The Homemade Therapy
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you must have seen at least one person on your social media sharing the most recent dish they produced in their kitchen, or you might have shared pictures of your cooking adventures. Be it the ultra-famous Dalgona coffee or the baked goodies coming out of our ovens these days, or even some brave attempts at making restaurant-like dishes at home, one thing is for certain- cooking has become the go-to activity for a lot of people who are stuck inside their living spaces due to the Coronavirus.
While some people may just see it as a way to while away time and others may think of it as an important skill to pick up, more and more people are trying their hands at cooking, and coming back to it day-after-day.
In this context then, let’s look at and appreciate what lends cooking its feel-good factor and why it can prove to be therapeutic for us.
The act of cooking can be an experience in meditation and mindfulness, which can enhance concentration and coordination. Immersing yourself in the sounds, sights, smells, taste and textures of the ingredients you are using can be nourishing for your psychological well-being. While in the kitchen, pick one ingredient at a time, and allow yourself to work deftly but deliberately with it. When we attempt to be purposeful and fully-engaged in the kitchen, our mind gets distracted from the current problems, and stops ruminating on our past mistakes or future obstacles. This helps the individual to slow down, focus, be fully present in the moment, and consequently, feel centred and less stressed.
Cooking has a self-care element because when we spend time and effort to produce something edible for ourselves, our mind takes it as a message that “I am important”. The actual act of making sustenance for yourself and taking the time to feed your body is significant. Moreover, cooking for oneself over a period of time also induces the habit of eating more healthfully which works wonders for the overall nutrition and physical well-being of our body.
Much like painting, music and dance, cooking is a form of art in itself. When we let ourselves play around in the kitchen, we give ourselves an outlet for expressing creativity. Experts say that going off the book, experimenting with different flavours, and birthing new recipes can end up making us feel accomplished. The experience of having stepped beyond what’s regular and comfortable can be an immediate confidence-booster and help in enhancing our self-esteem. A study by Conner, DeYoung and Silvia (2016) also found that people who frequently engage in small, creative projects report feeling happier and more relaxed in their day-to-day lives. The researchers followed 658 people for about two weeks, and found that doing small, everyday things like cooking and baking made the group feel more enthusiastic about their pursuits the next day.
Individuals who spend time cooking for people around them also accrue the therapeutic benefits of the culinary art. Along with being a tool to show others that you care (which is especially relevant in this pandemic-ridden world), cooking can serve as a doorway to better connection and help in bringing people together. Multiple researchers have reported the positive social impact of cooking for others (Utter, Denny, Lucassen, and Dyson, 2016; Wrangham, Jones, Laden, Pilbeam, & Conklin-Brittain, 1999). While you simply aim to nourish the eaters of your meal, seeing them enjoy and appreciate your creation can have major implications for building your self-worth and value. The impact of altruistic cooking also extends into the relationships in your past. Psychology tells us how memory is related to the sense of smell, and smell is a key component of any culinary experience. Thus, cooking can bring back a lot of memories- of grandma’s kitchen and that childhood friend’s dining table- and reconnecting with such happy memories can be extremely positive.
Cooking yields positive influences on mood and affect. By focusing on small tasks in the kitchen, such as measuring out ingredients, adjusting the heat and so on, we are able to stop our mind from wandering and fixating on negative thoughts. Moreover, cooking brings peace and serenity to someone who constantly reels under unexpected moods, and feelings of fear, doubt or shame. John Whaite, who won “The Great British Bake Off” in 2012, has publicly acknowledged how cooking and baking helped him deal with his manic depression. The time he spent in the kitchen allowed him to feel a sense of control and establish a feeling of stability- something which was otherwise missing from his life. Psychologists understand this as part of the therapeutic technique called ‘behavioural activation’, in which individuals engage in goal-oriented behaviour and attempt to find meaning in their activities instead of just mindlessly drifting through them.
Having read through the many positives that cooking offers us, there is no excuse why you shouldn’t try your hand at it. So it’s time to put your chef’s hat on and whip up a storm in the kitchen. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and laugh it off when you put a little less salt. Enjoy the process, learn, practice and become better each passing day. Because what can be better than indulging in some nourishing therapy in the comfort of your home- therapy which comes with the promise of a great, fulfilling meal afterwards!
By - Pratika Mehra Artwork by - Nuti Yadav