Finding relief in a cookie: How baking alleviates my stress

By KATHERINE LOGAN | November 29, 2018

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KIMBERLY VARDEMAN / CC BY 2.0

The latest pop smash echoes through the room, shots of grapefruit-flavored vodka line the worn table and the scent of cinnamon wafts from a tray of snickerdoodles in the corner. One of these things is not like the others. What is a plate of freshly baked cookies doing at a college party? 

Well, I was raised in the realm of “bless your hearts” and “might coulds,” where you simply couldn’t show up to a soiree empty-handed lest you be considered inconsiderate.

Logically, this rule was as applicable to a dorm room as it was a neighbor’s pruned lawn.

While my friends were once surprised by my sweet offerings, my desserts have become a means of making their day a little less stressful and a staple of times spent together. 

Yet, for me, baking is more than just a fun skill; it’s a form of meditation. Traditionally, meditation involves sitting silently, focusing on your breathing and striving to focus your mind on a phrase or a mantra, or simply allowing it time to rest when you’re not overwhelmed by a barrage of thoughts and images.

It’s fitting that the Latin word for “to ponder,” meditari, is the root of “meditation.”

Individuals’ reasons for meditating vary; some do it purely for the sake of relaxation, others as a spiritual practice. 

Regardless, studies show that people who meditate have a greater ability to quell their racing thoughts, making them less distracted.

They also experience less stress and anxiety in their daily lives. 

When it comes to my baking, it all starts with deciding what to make. Nowadays with the internet, there’s never a lack of options available. 

Often I’ll turn to a blog like “Joy the Baker” or “Sally’s Baking Addiction.” I’ll scroll through their recipe indexes, choose a few options and then (occasionally) let friends and family have a say in the final choice. 

That said, when I’m home, there’s nothing like digging through my mom’s cookbook selection, sitting down with a pile of selections and perusing them for the perfect recipe to fulfill my current craving. 

Additionally, the search for the required ingredients in the supermarket can feel a bit like a treasure hunt, which breaks up the day. 

Of course the kitchen is where the fun really starts. 

Within those four walls, I am forced to devote my entire focus to the task in front of me, lest I accidentally turn the mixer a notch too high and send flour flying or abandon the pan in the oven, only for the dessert in question to burn. 

I can’t afford to be thinking about when that paper I’ve hit a wall on is due or the mountain of reading in front of me.

At least once a week you will find me in my apartment getting my zen on. Around finals season you might find me “procrastibaking” a little more often. 

Throughout the year, but especially during this chaotic period, there’s joy in sharing the fruits of my labor with my friends, providing them with a little something sweet and, in the process, benefitting their mental health as well as my own. 

Who doesn’t love receiving a container of sweets for no reason? 

Sometimes I make a simple confection like brownies. Having made them more times than I can count, it only takes an hour tops.

Other times I’ll make a multi-layered cake with separate fillings and frostings or a recipe that involves yeast and takes hours. 

My Type-A brain finds comfort within the confines of a recipe. There are set inputs and instructions, a clear path forward to the desired outcome. From the outside looking in, it might look like a mess, but it’s a mess that I can contain.

I am most at peace when music is playing from my laptop, my hands are covered in cocoa powder or butter, and the oven is on preheat. 

It’s worth noting that baking is a realm within which one’s creativity can flourish.

Over the years baking has become a cornerstone of my mental health, a key way that I manage my anxieties and rid myself of stress.

I’ve also come to enjoy experimenting, customizing my go-to recipes until I’ve found the perfect combinations of methods and ingredients.  

As my mom taught me, for instance, you can never have too much vanilla, so doubling the amount of vanilla extract in any recipe is a given. 

Baking is my ideal hobby in that it allows my desire for order and the fun of expressing myself to co-exist, while also helping to alleviate my stress.

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