By now, it should come as no surprise to you that my happy place is the spot right in front of my oven, where I can sit, leaning against the base of my kitchen sink, and watching my dough (or batter) babies rise in real-time. It is both agonizing and exhilarating; like watching paint dry or water boil if either of those activities led to a sweet treat. Watching chocolate melt and cookie dough spread allows me to take my mind off the harrowing day-to-day stress I encounter as an overworked/under-rested college student and redirect my focus from abstract concepts or life aspirations towards something tangible and comforting.
In a world that has become obsessed with technology and innovation, ideas have become the commodity of the twenty-first century but, without tangible fruits of our labor, maintaining a connection to our professional efforts can be incredibly difficult, especially when removing yourself from work that lies in the abstract is so easy. The longing for an outlet through which we can obtain a physical connection and satisfy our desires to produce things with which we can interact has risen alongside global anxiety levels over the last few years and, as you might’ve guessed, many believe these common frustrations can be solved in the kitchen.
While I am sure this is a significant revelation for people employed within the field of psychology, I think the fact that it is news to people is absurd. Baking is both cathartic and visceral, and there is no shortage of interesting and creative angles from which one can approach a baking project in order to relieve stress or address anxiety. Aside from my (borderline obsessive) passion for baking and interest in establishing a career in the field, baking has been my salvation on days when I am too anxious to leave my apartment or when I am in need of an outlet for my overwhelming amounts of stress, especially when battling the throes of grief.
In an article, Danny Lewis describes baking as an almost meditative affair that is proving to be more and more helpful to people with mental disorders, as well as all the overworked Millenials that make their livings through weird tech start-ups and Youtube channels. After establishing his point, Lewis cites an interview with John Whaite following his 2012 Great British Bake Off win, where Whaite discusses his bipolar disorder and how baking is what gives him a necessary feeling of control that he has difficulty obtaining anywhere else in his life. I think part of what makes baking so therapeutic is the fact that a certain level of precision is key. There is some wiggle room (obviously) because if there wasn’t, every recipe would be a super stressful chemistry experiment rather than a fun and active distraction. The need to measure predetermined quantities and then give them a stir in a certain sequence can still be stressful if you are a true novice, but all in all, baking is often an activity that requires more brawn than brain. There is something so irrefutable satisfying about rolling out cookie dough and cutting it into fun shapes, leveling out cupcake batter in tins, or piping pâte à choux out onto baking sheets.
Cookies are my therapeutic treatment of choice. When I am having a stressful day, and can afford the time, I try to bake a half batch of my favorite cookies (polvorones rosas) so that I can take the time to roll each ball of dough out and coat it in sugar, satisfying my craving for the tactile sensations that come with a good cookie recipe. I even took a gander at adjusting that very recipe to accommodate my infamous vegan friend this week and -to my astonishment- I was actually borderline successful!
Yes – You may now take a moment to applaud before reading on.
When I am not busy revolutionizing the vegan baked-good scene and have more time to plan, I try to crank out some sugar cookies to give myself a canvas for small-scale royal icing paintings that help redirect my anxiety and allow me to channel it towards creating meticulously well-drawn lobsters or elephants or whatever other design sparks inspiration on a given day. In high school, sugar cookies were a weekly affair, and my peers grew accustomed to Monday morning cookie binges incredibly quickly.
Obviously, baking is not the ultimate cure to everyone’s anxiety, but it can be an incredibly helpful way to relieve some stress by rechanneling it into something productive with an incredibly decadent and comforting outcome. One can reap the same, or similar, benefits from cooking, but the results are never quite as sweet.