburdened mind that was better connected to the articulations of your hands as they created something wonderful?
Perhaps you did, or maybe you need a little more help to fully disconnect from your stressful thoughts. Next time you do bake, treat it as a mental health exercise. To do this, it is important to be mindful of your body: the pressure and movement of your hands as you crack eggs or whip to stiff peaks; the details of each step you’re following; how you hold and direct your knife; and, of course, the fragrance, texture and taste of the finished product.
You might also benefit from creating a clean and clear space to bake in; playing your favourite music or even a meditation soundtrack; putting your phone on silent; and removing anything from the kitchen that might trigger your stress or anxiety. Once your space has become a calm, mindful area try to avoid distraction and focus on getting lost in your baking.
As an added benefit, by achieving the tasty end result of following a recipe and sharing the experience or even just a slice with another person, baking can also help to increase self-esteem and facilitate social connection.
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