Confessional: I am a stress baker
Yes, I am a stress baker. I am a baker too, but during times of stress, baking becomes not just a functional means of providing food and sweet treats for those around me, but a way to control my life and create a sense of order from the chaos that I feel. I have never seen this as an issue really. During times of emotional stress we all turn to strategies to help mitigate it and there are worse ones to have as a go-to than baking. That being said, I have baked my way through a marriage breakdown, trauma at work., and now, it seems, a global pandemic.
I am not alone in baking to relieve stress and tension. Currently the internet has batches of recipes and suggestions of things that you can make. The baking aisles in supermarkets are some of the sparsest filled in the shop, and if you try to buy a bread-maker online, you will find it nigh on impossible to source. I am privileged, really, that I don’t just bake in times of difficulty, as I have the things that I need, excepting yeast that is, so even in current shortages, I can make do and find bake-arounds by adapting and adopting.
Baking is something that I have always done. I wonder sometimes if it is genetic; my mum bakes, so do my sisters, and my own children bake too. Despite the obvious advantages – it is cheaper, and healthier, and creates a homely feel – I believe that for me, and for many others out there, there are additional healing type properties about the baking process and right now, many of us can see those at work. So while we may come out of this crisis physically rounder, we will hopefully be mentally stronger than we might have been without baking our way through.
So what is it about baking that is good for you?
The creative process
There are lots of things which make baking a creative process, and being creative is good for us. It allows us to use a different part of our brain then we might usually do, and helps to decrease anxiety, stress and other negative emotions. It helps us to problem solve, allowing us to see things from a different angle than the usual route we might take. Being creative also allows us to gain confidence as we learn to deal with failure in a positive way, tweaking things and changing them as we go and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones by trying something new.
Baking allows all of these things from choosing what to make to personalising what you are doing through your decoration and presentation. Often you will need to adapt what you are making to suit the numbers, or the equipment you have, or the time, or the ingredients available, so problem solving will take place too. There is something comforting about the aromas and smells that fill your home and they can trigger memories from happy times, providing an additional boost. Watching what you have made transform from a bowl of mix into something stunning, also feels quite magical.
The importance of mindfulness
Mindfulness is about remaining in the moment. It is about being focussed on what is happening in the here and now and so it allows us to move past the judgements and fears that pop into our heads throughout the day. Often mindfulness is practiced through meditation but for many, this will not be easy to do. While the benefits of doing so mean that we are more relaxed and less tense and stressed, the reality can be challenging for many and so being mindful can remain the elixir that we chase but never quite find.
Baking forces the mind onto the task and away from other things. Usually we become engaged in the process and this will allow a sort of break from whatever else is going on our lives, so it can be refreshing as well as allowing for renewed energy. Taking a break from everyday situations, especially those things we find difficult can be really important to remaining happy and healthy. Often a renewed perspective can allow us to see things in a less threatening way, and the step by step process of baking means that you complete it in layers and are forced to focus as you work and move through each stage.
Providing a sense of structure
When things seems to be spiralling out of control, baking can be just the antidote that you need. While there is a method for cooking, it is often less precise than the one required for baking. There is routine in the process; the order that you do things matters, as do the techniques required. It is necessary to adhere to the set times, amounts and temperatures. If you don’t follow what is being asked, then the result will be affected, so recognising the importance of doing things accurately is key. When you do, the reward is good and what you produce makes it all worthwhile.
As people, routine and structure is important to us. Although we also need opportunities to be creative, elements of predictability and familiarity can be comforting. When some of that is challenged it can leave us feeling out of control and restless as we search for things that we can rely upon and make us feel safe. Finding something to do which meets these needs, in times when other things are constantly changing or are unknown, can bring a reassuring sense of stability and be really calming.
A measurable outcome
These days, many of the parts of our lives which cause us to feel stressed are full of tasks which have no clear outcome. Often our work, regardless of importance, is not meaurable and, therefore, it can be hard to find that feeling of success. We think we have solved it, we think we have supported someone, but how do we really know? How can we really tell? Working to an unknown outcome and hoping for the best can bring a lot of stress because at the end of the day, we cannot necessarily evaluate how we have done.
Baking has a fast outcome and we can see clearly how we have got on. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. It allows a pretty quick reward and can be quite gratifying, especially when the fruits of your labour are shared and experienced by others. There is something very satisfying about the smell in the kitchen and the colourful creations displayed on the baking tray. We can see our efforts lined up before us and there is a sense of achievements and of a job, hopefully, well done.
Don’t feel bad. Bake.
So if you, like me, are baking your way through life at the moment, don’t feel bad about using this as therapy for a sad and confusing world where nothing seems to make sense. Open up your cookbook, pop on your apron and turn the oven on to warm up. Get creative, be mindful, and get into a rhythm by following the rules and enjoying the sense of achievement. These things are good for you so don’t feel bad about the flour you have kept quiet about, or the additional calories you can burn off when life returns to normal, baking is good for you.
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