The world is going up in flames around us. So how do I deal with it? Drink? No. Go out during COVID-19? No. What I do to curb my anxiety and truly enjoy my free time is something that incites frustration and defeat in people. It involves whisks, tablespoons, measuring cups, baking pans and lots of flour and sugar. If you haven’t guessed by now, I use baking to help me curb my ever-present anxiety.
The thing about baking is that there are so many tasty recipes that are simply a Google search away, so many of which appeal to my extreme sweet tooth. I started baking as a child, with boxed cake and brownie mixes and those holiday Pillsbury cookies, which still hold up today. When I was a child, I dreamed of being a cake decorator. In the early ages of YouTube, I would spend my time watching cake decorating videos and TV shows such as Cake Boss. I lived for the art of cake decorating, and even then, I think it helped with my anxiety. I found comfort in the idea that you had the freedom to take risks and be creative with the decorations, but you would always know your cake would taste good because you followed the recipe.
When I’m in the kitchen, there isn’t guesswork. I can rely on the proven ratios of ingredients and set cook times.
My use of baking as an anti-anxiety tool goes back to high school. If I were ever feeling stressed about a paper I had to write, I would often get my mind off it by baking and decorating a cake. Throughout the pandemic, I have been filled with worry about both contracting COVID-19 and spreading it. However, the free time that the pandemic has provided me has allowed me to explore new recipes and get my mind off the looming anxiety that comes with living through a pandemic, social unrest and arguably one of the most important elections in American history. If you asked me right now whether I would be willing to drop everything and move to the South of France to become a pastry chef or cake decorator, my answer is “where do I sign?”
Baking is methodological. There’s a set recipe, which if you follow to a T, can create beautiful cakes, brownies or any dessert that’s out there. I find the whole process almost meditative because there is a set goal and you take steps to accomplish it. It makes it easier to not think about schoolwork or who might have contracted COVID-19. All I am thinking about is what I am doing at the moment.
When I’m in the kitchen, there isn’t guesswork. I can rely on the proven ratios of ingredients and set cook times. And while some may think that these strict rules don’t allow for freedom, they’re wrong. Baking allows for creativity, but in a different way. I have the ability to express my unique tastes through which flavor components I chose to focus on that day, with that particular recipe.
One treat I’ve always had nostalgia for is s’mores and I’ve used that nostalgia to bake an incredible s’mores bar in adulthood that was a huge hit among my family. When I tackle making unique birthday cakes for my friends and family, I not only do it for their joy, but also for the peace it brings me. After the process is done, my creativity comes into play. I love to make simple yet elegant cakes that appeal to the person who I am making it for. I’ve made and decorated an Oreo cake for my brother, tiramisu for my mom and a strawberry shortcake for my boyfriend. Nothing compares to the smile it brings to their face when they see I’ve made them something with their favorite flavors.
The joy and bliss that comes from baking isn’t over when the timer goes off. Now that you have the treat you worked so hard to make, you get to enjoy it and share it with those you care about. Homemade baked goods are the universal language of happiness if you ask me, and the key to reducing anxiety.
Header image by Yusra Shah.