A character in Fredrik Backman’s The Winners (the last book in Backman’s Bear Town trilogy) bakes a lot of bread. Indeed, he makes so much bread that I suspected a loaf of bread would play a pivotal role in the story.
Whilst I won’t tell you if that happens, I will tell you that it turns out the character bakes bread because he needs to create something. After all, he’s unfulfilled and unhappy.
When Backman dropped that introspective bombshell, I looked up from my device and stared into the void. Why? Because when I’m feeling exceptionally unfulfilled and unhappy, I bake.
I’d never realized that baking was a form of therapy. Instead, I characterized it as a hobby. Looking back, though, I recall specific times when I felt especially stressed or depressed. During those times, I instinctively went to the kitchen and made good use of my fancy mixer.
Once Backman rocked my world, I needed to know more, so I entered the search terms “baking mental health” into the Internets. As it turns out, baking can improve your mood. The step-by-step process requires concentration, which makes you more mindful. That, in turn, reduces your stress levels and makes you calmer. The entire process also gives you a sense of control.
Of course, all this hinges on baking for pleasure and having time to do so. If I am rushed or feel that I have to bake, it worsens my mood. So, if you’re reading this and recalling the time you learned at the last minute that you had to bake 120 cupcakes for that bake sale, I’m developing secondary stress on your behalf.
The same can be said for the daily trudge of cooking for sustenance. But if you cook for pleasure, then you can derive the same mental health benefits others get from baking.
According to my research, part of these mental health benefits come from sharing the baked goods. I have also found this to be true. Although I sometimes bake just for myself, I feel best when I’m baking for others.
For example, a few weeks ago, I had leftover carrots that I didn’t cook. (Yes, on occasion I eat my veggies.) I asked my niece if she wanted a carrot cake. Except for the batter, I don’t eat carrot cake. So it was a win-win for me. I got to bake and eat batter. Of course, as I shredded the carrots, I whined to myself, “Self, why did you offer to do this? You nicked a knuckle.” But those nicked knuckles were worthwhile because I enjoyed the process of baking the cake even if transporting it did cause me stress. (That’s another story for another day.)
Sometimes, I even listen to music and dance whilst baking. That’s what I did last week whilst making a red velvet cake. For the record I also do not eat RVC, as it’s known in my circle. But I do eat the batter.
Hmm. Maybe consuming batter also improves my mental health.
This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.