If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, learning to cook or bake could be a way to help ease your symptoms according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Cooking and baking classes are a form of occupational therapy known as behavioral activation that’s often used as a complement to antidepressant medication and conventional forms of talk therapy. Psychologists say it helps patients struggling with depression to focus on a specific, goal-oriented, confidence-building activity.
Cooking and Baking Boost Confidence
A 2004 study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found that learning to bake helped people in mental health treatment build confidence while learning new skills. Baking lessons also inspired the patients to attend other therapy sessions. The patients reported that the baking lessons helped them find the daily structure they craved, and that it made them feel like an important member of a social group.
They also enjoyed sharing the products of their efforts with others, and felt validated by others’ enjoyment of their baked goods. The study participants reported an improvement in feelings of confidence and personal interconnections after just two baking classes.
Cooking Classes Teach Depressed Patients Valuable Skills
Counselors who promote the use of cooking and baking classes as occupational therapy say these lessons help people in difficult circumstances learn important life skills. Many people with mental illnesses have trouble keeping their occupational and day-to-day life skills sharp during a bout of mental illness symptoms, especially when those symptoms necessitate time in a treatment facility. While cooking and baking classes can’t replace psychotherapy or antidepressant medications like Abilify, they can help patients learn or hone skills like working toward a goal and avoiding procrastination. Group cooking and baking classes also help patients use and develop their social skills.
Not to mention, learning to cook and bake teaches patients a lot about healthy eating. For young patients especially, learning to cook healthy meals and eat healthfully is an important part of depression and anxiety treatment. Many young people with mental illness come from chaotic backgrounds and may not have learned to feed themselves at home.
Soothe Stress and Anxiety by Cooking or Baking
Many patients in mental health treatment facilities enjoy cooking and baking classes because engaging with a recipe gives them a mental respite from troubling memories and thoughts. Talk therapy can be particularly stressful and overwhelming for people struggling with severe mental illness symptoms — especially those in residential programs where patients may be expected to engage in talk therapy, individually or in a group setting, for hours a day. Cooking and baking classes are, by contrast, a fun and relaxing activity that gets patients out of their heads and allows them to focus their attention on something other than ruminating on negative thoughts. Instead of focusing on the events and circumstances that led them into therapy, cooking classes allow mental illness patients to look ahead, and focus on getting better.
You don’t have to be in a mental health treatment facility to reap the benefits of cooking for depression. New England school teacher Sam Smith told the Wall Street Journal that, for her, baking was a powerful coping tool when she developed postpartum depression. Marian Keyes, an Irish novelist, published a 2012 memoir, “Saved by Cake,” that chronicles her baking-assisted recovery from depression. Other bakers have also reported using baking as a tool to help them work through periods of depression.
Baking or cooking can be relaxing and can boost your confidence. Sharing the food with others, or inviting loved ones to cook with you, can increase your social contact and break down the sense of isolation that many people with depression feel. But if you want to use cooking or baking to help ease your depression symptoms, exercise caution. Counselors emphasize that it’s important to make healthy ingredients and portion control a priority. People with depression are prone to weight gain, and it’s also a side effect of many antidepressant medications.
If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety and you think learning to cook might help, find a cookbook or class that emphasizes healthy ingredients and low-calorie recipes. If you eat what you cook, control your portion sizes. In the long run, you’ll be less likely to gain weight if you learn how to cook for yourself, because nutritionists say that people who cook their own meals eat less fast food and fewer calories overall. If baking is more your style, find ways to share your treats. You’ll benefit from the gratification of making others happy with your tasty homemade gifts, and you’ll avoid overeating and packing on extra pounds.
Those who learn how to cook gain more than a valuable life skill — they also acquire a tool that can help them battle feelings of depression and anxiety. Learning to bake can be a great way to boost your confidence, relax, tighten your bonds with others, and stay focused on the present instead of rehashing the past. So don’t wait — put on that apron and get cooking!