Hands baking bread with flour
Published: 7 April 2020.

#quarantinebaking is the new national pastime, but it’s not just a need for sugar or time at home that’s prompted this resurgence. If you find yourself trawling through your larder for long-lost baking ingredients, pouring over cake recipes, or endlessly watching sourdough starter Instagram stories, you’re not alone. And the good news is that practicing mindful baking can really help to improve how you are feeling. 

According to a study carried out in 2018, one in three Brits admit they turn to baking to help them de-stress after a hard day, so it’s no wonder that lockdown is leading to a rise in cake and bread-making.

Baking offers a great antidote to feelings of anxiety, says therapist Jennifer Cawley. The precision involved – measuring, cracking, kneading, rolling, mixing, stirring – calms us and forces us to be in the moment rather than worrying about what’s happening outside and what’s going to happen in the future.

But what’s actually going on in our brains while we bake and why is that helping us through the pandemic? Here, we dig deeper into the science and get you ready for our first Mindful Baking tutorial with bread and patisserie expert Matt Adlard – tune in on Vitality Instagram on Sunday 10 May to take part and learn how to bake a beautiful rosemary and red onion focaccia.

Medi-bake-tion

Studies suggest that activities like baking help to regulate brain activity in the same way as mindful meditation by engaging the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain involved in self-regulation and strategic thinking.

“Mindfulness states also reduce the activity of the amygdala,” says Jennis, “the part of the brain associated with facilitating fear and anxiety and give you a sense of control that we all need right now.”

Showstopper bakes

One of the other big positives of baking right now is that it gives you a real sense of accomplishment. “All you need is the right equipment and ingredients – then if you follow the recipe you get a tasty, nourishing result that allows you to think: ‘I’m good at this; I can produce something decent,” says Jenni. “There is pleasure in transforming a collection of raw ingredients into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and there is a distinct end to the project, which gives a sense of resolution – something that we all need in the present lockdown situation.”

Say it with love

We’ve used food to comfort and express love for hundreds of years, says Jenni, so it makes sense that we all have a psychological need to express that right now.  “Even in a time when we can’t physically connect, there is something communal about baking; an implied gesture of love and connection. We are holding other people in mind while we pour time and love into our creation.”

More than cake

Finally, the act of baking stops you catastrophising. Some of us are more prone to anxious thoughts than others, says Jenni, and baking offers a way to control our ruminations. “It stops you looking forward and focusing on an uncertain future, it brings relief from worst-case scenario thinking and provides a moment of relief for your brain.”

If you want to push your baking skills and benefit from the brilliant brain benefits of focusing on focaccia, get ready for our first Mindful Baking tutorial with bread and patisserie expert Matt Adlard – tune in on Vitality channels on Sunday 10 May to take part and learn how to bake a beautiful rosemary and red onion focaccia.

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