It’s not just about having fun in the kitchen.
Whether you’re making a Bundt cake for a new mother, stocking the table at the school bake sale with carrot cake muffins and sweet potato bread, or bringing an Easter Bunny cake to your homebound neighbor, baking just makes us feel good. Turns out baking for other can have actual psychological benefits. Yes, even when your mother-in-law asks you to bring a cake to the Easter lunch.
We’ve all been hearing a lot about mindfulness lately, which can help reduce stress and increase happiness. If you don’t have time to meditate, though, baking can be a substitute. “Baking actually requires a lot of full attention. You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction,” associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, Donna Pincus, told Huffington Post.
Baking also helps convey messages that aren’t always easy to say with words. For instance, when someone passes away and everyone shows up to the wake with platters of comfort food. Sometimes it’s just easier to express sympathy, love, and support in the form of casseroles, cakes, and chicken and dumplings.
Like any charity work, the altruistic act of baking for others can contribute to an overall sense of well-being and connection with other people in the world. However, you can benefit from baking for yourself, too. (Eating a slice of chocolate cake is a form of self love, right?) One of the positive mental side effects of baking is using it as an outlet for creative expression, which can relieve stress. “There’s a lot of literature for connection between creative expression and overall wellbeing,” said Pincus. “Whether it’s painting or it’s making music [or baking], there is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”
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Of course, bakers can only reap these psychological rewards if they actually enjoy baking. So don’t expect to feel stress-free and content if you’d rather change a tire than whip up some biscuits, or if your mother-in-law does ask you to bake that Easter cake.