For some people, mundane acts such as daily chores or meal preparation can be surprisingly relaxing and therapeutic, instead of taxing and stressful. If we have to do it, we usually feel irritated and impatient about the tasks. However, if we choose to do it to get our minds off of something negative or to just unwind after an overstimulating day, we tend to actually really enjoy it. Baking and cooking are gratifying, at-home activities that can bring people solace and comfort, if they let it.
Being in the moment
Now, imagine this: You were late to work in the morning because your dog wouldn’t relieve himself outside for over twenty minutes. Your usual parking spot was taken. You forgot your wallet at home, so you have to eat the chips in the break room for lunch. Your mother-in-law is giving you attitude via text, so you struggle to get your work done simultaneously. Then right at 5pm when it’s time to finally go home, it starts pouring. You stop at Publix a few miles from your house to pick up some ready-to-eat sushi. On your way to the register, you notice a red velvet cake mix that is just calling to you. You think, “Why not?” You grab it and get the heck out of there. After downing your sushi in record time, your dog happily devouring a bone in the corner, you sit at the kitchen table and stare at the cake mix. “Wouldn’t the aroma of mouthwatering cake in my house right now just make me feel so much better?” So you stand up, start the Frank Sinatra Pandora station on your laptop, pour yourself a glass of red, and get your hands dirty.
Some people enjoy baking out-of-the-box mixes because they are mindless and easy. Some people like to get a little more innovative and complicated, following a recipe they found online or an old family one they know by heart. Whichever your preference, baking and cooking have been proven to be significant sources of stress relief. You are so aware and conscious of what your hands are doing and the instructions you’re following that there is no space for negative thoughts in your head. It’s the perfect distraction. You won’t be giving any energy to the opinions of others. You won’t be self destructive or reflect adversely on past choices. You are blissfully present. You are measuring one-third cup oil and one-fourth cup water. There is nothing else really concerning you other than the feel of dough in your hands or the taste of batter on your tongue. You’re setting the oven timer and daydreaming while you wash the spatulas. Giving yourself the chance to focus on a productive, calming task can help restore balance to your chaotic day.
Showing love and gratitude
Cooking isn’t cheap. Sometimes you can spend $50 on everything you need to bake an apple pie or berry tart you thought would be simple. But you’re looking forward to the look on your mom’s face when she bites into it. You aren’t worried about the money, or the three hours you spent making it. One of the best parts of cooking is creating something beautiful and delicious, something you’re proud of, that you can share with family and friends. A huge part of making food for others is showing gratitude and displaying generosity. It’s a universal act we can all relate to. We don’t need to speak the same language or struggle with the same problems to enjoy a meal together. Food is an expression of the love we feel for one another, whether it be platonic or romantic. Spending hours in the kitchen, working hard to make your German chocolate cake as close to perfect as possible, shows a sacrifice for others. You have that moment of selflessness, when all you want is to make other people happy by watching them enjoy your creation.
On occasion, baking can be a filler for words when you just don’t have the right thing to say. It’s an age-old tradition to bring a family casseroles and hot meals when a loved one passes away. Why? Usually when someone dies, relatives are thrown into the whirlwind of planning the funeral and making all of the arrangements, quickly, and while in a state of heavy grief. There is little time to think about scarfing down a normal meal or even thinking of yourself at all. I remember the night my grandmother passed away in hospice, my mother’s best friend immediately brought our family over a few trays of hot, baked lasagna. I couldn’t have been more grateful in that moment for some sense of normalcy, some sign of affection and understanding. We all gathered around the dining room table, indulged in the only food we touched all day, and tried to make each other laugh by playing Jim Gaffigan videos.
All in all, baking and cooking give to the creator just as much as the creator gives to others. It’s a form of charity, and one of the only times you become richer by giving away. Next time you’re overflowing with agitation and anxiety, pick up the cookbook and lose yourself.