You’re not the only one who finds #quarantinebaking so soothing. Turns out, it has a lot to do with the neuroscience of mindful meditation.
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A Wired.com article written by Sara Harrison
It turns out that homekeeping and self-care activities like meditating, cooking, cleaning, and even just stocking the pantry can help stop cycles of anxiety and depression by changing how the human brain self-regulates. Here’s why stress-baking or cleaning feels so good, neurologically speaking.
When humans perceive a threat or stressor, our amygdala—a small region of the brain associated with facilitating fear, anxiety, and emotion—jumps into gear and becomes more active. This activation can have physical consequences, too. Sometimes people who are anxious report feeling short of breath or have an increased heart rate. That’s because the amygdala is also involved in regulating our blood pressure, breathing, and heart. So when the amygdala gets going, those systems do too.
Activities like taking a bike ride or stress-baking a pan of cookies give people a sense of accomplishment and control. While they’re exercising or cooking, they can focus on the smaller tasks at hand and take a break from stressors like social media or the news. Gollan says these activities don’t have to be big projects. Just opening the window and enjoying the breeze, or taking a break with a good cup of coffee, count too.
Studies suggest that behavioral activation can help reregulate brain activity much the way mindful meditation does, by engaging the prefrontal cortex.
Many people already find repetitive chores like washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, or chopping vegetables to be a kind of meditative practice, their own way of quieting the mind. Culinary therapies for grief and anxiety have started appearing across the country, and some evidence is emerging that it does work, though the neuroscience is still not well examined. Julie Ohana runs a practice called Culinary Art Therapy, where she uses cooking to help clients improve communication, manage stress, and improve self-esteem. She wasn’t at all surprised to recently find that her local grocery store in Michigan was completely out of flour and yeast. “The idea of cooking, and baking in particular, really requires a certain level of mindfulness, of putting aside everything else that’s going on around you and being present in the moment,” Ohana says.
Right now, being forced to focus on kneading, mixing, and measuring is particularly important. And there’s a certain practicality to this kind of mindful task. “We all need to eat,” Ohana says. “Why not really put your all into that dish you’re cooking and really get everything out of it that you can?”