Wondering whether you can use baking as therapy? In our opinion, there are few activities better for the soul than baking. It’s a mindful, nurturing activity that shows love for yourself and for those you care about. And couldn’t we all do with a bit more love these days?
As Julie Ohana, creator of Culinary Art Therapy, says, “When the task allows you to create something to nourish yourself and your loved ones, it can be a very powerful experience.”
How does baking help your mental health?
Baking has a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing for a number of reasons, including:
- Baking is a mindful activity
- Baking helps you to feel in control
- The repetitive actions of kneading, sifting, stirring etc, are soothing
- You engage all your senses in baking
- It allows you to create something tangible, that you can share with others
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, from climate change to the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that more and more people are struggling with mental health issues. According to Mind, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem this year, from anxiety and depression to OCD and PTSD.
Coping mechanisms can help to make us more mentally resilient. And baking is one little activity that we can all enjoy. While baking can’t replace therapy, it can help to take our minds off the triggers that are making us feel stressed. As a result, we can feel calmer, less anxious and more able to cope with day-to-day challenges.
Scientists agree that baking can help mental health
There has been a lot of research into how baking and cooking can have a positive effect on mental health.
For example, in one study, researchers used a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and culinary therapy to positively engage hospice residents. Another study found that adolescents with the most cooking skills reported a greater sense of mental well-being, as well as fewer symptoms of depression.
How mindfulness reduces stress
According to Mind, “Studies show that practising mindfulness can help to manage common mental health problems like depression, anxiety and feelings of stress.”
But you don’t need to sit still and concentrate to practise mindfulness. The point of mindfulness is focusing on what’s happening in the present. So, you can practise it while you’re taking a walk, painting a picture, doing a craft activity or baking a cake.
Baking requires us to concentrate and engage all our senses. We stir the batter. We smell the delicious scents of vanilla, sugar and chocolate. We taste the finished dessert. There are few activities that are more mindful than baking.
We can’t control everything in our lives, but cooking, including baking, can help us to feel more in control. We choose the recipe and ingredients, follow the instructions and create something wonderful.
Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite told Mind that baking helped him to come through depression, “Baking was my therapy. The whole process is very positive. When you have this destructive energy – which is how depression feels to me – you can either go further into that downward spiral or you can channel that energy into something constructive. That’s why I go into the kitchen. Baking enables you to step into control.”
Baking as a form of self expression
Baking, much like painting or writing, allows us to express ourselves in a creative way.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that those who engage in creative projects (like cooking and baking) are happier in their day-to-day lives. After following 658 participants over the course of two weeks, the researchers found a link between everyday creativity and positive wellbeing.
Baking as a form of altruism
When we make something and give it away, we gain a feeling of accomplishment. Even before you’ve had any feedback on your baking abilities, just the act of doing something nice for others is enough to prompt your brain to release endorphins and put you in a good mood.
Plus, being congratulated on your bakes can help to boost your confidence and self-esteem. It reminds you that you can achieve the goals you set for yourself.
Why not bake for a fundraising event to support a cause you hold close to your heart? Or bake something for someone you know is going through a hard time, like a neighbour, to show that you’re thinking of them. After all, baking as therapy can benefit you, your family and your wider community.
Baking for health
There are many links between physical and mental health. Common ingredients in baking are cocoa powder and cacao. Due to its antioxidant properties, cacao is often referred to as a ‘superfood’. Superfoods are those which contain significantly higher quantities of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other health-boosting goodies. Some are everyday whole foods that you’ll likely have tried before, such as broccoli and blueberries. Others are more exotic, such as cacao!
Baking for stress relief
Baking can give us an upbeat respite from what’s happening in the world. And, as Mary Berry once famously said, “There are few better ways to let off steam than kneading”!
Even just watching a baking show, like The Great British Bake Off, can make us feel better. These programmes also give us an opportunity to learn more about food and food trends and encourage us to try new ingredients, techniques and kitchen gadgets.
Therapeutic baking recipes
While it can be calming to switch off and bake something you’ve cooked a hundred times before, there are benefits to trying new things. You could try new techniques, experiment with different ingredients or just follow some new recipes.
We recommend baking with chocolate, as the scent has a calming effect.
This chocolate orange tart is the perfect therapeutic baking recipe. The chocolate calms your nerves while the orange boosts your mood. Or how about making a decadent chocolate babka to share with friends?
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you might prefer a quicker recipe, with fewer steps. This microwave chocolate mug cake takes minutes to prepare. (And even less time to eat!)
If you want to bake with the kids, how about these chocolaty gingerbread biscuits? Again, the scent of ginger can have a positive effect on your mood.
Dip into our chocolate recipes collection to discover hundreds more therapeutic bakes to try.
Together, we can bake tomorrow better.