How mindful baking can improve your mood and reduce stress

There's something about the smell of baking bread that creates a feeling of comfort and cosiness – and the very act of making something with your hands can improve your mental health.

Meringue pie with blood orange

Baking bread can form part of a mindful practice called ‘grounding’, where you use an activity to help you connect with the current moment. Studies have shown that baking has many therapeutic qualities and can help to relieve stress.

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How to bake mindfully

It’s surprisingly easy to practise mindfulness in the kitchen. One of the joys of baking is that it’s very tactile. Julia Ponsonby, author of The Art of Mindful Baking, says: “Our hands are our most immediate tools and they work in perfect harmony with our brains and our emotions to manifest the diverse possibilities that grow in our imaginations.”

The simple act of kneading dough can be an almost meditative experience. As you work, focus on the sensation of shaping the dough, feeling the springiness as gluten strands form giving the loaf its texture. Enjoy the smell of the yeast and the flour.

“The therapeutic benefits of bread work on many levels,” says Julia. “To knead dough we must use a wide range of movements, possess good muscle strength and have sound balance. We need to be able to judge proportions, as we divide and measure the dough, and focus on getting the time right, which helps us concentrate.”

We can practise gratitude when we’re baking too. Thinking of where your flour came from and the journey it has taken to reach your kitchen can give you a greater respect for your finished product. And it can only add to your enjoyment.

Of course, things don’t always go to plan when we’re baking and this is when we have to learn to accept our mistakes without judgement. It can be upsetting when a cake doesn’t turn out as planned, but remind yourself that these things happen and try to acknowledge your feelings without being overwhelmed by them.

Of course, once you’ve baked your bread mindfully, you can also try mindful eating.

Mindful baking

Can baking make you happier?

A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when young adults took part in a creative activity such as baking, they felt more happier and more creative over the following days.

Baking for mental health has long been recognised for its therapeutic qualities. Former Great British Bake Off contestant John Whaite says that baking helped him through his depression and author Marian Keyes also wrote a cookbook after going through a period of poor mental health.

If nothing else, the fragrance of fresh bread is sure to put you in a better mood and the compounds found in baking bread can create smells similar to butter and caramelised sugar (and, weirdly, potato). Find out what makes bread smell so amazing.

Bundt cake

Baking to relieve stress

Kimberley Wilson, a psychologist and former Great British Bake Off contestant, didn’t find baking relaxing while she was on the show, but it’s something she definitely finds relaxing in everyday life.

“For me, it’s more of a creative outlet and I’m a big fan of people having creative outlets,” she says. “I think people can get really bogged down with being able to produce things – everything about me is about my job and my career and what I can produce and they neglect their creative outlets.

“Humans are multi-dimensional and it’s just not possible to express every aspect of who you are through your job, even if you have a creative job. If you neglect those other aspects it can also lead to a lack of fulfilment and a lack of satisfaction, so I’m a big fan of creative outlets and baking is one of those for me. Other people find it meditative and other people find it very relaxing and I certainly do.”

For Kimberley, spending time baking allows her to calm down – particularly when she’s spent too much time online: “If I spend too much time on social media with people being negative and aggressive I’ll do some nice gentle baking. I call it comfort baking. I’ll spend some time in my kitchen, just mixing up some dough, and everything will be okay.”

Soda bread

Baking can build up your self esteem

At one point, Kimberley considered setting up a project to use baking in prisons or with children because it’s a really good multi-dimensional skill. “And it’s a good practice in waiting and patience and then having a product at the end – getting a sense of satisfaction because you’ve created something,” she adds.

“It has a quick pay off – yes, you have to wait for things to bake – but you can go in an hour from ingredients to a finished product. Sometimes if you’re feeling a bit defeated, quick wins like that, which show you that you can produce something good, can be a small but important stepping stone in making you feel more confident to tackle a bigger thing.”

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Photos by Alex LoupOtto Norinfreestocks.org and Kate Remmer on Unsplash