If you have anxiety, you know how your brain can race a mile a minute with panicked thoughts. You get so swept up in your worries of all that can go wrong that you barely notice the present moment. As a result, you make rash decisions and drive your loved ones around you a little crazy.
When your disorder rears its ugly head, it pays to have a hobby to help you self-soothe. For me, cooking became my ritual for numerous reasons. Here’s what I get from letting my inner Bobby Flay run wild in the kitchen, and why I’ll never hang up my apron.
It Keeps My Hands Busy
“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy” — if you listen to Eminem, you may know some of the physical symptoms of anxiety already. My disorder impacts my body immediately. It makes me shake, and it tenses my muscles up something awful. Many people with chronic pain have underlying stress conditions.
Cooking provides a repetitive set of motions for my body to perform. According to Dr. Jill Owen, with the British Psychological Society, these rituals are very effective in reducing stress and increasing focus. You have probably experienced the cognitive effects of movement yourself. Have you ever gotten stuck on a tricky problem only to have the answer pop into your head as clear as day — after you’ve taken a walk or folded the laundry?
When you have an anxiety disorder, it helps to get moving to quiet your mind. The calming actions of letting your hands perform a motion they’ve done millions of times restores a sense of control. Eventually, the negative thought spiral quiets as you lose yourself in kneading dough or chopping broccoli.
It Engages My Creativity
Mental health experts advise easing anxiety and depression through finding your flow — that mental state you experience when you lose yourself in the moment completely. The feeling is akin to that induced in mindfulness meditation, except you’re not seeking to clear away mental clutter, but rather, shift your focus to doing something that you love. Finding this frame of mind requires engaging your creativity and imagination.
I adore whipping up new dishes, such as a pan-roasted halibut with mushrooms and cauliflower risotto. I think about the nutritional content and the fuel my family needs to thrive. I challenge myself to come up with healthy dishes that even my picky 5-year-old will enjoy.
It Stops the Negative Thought Spiral
If you also have anxiety, then you’re familiar with catastrophic thinking. It goes like this. You make a minor mistake on a work report, and your boss points it out. On the outside, you thank them for their feedback and resolve to do better.
On the inside, you think, “Now, they question my performance. They’re going to be watching me like a hawk, waiting for me to slip up again. Plus, I don’t think my boss ever genuinely liked me. They want to get rid of me. Here comes the unemployment line. I’m going to lose my home. The sky is falling!”
No matter how valid such thoughts feel at the time, the fact remains that they’re only thoughts. They’re not an accurate reflection of your present reality. However, if you let your mind ruminate, you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy by engaging in irrational behaviors — with devastating results.
Cooking helps me to halt the negative thought spiral in its tracks. It isn’t an instant fix — I often have to force myself through the motions at first. However, eventually, my mind quiets, and I lose myself in a dream of Rachel Ray bliss.
It Gives Me a Reason to Socialize
Along with generalized anxiety disorder, I also have a mild phobia of social situations. However, cooking helps me to break out of my shell. After all, if I ate everything I whipped up all by myself, I wouldn’t be the size of a mere house, but the entire Palace of Versailles.
Dinner parties and backyard barbecues are my jam. I adore introducing my tribe to delights like grilled jackfruit dishes that make them forget they’re not eating meat. Hey, I might not practice veganism, but I try to do my part to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet.
It Provides (Near) Instant Gratification
Finally, much of my anxiety stems from fears of an uncertain future, and yours might, too. However, when I lose myself in a new recipe, guess what? I am the only one who controls the finished product.
I know enough about the culinary arts at this point to understand how to balance the five flavors of food, and I also know my loved ones’ tastes. I can adjust recipes I find online to make them uniquely mine. If a meal flops, guess what? It’s hardly the end of the world — I simply try harder the next time dinnertime arrives.
Find Your Flow and Fight Anxiety Through Cooking
If you want a relaxing hobby to help you find your flow and combat anxiety, I can’t recommend cooking enough. What are you waiting for? Grab your apron and get in the kitchen!
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, freelance writer, and blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys yoga day, red wine, and drinking all of the tea she can find. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.
Image courtesy of Alyson McPhee.