The smell of your favourite food sizzling on the pan, music playing in the background and your brain basking in the freedom of creativity. Am I a talented cook? Not necessarily. It’s not about achieving perfection, it’s about having some time to myself, with no distractions where I can focus on cooking and nothing else.
Sometimes when you’re tangled up in an anxious mess, you need a diversion. Instead of carrying on down the hellish path that leads on to a panic attack – you want to take an alternative route before you reach the end of the road. I find that if I take action when I feel the first signs of anxiety bubbling away, I can find ways to help it dissolve.
Often, simply just taking yourself out of whatever environment you’re in can have an impact. Say you’re sat on your sofa procrastinating and letting a scary thought go round and round your brain. Get up, go sit outside, go on a walk, or maybe just go into a different room. And if you’re feeling up to it, give yourself a simple task.
How cooking helps my anxiety
I think going and cooking in the kitchen is one of the most helpful anxiety-busting activities for me. One of the reasons it’s so distracting is because you can lose yourself in your senses. The heat of the oven, the smell of food frying or the feel of different textures in your hands. It’s a multisensory experience. Cooking offers lots of ways to distract your brain from harmful thoughts. Did you know that some cooking courses have even been launched to treat anxiety and depression? I’m not surprised, because personally for me, it works a treat.
According to Psychology Today…
The very process of cooking can nourish your psychological well-being.
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If I’m feeling down or worried, I like to find a really exciting recipe to make, and set myself the task of 1) going to the shop to get the ingredients and 2) rustling up a culinary treat. Another thing I enjoy doing is raiding my cupboards, and challenging my cooking skills by trying to throw an ad hoc meal together. To create something out of nothing. Cooking can be extremely creative and you start to detach yourself from your anxiety as soon as you begin prepping the ingredients.
Music and meal prep
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Get a radio for your kitchen. Go old-school and get one of those retro radios, or if you’re a modern maven, use a smart speaker to play your favourite tunes. I tend to either choose a relaxing station if I need soothing, or an upbeat station if I want to sing my heart out whilst chopping vegetables. The music adds an extra therapeutic element and makes cooking more entertaining. It also gets rid of that awful silence which can feed your anxiety and allow those overbearing thoughts to creep back into your mind.
Cooking helps you to be in the moment
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Mindfulness is basically forcing your brain to stay in the moment and not wander elsewhere. In simple terms, to achieve it, you focus on one thing and if your thoughts get diverted, simply bring them back to the task at hand.
Cooking is a fantastic tool for honing your mindfulness skills. If you find yourself thinking about how you’re going to pay your bills or whether you got the cat’s flea medication – stop. Bring your thoughts back to the kitchen. Think about how you are making your food, watch the colourful stirfry whirl around the pan, or think about how the ingredients feel in your hands.
A sense of achievement
Cooking also offers a sense of achievement. Half an hour ago you may have been wallowing in misery, fighting the urge to have a panic attack. Fast forward 30 minutes and you just might have created a tasty brunch snack or light meal. With anxiety, any progress can feel like a big step. Even taking the decision and forcing yourself to go cook something can be a big step.
When the meal is cooked, you can give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. And if you’re cooking for a friend, partner or family member they will appreciate the effort and just might compliment you on your culinary skills. You might not have achieved big things that day, but you will have achieved something – and that can be comforting.
Joy in the freedom of cooking
I think one of the main reasons why I find cooking so helpful when I’m feeling anxious is because of the freedom it offers. A dash of salt her, and sprinkling of chilli there. I feel like I’m throwing ingredients of my choice into an experimental masterpiece. It’s so easy to lose yourself in what you’re doing, and bring your mind back to the present. I just think to myself, right, all I have to worry about right now is cooking. So I might as well get on with it.
Helping your mind via your body
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And let’s not forget the physical benefits of eating a freshly cooked meal. You’re avoiding eating processed crap that’s packed full of sugar, which doesn’t help anxiety. I don’t know about you, but I usually feel better after eating a nutritious meal. It gives you more energy and the strength to go on fighting. They say your body is a temple, you are what you eat etc etc, and it’s so true. As well as healing your mind, by making a home-cooked meal, you’re healing your body too. Especially if you choose to make something really healthy or made from foods that can help anxiety.