If you're having a bad day and find yourself in the kitchen, do you find kneading some dough or rolling out sugarpaste somehow helps you calm down? You're not alone - a recent Dr. Oetker 'Bake Friends' study found that 1 in 3 people in the UK use baking as a stress relieving activity.
So why do we find baking therapy so enjoyable? From the physical requirements to mental concentration, you'll be amazed how much of a stress relieving activity baking can truly be.
1. Creative expression
We all know as bakers and cake decorators how creative the craft allows you to be, so it's hardly a surprise that 1 in 6 people studied say they enjoy baking as a creative outlet. 67% of bakers surveyed also agreed that getting active in the kitchen normally helps improve their mood.
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist involved in the 'Bake Friends' study, explained that the simple experience of creating encourages imagination and creative expression, which is strongly linked to overall wellbeing. By allowing your mind to wander and create something artistic, without restrictions and expectations, your creativity can only grow stronger.
Dr Papadopulos said:
“In fact, baking also has the benefit of enhancing creative expression – which has been found to have a strong connection with overall wellbeing."
It's a version of 'practice makes perfect' - the more you give yourself time to express yourself through a non-restrictive creative outlet, the more creative and unique your designs, style and recipes will become.
Baking can be mindful in how it helps you focus. Mindfulness is a concept and way of life that has been gaining more and more interest in recent years, as people understand better how beneficial it can be for mental health. Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment:
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.”
How does this apply to baking? Simply following a recipe can help you feel present and focused, taking your mind away from other worries and stresses. Instead of worrying about next week's commission or yesterday's email spat, following a recipe directs your mind to focus only on what's happening in that moment.
3. Positive focus
We're not going to pretend that baking is always stress-free. Especially when starting and running a cake business, being in the kitchen isn't always a dream.
However, we're looking at baking therapy, not baking professionally. Take some time to create for yourself, free yourself from client needs and expectations and focus your energies on creating something positive for yourself.
As a species, most humans can't help but put others before themselves. That's one of the many reasons why we find ourselves looking for stress relieving activities where possible. So whip out an old favourite family recipe, mix some fun and funky colours together in your icing and turn the kitchen from a place of stress to a place of joy.
We know that most CD&S readers will say that their earliest memory is cooking with family, so let those memories guide your focus and remind you of simpler times and how baking during those times felt emotionally.
4. Bonding time
Baking therapy doesn't have to be a solitary experience either. While some of us prefer to be alone, baking and cake decorating for the pure joy of creating is a great opportunity to get family involved, especially children.
The 'Bake Friends' study found that 1 in 8 bakers think making cakes is a great excuse to bond with the kids in a fun (and messy!) baking session. Baking can create an important bonding experience with family and friends alike, as Dr. Papadopoulos explains:
"We often use food to connect and communicate our feelings, and the act of sharing something nourishing and comforting can positively impact on our sense of wellbeing and connection with those around us."
Encouraging children to explore their own creativity is never a bad thing and introducing them to fun stress relieving activities like baking and cake decorating will help teach them healthy methods to deal with difficult emotions as they grow up.
5. The five senses
You might be surprised to hear the huge importance of the five senses to psychological wellbeing. As a basic roundup, here's how the fives senses can be essential to positive mental health:
- Sight: Light is essential for all life and studies show that seeing things with natural light, in particular, can help lift your mood and live in the moment
- Smell: This sense has an ancient connection with the emotional centre of our brains
- Sound: Listening to meaningful sounds, such as nature-related sounds or gentle music, activates deeply relaxing theta waves in your brain
- Taste: Taste draws your focus away from other worries and helps you live in the moment of that mouthful
- Touch: Studies show that touching something with a comforting feel, such as something soft or warm, can help lower your levels of cortisol, a stress-producing hormone
How does this apply to baking? Creating in the kitchen requires all five senses at some point, so simply focusing your mind on these senses as they happen can help make baking an effective stress relieving activity:
- Really focus on how the ingredients look as you mix them together
- Take a moment to appreciate the smell of your baking as it cooks
- Listen to the satisfying 'thwack' your dough makes as you knead it
- Pinch a handful of sprinkles (or two!) to eat while you're decorating
- Allow yourself to really feel the pastry crumbs you're creating as they fall through your fingers.
Do you find baking and cake decorating to be stress relieving activities? If you haven't tried it, we definitely recommend trying a bit of baking therapy and see how it can change your life for the better.
If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love finding out more about the history of cake decorating and how it has developed from ancient times to today. Plus, we've got more helpful advice on taking care of your mental health when baking is your business.