Jessica Testa - 22 Jul, 2020

How can baking help you manage stress

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We may look to food for comfort in stressful times. If we have a deadline coming up, we may reach for something salty or savory to nibble on. A break up of a long term relationship could call for something sweet to boost to soothe concerns about getting back into the dating game. The saving grace of a packed week full of appointments and things to do could be spending some time cooking something we love and sitting down to a hot meal with our loved ones.

Regardless of the reason, food just tends to make many of us feel just a little bit better. This could be why some of us enjoy some baking in times of stress to get our minds off things for a little while.

Let’s look at how this happens in more detail.

What are the stats?

According to a survey commissioned by the Great Comic Relief Bake Off back in 2015, one in three of those surveyed cited that they felt more stressed than they did five years ago. Furthermore, 80% of those people decided to turn to baking to soothe their stress. It was said that this was more likely to occur in the colder months when food is best served warm. 

That same year, the Australian Psychology Society (APS) conducted their national stress and wellbeing survey and found that the main cause of stress among Australians was personal finances, with just under 50% of those surveyed citing this as their reason. This was followed by family issues, personal health, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and the health of our loved ones to round out the top five.

In that same survey, seven in ten people said they tend to manage their stress by eating. This number had risen since 2011. Almost one in two people stated that they tend to do something relaxing to combat these negative feelings. This was another number that had risen since four years prior.

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What’s the deal with baking?

Various studies have stated that many people find that baking allows them to relax. In an article published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, it was found that completing small, creative breaks every day may make us feel more relaxed and improve our happiness. Cooking or baking could be great examples of this with the different possibilities we could create using the items we have in our cupboard or fridge.

Some have described baking as having therapeutic qualities. Author of The Art of Mindful Baking Julia Ponsonby has spoken about how the act of kneading bread could provide a meditative experience:

“The therapeutic benefits of bread work on many levels. To knead dough we must use a wide range of movements, possess good muscle strength and have sound balance. We need to be able to judge proportions, as we divide and measure the dough, and focus on getting the time right, which helps us concentrate.”

Practising mindfulness is often recommended by mental health professions as a healthy way of dealing with stress and anxiety. It seems that taking the time to focus and engage our minds in baking as a distraction from the things that are causing us to worry can be one of the more fun ways to do this.

According to Mindfood, a study published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science explains that recreational cooking could provide a “dimmed sense of time and an altered sense of consciousness”, finding that this hobby could improve general wellbeing and life satisfaction. They also cited cooking as “the best predictor of subjective happiness”, which is a great sign for all the eager home chefs out there.

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What should I bake today?

There is no limit to what you can bake – whatever your heart desires is the way to go. Many people could have specific tastes or dietary requirements that would impact on the baking choices they make. However, if you’re stuck for ideas, we have a few recommendations that you could try.

Muffins for different dietary requirements

No matter what your dietary requirements are, muffins could be a more healthy baking option to try. These can be a perfect treat with a cup of hot tea on a cold afternoon or as a filling breakfast before you start your day. If something fruity is what you fancy, give these keto blueberry and yogurt or sugar and gluten free strawberry muffins a try. If you want to do something a little different, savory muffins can be a great way to experiment. Delicious examples can be vegan pumpkin and quinoa or egg-free carrot and zucchini muffins.

Sweet desserts

It’s the end of the day and you’re craving something sweet to indulge in after dinner. Rather than settling for some pre packaged snack, get the family together and make a sweet treat. This way you know exactly what’s in it. These gluten free peanut butter swirl brownies could be an interesting way to spice up a regular chocolate dessert. Maybe you’ve just had a romantic dinner and you’ll like to cap it off with a delicious treat. Nigella Lawson has an amazing variety of Valentine’s desserts to try including Molten Chocolate Babycakes and Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova.

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Crusty homemade bread

Bread can go with every meal in some way so it would be difficult to see this warm essential item go to waste. There are so many ways to make bread so there’s at least one to tickle everyone’s taste buds. From nutty banana bread to wholemeal sourdough, there’s a loaf for any occasion.

How To Get Creative With It

One of the best things about baking is that you don’t need to stick to the recipe. Some of the best dishes can often come when you think outside the box. Here are some great ways to get creative in the kitchen.

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Use all your senses

It takes all of your senses to make sure all the flavours, smells and textures are well-balanced.

Taste what you’re baking along the way to check if you need to add something to elevate the flavour. Use your sight and touch to make sure you have the mixture you’ve created has the right texture and consistency and generally how it feels after it’s baked. Your sense of smell could help you figure out how often you should be checking your creation. Finally, if you’re baking bread, you can use your sense of sound to hear the hollow sound when you tap on it to make sure it is cooked all the way through.

Make mistakes

Even if you’re not the best in the kitchen, there’s no reason why you should be afraid to try baking. Make mistakes and prepare to fail hard as you may stumble on a new way to do something. If your cake cracks, use the opportunity to whip up some decorative frosting to cover it up. The most important thing to remember is practice makes perfect.

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Add some challenges

You may not be on Masterchef, but a fun way to keep your creative juices flowing could be by adding some different challenges and constraints as you bake. Some of the best and most surprising creations can occur when you’re under pressure. Try adding a time limit or challenge yourself to only use particular ingredients to make something amazing.

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Are there two flavours that you love that you’ve been wondering what they’d be like together? This is your chance to do some experimentation. Maybe try putting a strong flavour into a dessert that you wouldn’t have thought would work, such as chili powder. You may surprise yourself and those who may doubt that it could work. If you have an idea, give it a go and you may find your new favourite dessert.

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Other ways baking could change your life

Baking isn’t just a great way to relax. You could find that taking up baking regularly could improve your life in other ways, increasing your happiness along the way.

For our green thumbs out there, maybe you should consider growing some of the ingredients you need for your favourite baked dishes in your garden, such as herbs, potatoes, carrots, onions, lemons and berries. It could help you save money on groceries by having all of this amazing produce literally in your own backyard.

If you’re worried about gaining too many extra kilos while taking on your new hobby, consider sharing your amazing treats around. Perhaps your baking time can be a great way to perform your good deed of the day by taking a cake down your neighbours next door or down the street. You could also invite your friends over for a dinner party and impress them with your culinary skills, from your homemade bread during the appetisers to the chocolate cake that you’ve made to cap off the night.

So what are you waiting for? Ready, steady, bake! 

While that pie you’re baking is in the oven, take some time to learn what mortgage stress is and how you can deal with it.

Words by Jessica Testa


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