If you were one of the thousands who suddenly got the baking bug in isolation, you weren’t just doing your tastebuds a favour – turns out you were helping your brain, too. Sarah Tarca asks psychologist Tara Hurster to explain why.
Whether it was Sourdough or banana bread, or even if you were just trying your hand at baking for the first time, #isolife gave us all a lot of inspiration to get back into the kitchen and cook some homemade delights.
Instagram basically turned into a Master Chef for two months, and provided us with plenty of hilarious baking fails. But little did we know that all that baking was also doing wonders for our brain.
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How baking can be beneficial to mental health
The first thing baking can do is help you focus on the task at hand. And when you’re focusing on that, you’re not stressing about other things (like, how many times you have/haven’t washed your hands).
Tara calls this a “form of focused mindfulness” and because it’s also grounding it calms the soul. “This simple step-by-step process helps to remove the clatter of thoughts and confusion associated with stress,” she says.
Bake the stress away
A little refresher on stress: when we stress the flight-or-flight response in the brain increases, and that makes it difficult to make clear decisions (which is why it’s so hard to choose which pair of trackies to wear each morning). But the beauty in baking is that you have all the hard decision-making done for you. All you need to do is follow the process – and that’s already laid out for you in a recipe.
“This is exactly what mindfulness is all about, focusing on one moment at a time,” says Tara. There’s also something that Tara calls “grounding” which uses all five of our senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) to bring us out of our head and into our body. “We are likely using every one of our senses when we are baking and the closer we tune into the senses, the yummier the outcome will be!” she says.
What to cook for good vibes
There is one catch to this – actual baking aside, the “eating the whole cake” thing is another (not-so-feel-good) story. Because the thing is, there are actually some types of foods that are big mood downers, and sadly one of the biggest culprits of this is sugar. Sugar causes a rapid drop in blood sugar levels, which Tara says “causes agitation, fatigue and other uncomfortable experiences.”
Another biggie is that delicious accompaniment to your meal… in your glass. As you well know, alcohol is a mood altering substance that makes us feel different when drinking it. One of the problems with this is that we can use it as a coping mechanism for stress, which long-term can cause all sorts of issues.
But what if you hate baking?
Don’t worry, no one’s forcing you to bake like Martha Stewart, especially if even the thought of it makes you cringe. What brings that sense of peace and calm will be unique to every person – it’s just about finding what’s most beneficial to you.
If you have no idea where to start, Tara suggests checking in with yourself before you start and after you complete an activity. “Then you can really rate how fulfilled and peaceful you feel inside your chest or tummy area. Whatever the activity is that brings you peace in this space, is likely going to be beneficial for you.”
She particularly rates the creative activities that people have been getting into in iso (think music, art, cross stitch etc.) as in “normal life” we often get too stuck in the analytical part of our brains. She says, “that part of the brain isn’t meant to be on all the time.”
Play is a vital part of our daily lives and adults require that, too! Anything that is play and creativity-related is very helpful for your overall wellbeing.”
So essentially we all have permission to embrace our inner kid. Snacks and naps all round, then? We’re into that.
Expert commentary provided by Tara Hustler, PsychBA (general), who is a drug and alcohol addiction psychologist and founder of The TARA Clinic.
More essential coronavirus reading:
Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.