The Surprising Health Benefits of Stress-Baking

All that stress-baking you've been doing during these uncertain times? Turns out it's the next best thing to actual therapy.

It’s no surprise that banana bread has become the star of 2020’s stress baking cycle. It’s a warm hug wrapped in cinnamon, foolproof to make and you don’t even need to hunt down yeast. But have you considered why we’re all developing a baking obsession? It has to do with your brain waves—and the blissful escape that may or may not involve Bundt pans.

Baking helps you focus

You’d think a pandemic and quarantine would be a time for slowing down and concentrating on what really matters, like binge-watching Netflix Canada. Alas, most of us are multi-tasking our behinds off, relocating our offices to our living rooms while becoming overnight homeschool teachers. That’s why channelling your focus on one thing, otherwise known as mindfulness, can be a necessary break for both your brain and body.

Harvard Medical School says mindfulness “teaches people to live each moment as it unfolds. The idea is to focus attention on what is happening in the present and accept it without judgment.” Allow yourself the time to bake without a deadline. Slowly measure each ingredient and notice its texture, colour and smell. You should make baking about the journey, not the destination.

Certain scents decrease stress levels

A study from the National Library of Medicine shows that the scents of lavender and rosemary can decrease the cortisol levels in your body. Why is that important? Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone—too much of it has been shown to increase anxiety and depression.

You can bake with a soundtrack

Just as most of us work out to music (which can improve your performance), syncing our lunges with the beat of a song, music can also provide the rhythm we need to mash bananas, knead dough or whisk eggs. If your thoughts feel like they’re jumping all over the place, music may be the thing you need.

Research out of Stanford University found that brain waves resonate in time with different rhythms of music—slower beats can put you into a more meditative state while faster beats will amp up (no pun intended) your concentration level. The University of Nevada says the music that may reduce stress the best is Indigenous, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums and flutes.

Baking is like art therapy

That’s right—even if you could be considered for the TV show Nailed It!, where home bakers try and [spoiler alert] fail to recreate Pinterest-worthy deserts, just participating in a crafty activity can reduce your stress level, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health. Participants in the study said they found art-making to be “relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, freeing from constraints… and about flow/losing themselves in the work.”

Generosity makes you happier

So you’re on your fifth loaf of banana bread and running out of counter space. You could freeze it, sure, or you could drop it off a neighbour’s house or gift it to that selfless courier who delivers your Uniqlo order.

Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland found a link between being generous and an increase in brain activity that accounts for positive feelings, what many would call a “warm glow.”

Next, learn how gardening can boost your health.