How cooking can relieve stress and make you happier
It’s been a long day at the office, and you barely have the energy to drag yourself home. The last thing you want is to be sweating in the kitchen preparing your dinner. Your stress level is high enough without adding a culinary failure to it. Right?
WRONG. Cooking is an ideal activity for stress relief. Even if you can’t tell a butcher knife from a bread knife, you will benefit from it. If the lack of knowledge is holding you back – don’t worry. Even the learning process can help you.
Dealing with stress in all the wrong ways
We often fall victims of the vicious cycle of stress. During the day, our stress level rises, and we usually choose the wrong activities to get some relief. Ordering take-out and binge-watching Netflix is great, as long as you don’t do it every night. If you do, soon enough you won’t get any relief from it. It’s a repetitive activity that will quickly become joyless and unhealthy.
Don’t be a couch potato
Contrary to that, cooking is the exact type of activity that could help you escape the stress cycle. Preparing dishes allows for creativity and offers almost infinite rewards. It can bring an immense feeling of satisfaction and joy in your life.
Furthermore, there’s no need to look at it as a chore. Sure, eating and preparing food is mandatory for your survival. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun.
Cooking as behavioral therapy
If you’re going to therapy, you’ve probably heard from your therapist that you should engage in a stress-relieving activity. For some, that’s gardening. For others, it’s writing, drawing, or yoga. Those are all excellent options. However, not many activities offer as many benefits as cooking does.
Cooking can be an excellent behavioral therapy. It can be as relaxing as music or art therapy, but with added advantages. Firstly, it engages you. It requires focus and precision. Therefore, you can’t think about your boss yelling at you, or how your relationship is failing if you’re watching the sauce, so it doesn’t burn. You have to be fully committed to cooking.
Easily achievable goals
Furthermore, cooking involves a lot of activities. It’s when you sit idly by, that your stress and anxiety levels rise. However, when you fill your time with chopping, tasting, and stirring – you don’t really have time for anything else.
What’s more, preparing a meal is essentially a set of easily-achievable goals. Each goal will bring at least a pang of satisfaction. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel much better.
Imagine a day where nothing went the way you wanted it. You had a ton of things to do but didn’t accomplish anything. Well, when you go home, you can plan a simple meal and execute it. That way, you’ll end your day on a positive note instead of brewing in your own misery.
Being fit as a way of staying mentally healthy
Just like other types of therapy, cooking improves your physical health, as well. We don’t have to tell you how intertwined physical and mental health are. Cooking can improve both.
When you cook for yourself, you determine what kind of ingredients you use, and how much fat, sugar, and calories you consume. Home-made meals are much healthier than take-out. Therefore, by cooking for yourself, you’ll be able to improve your overall health, starting with blood pressure. And that will do wonders for your stress and anxiety levels.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Cooking can entice your brain to produce serotonin and dopamine. Those are known as the “happy hormones.” A healthier diet will naturally lead to higher levels of serotonin.
Furthermore, learning a new skill, or perfecting it, leads to a higher production of dopamine. When you develop an ability, your brain will release dopamine to reward the newly-formed motor pathways. When you keep practicing that skill, thus building more motor pathways, your dopamine levels will rise. A release of dopamine will result in a “feel-good” response in your nervous system. With all those neurotransmitters flooding your brain and bloodstream, there’s no room for stress.
Aromatherapy and stress-reducing food
When you cook, you can get creative with spices, herbs, and other scent-producing ingredients. Those can do wonders for your mood.
Furthermore, we associate good memories with smells and scents of our past. Perhaps the smell of cookies reminds you of your grandma and the happy, carefree times you spent at her house. Maybe baked chicken reminds you of lovely family dinners. Wouldn’t it be great to recreate that feeling? When nostalgia strikes – turn to cooking.
Experiment with spices
Therefore, at the end of a long day, why not treat yourself and prepare a dish from your childhood? If that’s not something that interests you, you can still use spices that will soothe your nerves. For example, sage and lavender are great for stress-relief.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to have a bit of bounce in your step, and to feel energetic after a meal, try to incorporate citruses and rosemary in your dishes. Different spices have different properties. However, they will all smell divine and turn your house into a blissful aromatherapy space.
Cooking can also be an excellent way to let your creative juices flowing. Cooking can boost not only your creativity but happiness as well. Look at it like this – you can do no wrong in the kitchen. Well, sure, you can burn your meal. However, other than that, you’ll probably make something edible, right?
Once you get your cooking muscles working, you’ll be able to flex them a little. After a while, recipes will only be suggestions. Many people get discouraged when they see a recipe with a two-page ingredient list. However, don’t let that scare you. Complicated recipes are the perfect opportunity for creative improvisations. Use what you have in the fridge and experiment. Each outcome will bring you happiness. Why? Because it’s something you did by yourself. It’s gratifying and exhilarating to create something out of nothing.
A form of self-expression and communication
Additionally, cooking is a form of self-expression. Surely you’ve heard people say “That’s me on a plate.” When we put our energy and creativity into preparing a dish, we want it to turn out fantastic. And, when it does, we’re overjoyed by our accomplishment, because, ultimately, we put a piece of ourselves in each meal.
Food is also an expression of love, and a way to share thoughts and feelings and communicate with other people.
Furthermore, once you get the taste (excuse the pun) for creating in the kitchen, you’ll want to keep improving. After a while, you’ll have your own recipe for your favorite meals, and the thought that you perfected them by yourself will bring you nothing but joy.
Get lost in the creation process
What’s more, it won’t be long before you’re there. Cooking has a relatively easy learning curve. That means that it won’t take years before you get the hang of it. A burnt casserole or two and you’ll be a step closer to Gordon Ramsay. OK, maybe we’re getting carried away a bit. However, that’s the beauty of cooking. You can get carried away. You can get lost in the soothing activity of making an art piece out of a handful of ingredients.
Socializing in the kitchen
Here’s the thing. Even if your culinary mastery never reaches the level of world-renowned chefs, you’ll still get plenty of praise for it. Let’s be honest – it feels incredible when someone prepares a meal for you. Therefore, it’s only logical to commend the chef.
However, the accolades aren’t the only benefit from cooking for other people. Cooking can be so much more than a solitary activity. We often feel stressed due to lack of interaction with others. We miss the company of our friends and a sympathetic ear. Spending time with people relaxes the nervous system and reduces stress. Therefore, why not pair it with another stress-relieving activity?
Cooking with other people is also a tremendous bonding experience. Not to mention, you can later gossip and chat while enjoying your own culinary creation. It’s a win-win situation.
Get rid of excess energy and repressed anger
Even if you’re cooking alone, you can still benefit immensely. Creating your meals takes a lot of work. However, instead of looking at it as a grueling task, try to see it as a way to get rid of excess energy.
Cooking can be just like exercising. Except, it has much more satisfying results, at least for foodies. Sometimes, getting rid of stress requires asserting dominance. It may not seem like it now, but cooking can grant you that.
Chop your stress away
Now, it may be a little bizarre to look at it like that, but, you can always imagine the source of your stress as those veggies you’re cutting up. Therefore, why not chop your stress away? Nobody has to know that you’re imagining your ex’s car instead of the fish you’re filleting.
However, if this is too dark, or unhealthy for you, you can still take comfort in repetitive motions. Chopping and slicing can be very soothing. The knife-work will bring you a sense of calm. Just don’t get carried away and let your thoughts wander – that’s how you lose a finger.
Cooking as a way to gain control
On those days when nothing goes right, you can always turn to cooking. Sure, there’s plenty of room for a disaster in the kitchen. However, if you end your day by preparing a simple meal, you’ll feel a sense of control. Why? Cooking has the same cause-effect ratio and provides the same results every time.
You may not know how your new work project will turn out, or if your date will call you back. You can’t know, because there are too many determining factors. Not having a firm grip on all areas of our lives can lead to stress. Losing control, and losing the ability to do anything about it overwhelms our psyche and causes anxiety.
It provides stability and a sense of control
The situation is somewhat different with cooking. If you focus on it, the results will always be similar. The flour will always thicken when you add water too it. Yes, you can mess up making Beef Wellington, but some things are still set in stone. The water will always boil if you turn the heat on. And the noodles will always cook if you leave them in long enough. The rest depends on your actions.
That’s a great way to gain at least a bit of control in your life. Therefore, when things seem bleak, turn to the kitchen. Make a comforting meal and relish in the fact that at least something went right that day.
Make the cooking your daily ritual
Even though we love to spice things up, humans are creatures of habit. Having certain rituals brings us comfort. We are often inclined to take the same path to the office, because that way, we know what to expect. It reduces the possibility of something going wrong.
People take great comfort in their habits. Imagine taking a different path to work every day. You’d be stressed every day! Not to mention, late. So, you take the same one every time. It may be boring, but it’s something you know.
Break one habit – form another
Creating habits is an essential part of being human. Not all of our patterns are good, but, without them, we couldn’t function on a daily basis.
Now, the good news is that creating a habit or a ritual takes less work than breaking one. Therefore, if you want to brighten your day, and make your daily functioning more positive, work on creating positive habits.
Cooking can be one of the new rituals. When something is habitual, it brings us comfort and joy. What’s more, cooking is a great way to end your day. Instead of rummaging through the takeaway menus, why not break that habit and replace it with preparing home-made meals?
We all need to eat to survive. However, it’s clear we won’t eat just anything. That’s why cooking has become such an art form and a permanent part of daily living. However, cooking offers more benefits than just satisfying our basic need for nourishment.
Cooking is often compared to exercising. It’s good for your mental and physical health; it can make you happier, it’s relaxing, etc. However, cooking has one significant advantage over exercising. It offers an instant reward.
Not only will you get satisfaction from the cooking process, but you’ll also get to eat what you made. Thus, you’ll be instantly rewarded. Exercise takes great dedication and patience. Cooking has a built-in instant satisfaction system in the form of your culinary creation. You get to dig in immediately after you’re done.
Furthermore, the reward doesn’t stem just from stuffing our faces in food. There is a particular feeling of joy that comes from seeing others eat your food. Sharing a home-cooked meal with loved ones, or cooking for a good cause will also give you an instant reward.
By yourself or with others – the joy is always there
But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re eating with someone or alone. Either way, cooking will boost your energy and improve your mood. Therefore, try to resist falling to your couch and eating out of a plastic container. You’ll feel better when you cook a meal yourself and serve it on a proper plate. After all, why not treat yourself?
If you really want to see how easy and relaxing cooking can be I suggest watching some videos of Gordan Ramsay