When the country is stressed out, what do we do? We bake.
With so many of us cooped up inside while we wait out this pandemic, “stress baking” is what we’re doing to relieve our anxiety.
And we are anxious. A new poll by the American Psychiatric Association found nearly half of Americans are anxious about possibly getting the coronavirus, but far more — 62 percent — are worried about family and loved ones getting the disease. More than a third say worries about the virus are having a serious impact on their mental health.
So we turn to baking, something creative we can concentrate on to block out the ongoing turmoil, at least for a while. Plus, we have all this extra time on our hands to attempt recipes we’ve always wanted to try.
Just check out social media for proof. Friends and relatives are proudly showing off photos of their homemade sourdough bread loaf like it was a new grandchild. The hashtag #stressbaking hit more than 30,000 posts in April 2020 and growing on Instagram, as people share photos of recipes they’re making, from biscuits to Bundt cake. Google searches for “how to make banana bread” are soaring and #QuarantineBread is trending on Twitter, where twice as many people as usual are tweeting about their cooking and baking, ABC News reports.
Bread machines — all the rage in the ’90s, before falling into oblivion by 2017 — are suddenly top sellers again, according to Amazon, while baking basics like flour, yeast and eggs are in short supply in grocery stores and online, the Washington Post reports.
NPR All Things Considered anchor Mary Louise Kelly told the New York Times that after coming home from work recently and feeling anxious about all that’s happening in the world, she made — yes — banana bread.
“It just seemed so damned wholesome — a loaf of banana bread. It felt like what we needed, all warm and golden, like this must be a force for good in uncertain times,” she said.
Social worker and culinary art therapist Julie Ohana completely agrees. The Michigan mother of two and founder of Culinary Art Therapy has used individual and group cooking-as-therapy sessions to help people relax, communicate and express their creativity.
Baking, which requires close attention as you add the ingredients, helps focus and calm the mind, Ohana tells AARP.
She calls it “an activity of mindfulness and meditation, something absorbing that you can throw yourself into as you follow step-by-step instructions.” It also serves a dual purpose of both nourishing people and making them happy. “It’s something joyful that’s an expression of love,” she says.
It’s not just Americans who bake to de-stress. A recent survey of 2,000 amateur bakers in Britain by the baking company Dr. Oetker found that two-thirds believe baking improves their mood when they’re feeling low.
There’s also some science to support baking-as-therapy. Some studies have found that regularly doing simple creative acts, including cooking and baking, is linked to more positive feelings of well-being and staying focused. Culinary therapy has even been used to help cope with grief.
It’s also useful for those dealing with anxiety during these uncertain times where little is under our control, writes Vox.com reporter Nisha Chittal, who describes herself as a “highly anxious person.”
“If I’m idle too long, it’s easy to start ruminating and go down a panic spiral,” Chittal says. “But when I’m cooking, I can’t do that … If I don’t pay close attention to what I’m doing, I’ll get the proportion of ingredients wrong for the dough or burn the meat. Cooking forces me to focus on the task at hand.”
Baking, in particular, is comforting because it’s associated with celebration and happy times, like birthdays and holidays, says Ohana. “And right now we need comforting. We need something familiar that’s linked to happy memories.”
• Learn to make something new. With most restaurants closed, many chefs are offering online cooking lessons for home cooks. Many recipe websites, such as Allrecipes.com, offer videos, and you can also find a variety on YouTube, including NYT Cooking’s videos. For bakers, helpful videos on basic skills can be found at King Arthur Flour and extract maker Nielsen-Massey’s new “Better Your Bake.”
• Bake for a virtual meal. Get together virtually, using FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or another video chat service, with friends or family to share what each of you has baked or cooked. You could choose one recipe that you all make and then eat together and compare results, or everyone can make something different. It’s a fun way to keep in touch and share a new recipe.
• Keep it simple. Would you love to bake bread, but don’t want to stress with something too complicated or time-consuming? Check out this brain-healthy Seeded Whole-Grain Quick Bread recipe that mixes up quickly and bakes in a 9x5-inch loaf pan. —Candy Sagon