BAKING THERAPY

On coping: There’s no doubt that medical school is stressful – in fact, there’s no doubt that life is stressful. We all have our ways of coping with stress. Mine, for better or worse, is probably the most mundane imaginable: I love to bake. I will admit that my love of baking verges on obsession. Maybe even addiction. Between exploring new recipes and actually making the pastries, I will procrastibake for hours. Hours. When I get the itch to bake something, I will rearrange my entire schedule to do so. I have been known to run home from clinic at lunch hour to mix up banana bread batter. I have been known to show up to friends’ houses with half-baked confections and say “I’m going to need your oven, stat.” I have even been known to skip social engagements with nothing but a “sorry, I’ve got to make a pavlova!” The creativity of choosing what to make and finding the perfect recipe, the methodical process of putting the ingredients together, and the satisfaction of a beautiful outcome are nothing if not therapeutic. (Disclaimer: Not everything I bake turns out, sometimes it’s a mess that I either salvage by turning into something completely different or toss out and start over). And I think we can all agree that coming home to a house that smells like fresh baked cake/muffins/scones/cookies is incredibly comforting.

On the origin: This is not a new thing. As a child, one particular illness kept me out of school for months. My mother recalls that she couldn’t get me out of bed for anything – not to play with my siblings, not to see friends, not to even watch movies. But I would agree to get up to make cakes almost every day. She tells me that after a couple of weeks, she had given cakes to all her friends as well as filled our deep freeze, and had to beg me to stop.

On actual science: And get this – my baking therapy is literally evidence based. Talk about validating!! Turns out tons of people, with and without mental illness, use baking to help cope with day-to-day life.  Many psychologists encourage baking, and some mental health centres even incorporate it as a component of therapy. Unfortunately, while the literature is generally in agreement that daily expressions of creativity, including baking,  can increase positive affect (Conner et al, 2016), there hasn’t been any research directly into the positive effects of baking on mental health.

On art therapy: I honestly hated art class as a kid. Straight up, I was bad at it. I can’t paint to save my life, and good luck getting me to draw anything more than a stick man. I took piano lessons for years and the learning process was akin to pulling teeth. Fortunately, I realized as I got older that the concept of art isn’t limited to fine arts and music. ANY kind of art is therapeutic. What I’m trying to say is, baking is my art therapy equivalent. Maybe your passion is painting, or drawing, or singing, or dancing, or writing, or photography, or knitting, or doing logic puzzles, or any other of an endless list of creative pursuits. I wrote this blog post in part as a reminder that it’s possible to reap the psychological benefits of art without having a talent among the traditional arts.

On what I do with my baking: People always ask me this. As if I could actually eat everything I bake. I give it away, of course! I bring it to work, to school, to birthday parties (or any party really), and to friends and family. Sometimes I freeze it (my roommate and I bought a deep freezer last year, and it is always full). Usually there’s not much left to freeze.

Picture1You didn’t think I’d actually write a post on baking without including a recipe, did you?! This cranana bread is foolproof, moist, banana-y, and actually pretty healthy as far as baked goods go:

3 overripe bananas (seriously, wait till they’re pretty much black all over), mashed

2 eggs

1 ¾ cups flour (whole wheat and all purpose both worked fine)

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup milk

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

+/- 1.5 cups cranberries

Combine oil, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, bananas. Add baking soda/flour. Combine well. Fold in cranberries. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Sprinkle brown sugar over top, cook for 15 more mins or until top/sides golden brown and toothpick comes out (mostly) clean.

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