The Baker’s Corner: Stress Relief
This segment of our blog, The Baker’s Corner, features insights from The Baking Journal’s host, Stephanie. To view all content from The Baking Journal, please visit www.thinktv.org/thebakingjournal/ or www.CETconnect.org/thebakingjournal and subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/channel/UC-pjrZPeeRenFKAF3kBuZcQ!
Hello, Baker’s Corner readers! Today’s blog post is all about the health benefits of baking. Yes, you read that correctly, health benefits!! Baking has been found to help relieve stress, anxiety, and even depression. Many of you have commented that you enjoy watching The Baking Journal because you feel as if you are right there with me in the kitchen. Believe me, I would love for us to be baking together because, for me, sharing is one of the best things about baking. But even if you can’t be with me in the kitchen, I hope after watching The Baking Journal, you are motivated to get in your kitchen and bake – not just because you are craving something sweet, but because baking might actually make you feel wonderful.
Recent studies suggest that regularly engaging in small acts of creativity can help you feel more relaxed, happier, and enthusiastic about life. In addition, creative acts can contribute to a feeling of personal growth. Baking as a creative outlet is a form of self-expression. A recipe is just a recipe until a baker comes along to make it—blending a little bit of passion, creativity, and love into the finished product. By choosing what to bake and how you’ll make it, your creative journey has already begun. The Journal of Positive Psychology posits that spending time on creative goals such as baking can help you feel more relaxed and happier with your everyday life. Whether you’re following recipes or improvising, using your hands to create and decorate is an artistic activity that can enhance your overall well-being.
In addition to the benefits of engaging your creative side, various studies have reported that baking can help to relieve stress. The very act of baking can form part of a mindful practice that requires your full attention. To successfully bake a cake, cookies or a loaf of bread, we need to pay close attention to the recipe. If we measure out too much flour or don’t include enough butter, if we don’t mix the ingredients in the correct order, or don’t knead the dough for long enough, we’ll end up with questionable results. Focusing on what’s right in front of you stimulates you from within and can help ease feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. It can help quiet our internal chatter, and can therefore be very therapeutic.
All recipes have some form of repetition to them. Kneading, mixing, measuring, shaping, and decorating all have a rhythm involved and can be a healthy way to reduce stress. The process of weighing out butter and sugar, whisking eggs, beating and folding creates space in the mind, and eases negative thinking processes. The simple act of kneading dough can be an almost meditative experience. When you focus your mental energy on these physical motions, it can help you get into a zone where other distractions and stressors fall away. You’ll feel more connected to yourself and what you are working on, which can be uplifting.
In addition, when we bake we involve all of our senses, which in turn increases feel-good endorphins. Paying close attention to how the ingredients look, smell, taste, feel, and even how they sound, can provide a wonderful self-soothing effect. The mere scent of vanilla or cinnamon can create a feeling of comfort and contentment. Senses like smell are also heavily connected to memory. If you have strong positive memories or associations with baking—perhaps your grandmother made you cookies every time you visited, or your father used to make fresh bread on Saturdays—then these memories and their positive emotions can be triggered by the experience of baking.
I think we all know that being physically active has been shown to reduce stress, anger, depression and improve overall mental and physical health (LLM-Luxury Lifestyle Magazine; 5 Reasons Why Baking Is Great for Your Mental Health, Sept 21, 2021). The online article reports that not only does baking help emotionally, but it helps contribute to physical wellbeing by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and production of stress hormones. From rolling out pastry to kneading the dough, baking and cleaning up afterward can be a real workout and calorie-burner. In fact, you can burn up to 200 calories just by wiping down the surfaces of your countertops.
Another health advantage to baking is through feeling a sense of achievement by following a process from start to finish and having something (hopefully) delicious to show for your time. It can be a fantastic outlet for self-expression and creativity through experimenting with flavors, fillings and decoration. Add to that instances where you might be using up overripe bananas, or other ingredients that would otherwise end up in the trash and your baking becomes an act of sustainability, too.
At the heart of baking is the very act of giving. While the process of baking can contribute to an overall sense of well-being, giving can intensify that feeling. There’s nothing quite like baking for others, it is an act of generosity. It creates the best moments by spreading love and feeling the same in return. Baking for others can provide a feeling of well-being, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world (or at least your small corner of it), which might just make you feel more connected to others and add additional meaning to your life.
But even if you decide to do something good for the world next week and want to keep those delicious baked goods all for yourself (trust me- I would never judge and would never tell!), the act of fully enjoying how the finished product tastes can give you an enriching feeling of accomplishment. What might have once been just eating a simple slice of cake, can now provide a full and rich sensory experience, which helps ground us firmly in the sweet present moment.
Have you found that baking helps you feel better? Remember that what you make doesn’t have to be big or elaborate unless you want it to be. A simple Baked Apple recipe or a fool-proof Ginger Scone recipe that takes 30 minutes to prepare can make you feel as accomplished and satisfied just as much as a complicated recipe that takes all day. Experiment and do what suits you and your schedule best. The most important thing is to have fun while doing it!
So, I encourage you to pre-heat those ovens and start baking! Better yet, let’s bake something great together while watching me on The Baking Journal either on YouTube, the PBS Video App, or on the CET website. Cheers to our health!
Black, R. (2009). Cooking is therapy: Making meals helps to reduce stress, heal a broken heart, among other benefits.
Fairbank, M. (2022).The Benefits of Baking: Experts say Baking Reduces Stress and Anxiety. Blog Post March 16, 2022 Teeo Creations. https://www.teeocreations.com/blog/the-benefits-of-baking-experts-say-baking-reduces-stress-and-anxiety/
Newpoff, L. D., Melnyk, B. M., & Neale, S. (2018). Creative wellness: A missing link in boosting well-being. American Nurse Today, 13(8), 11-13.
Tan, C. Y., Chuah, C. Q., Lee, S. T., & Tan, C. S. (2021). Being Creative Makes You Happier: The Positive Effect of Creativity on Subjective Well-Being. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(14), 7244. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18147244