If you’ve been finding yourself pulling out your bread pans and bags of flour and sugar more often the past few weeks, you’re not alone. With so many people around the world staying home and practicing social distancing, they’re turning to baking as a hobby.
In the second half of March, Twitter reported there were 500,000 Tweets a day about cooking and baking—double the amount from the first half of the month.
"I've always believed that baking is a productive therapy,” says Monique Volz, founder of the food blog Ambitious Kitchen. “Often you’re baking to delight others or to show your gratitude, and even when we're physically separated from others, it's still a way to express your emotions.”
While sharing your baked goods with loved ones outside your home isn’t really an option right now, the abundance of people sharing recipes and photos of what they’re making is helping to connect us in a different way. Volz says Ambitious Kitchen has seen a huge spike in baking-related posts that usually don’t garner a lot of hits this time of year.
For example, in March, her cinnamon rolls, banana bread, muffins and cookies were among the most popular recipes. “We're also seeing tons of social media posts of people baking and sharing [our recipes] with loved ones, whether they're at home together or just sharing from afar," she adds.
Food blogger and photographer Ciarra Siller of Peanut Butter Plus Chocolate says her blog stats have quadrupled in all aspects, and her social followings have seen a greater reach than usual, too. (When you see her Instagram posts about grasshopper Irish cream brownies, chocolate chunk cookies and almond cake, you can’t help but reach for your mixer.)
“I think in these unfamiliar times, food or baking is the familiar thing—and that's why it brings so much comfort,” says Siller.
Why Baking as a Hobby is Good for Mental Health
Psychologists agree that baking absolutely has a positive impact on our health and well-being. For one, we all have many memories attached to the smell of baked goods, and those smells can bring us back to a time when we were with others and feeling taken care of—something we’re all longing for right now, says Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D., psychologist and owner of Baltimore Therapy Group. And of course, baked goods are loaded with carbohydrates, which increase the levels of serotonin in our bodies and make us feel happy.
Baking also gives us something predictable and certain to look forward to in these uncertain times. “We don't know when the pandemic will be over or when we'll be able to hug our loved ones again, but we do know that in 8-12 minutes we'll have a fresh batch of cookies,” says Lyons.
There’s also the attention that following a recipe demands that can help take our minds off the news. When you shift your focus to reading and interpreting the ingredients and instructions, it forces your mind to slow down—which has myriad positive physical effects, too.
“This change in attention usually is connected slower breathing, lower blood pressure and a sense of calm,” explains Scott Hoye, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who runs Chicago Psychology Services. “Creative activities can help a person to transition to a state flow state [where] enjoyment is increased.”
Finally, you may find that baking helps stimulate your creative juices. All forms of cooking are creative, says Nancy B. Irwin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist (and avid baker), and any creative expression is essentially a human connection with others, with past memories, and an attempt to make new memories.
If you’re in need of an escape from feeling like you have little control over the future, see what you can pull from your pantry to bake up a sweet treat. With an absence of structure and normalcy right now, baking can give you something to be hopeful about.
“It sounds almost silly, but looking forward to the ding from your oven signifying your treat is ready gives us the pleasure of completing something, and seeing it turned out well can give a sense of control,” says Irwin.
It may also bring upon you much praise—as any family members you’re quarantined with will surely be grateful for your efforts.