My dad is a baker. Always has been. At the end of a long day at work or in a lazy Sunday lull, one of his favorite pastimes is to break out the flour and sugar to concoct an apple pie, or maybe a date nut bread. On Saturdays, he might rise earlier than his sleeping family to make scones or muffins. He fed his inventions to his children, for sure, but we were far from the exclusive benefactors of his labors. He often works for hours to make breads or scones to distribute at his office, or for a family friend. I used to wonder at his altruism—and don't get me wrong, my dad is a kind-hearted person—until I realized that for him, baking is more than a means to an end. It's a hobby all in itself.
It turns out that there are psychological benefits to baking that reach far beyond the end result. At the Huffington Post, Julie R. Thomson spoke to psychologists about why baking can not just be good for your sweet tooth, but for your mental health. Not only is baking a creative outlet, it's also a profound source of stress relief. In fact, the act of assembling a cake or a pan of brownies can by a kind of meditation.
"Baking actually requires a lot of full attention," explained Donna Pincus, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University. "You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction."
Besides, because food has emotional significance, the act of making food to give to someone can promote a sense of wellbeing. It's nourishment in the literal sense, but it also provides real benefits to the baker. So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed, it might be worth breaking out your apron and picking up a cookbook.