Some Therapists Are Now Recommending Cooking As a Way to Treat Anxiety and Depression

We all go through periods of being stressed out or feeling down. Whether you suffer chronic anxiety and depression, or just tend to feel uneasy during hectic parts of your day, there are lots of things you can do to help.

You probably know that activities such as meditating, coloring, going for a run, or even seeing a therapist can help you mind your emotions, but there’s a new hobby in town that’s gaining attention for being unexpectedly therapeutic: Spending time in the kitchen.

A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology,found that those who bake or cook frequently actually report feeling more relaxed and happier during their daily lives. The good news is, you don’t have to be a regular Bobby Flay; even those who found time to do just a small cooking project in the kitchen on a daily basis felt more excited to take on their day. 

Additionally, another study found that people who took it one step further and enrolled in baking classes had more confidence and were able to concentrate better than those who didn’t (lack of confidence and ability to concentrate are both signs of anxiety or depression).

So what gives, why’s cooking so good for us mentally? Experts say there are lots of reasons.

1. It helps us feel accomplished. Coking and baking fall under a type of therapy psychologists refer to “behavioral activation,”–something that helps people feel like they’re meeting goals and not procrastinating–an act that can CAUSE anxiety and depression. We all need to eat, so when we take something front point A (ingredients) to point B (a finished meal), it can feel like a true accomplishment and decrease these negative feelings.

2. It gets your mind off your problems. Cooking and baking s something that takes a lot of focus and precision. You have to really pay attention to all the things you’re measuring, when the water starts boiling, how long until the dough rises. And when you’re focusing so much on something besides your own problems, you might find that you feel better overall.

3. It helps you feel in control. In a similar sense, cooking can help you feel like you’re in control of something, which many people who suffer anxiety and depression struggle with.

Take it from someone who learned firsthand: John Whaite, a baker who won The Great British Bake Off in 2012, who was diagnosed with depression: “When I’m in the kitchen, measuring the amount of sugar, flour or butter I need for a recipe or cracking the exact number of eggs—I am in control,” he said. “That’s really important as a key element of my condition is a feeling of no control.”

If you ever find that cooking for yourself isn’t doing it, try hosting a dinner party and cooking for others–or if that’s too intimidating, try making one meal for a friend or family member.

“Giving to others fills us in so many ways,” says culinary arts therapist Michal AviSha. “And even more so when it’s cooking because feeding fulfills a survival need, and so our feeling of fulfillment comes not only from the good of the act of giving, but also the fact that we have ‘helped’ in some very primal way.”

How do you make yourself feel better from feelings of anxiety or depression? Have you ever tried cooking or baking?