Oven Fever: Baking therapy in Quarantine

An Occupational Therapist’s analysis of what is going on with the current ‘baking in quarantine’ craze???

Unless you have been sheltering-in-place under a rock, or nursing a broken oven, you are very likely aware of a growing phenom that is affecting millions of people worldwide- a baking craze! I guess the combination of watching repeats of The Great British Bake-Off, and being stuck in the home has brought out our inner amateur bakers. To many OTs right now, though, this news.….is not really all that surprising. Why is that??

Baking can be a very powerful occupation– so let’s dig a little deeper and maybe figure out what is happening from a Occupational Therapy theory point of view ??

Surge in Baking-related Web searches

The COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in many people being confined to their homes and only having the local grocery store as a creative/shopping outlet, has caused an unparalleled surge in home baking. Google search terms on ‘How to make bread’, ‘Sourdough starter’, ‘Banana bread’ and the like have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, once Coronavirus was announced as a national emergency.

Many stores, initially having trouble keeping toilet paper on the shelves, are now noticing flour, yeast, and baking products flying off the shelves, and are barely able to keep up with the demand. A 3-pack of Fleischmann’s Dry Yeast, normally available in a grocery store for between $1.50-$2.50, is being sold on Amazon for beginning prices of $13.00 (plus shipping!). The supply-demand curve lives on!

What’s going on in people’s minds??

For any person who is currently in quarantine, sheltering-in-place, and practicing social isolation in one of the areas in which social participation has been hugely curtailed (if not illegal altogether), there are a storm of emotions occurring right now. A global trauma such as this pandemic can stir up, or worsen, some of these feelings- like anxiety, depression, general feeling of powerlessness, even existential crisis. Dealing with these complicated feelings as a population is throwing some strange things into the ether- including mass buying, hoarding, price gouging on Pavement Chalk (don’t believe me? Read these Amazon reviews: it’s mental). One of the massive changes in behavior, however, is a surge in baking, bread making. Connected, sure, but why?

Baking as Occupation

Cooking and baking therapy have long been used as powerful occupational tools. This study, examining the qualitative experience of mental health user’s perspectives of their engagement in the occupation of baking, drew themes such as: confidence-building while producing an end product, the desire to add structure to their daily routine, and acquiring of new skills. The study found that baking “improved concentration, increased coordination and built confidence, leading to an increased feeling of self-esteem,” while also “providing purpose and meaning, as well as a real and tangible way of filling time.” In this novel environment, where many are struggling to fill their days, crave structure, and desperately want to make their quarantine “count”; the parallels are apparent!

A review of multiple studies examining the psychological effects of cooking and baking therapy (Psychosocial Benefits of Cooking Interventions: A Systematic Review) presented some interesting outcomes, including:

  • an improvement in anxiety and depression– perhaps owing to the all-encompassing nature of baking, it can act as a mindfulness technique, proven to be effective to treat anxiety/depression.
  • Socialization benefits- cooking together was shown to help form relationships and connections. For those baking at home with their families and children, they may be focusing on incorporating this activity to engage their kids into a productive, wholesome task.
  • Positive mood and changes in affect: Several studies were shown to have a mood boosting effect in the participants, decreasing agitation, and significant increases in positive affect and decreases in negative affects over time.
  • Skill building and self-esteem: engaging in an activity for the purposes of self-care, both nutritionally and psychologically, was a strong effect. People gain confidence in themselves as they master the new skill, as well as producing a sense of achievement with a palpable result.

Collective effervescence, much?

Of course, then there is the impact of following the trend that may be such a powerful motivator to get your whisk out. ‘Collective effervescence’ is a sociological concept coined by Émile Durkheim. According to Durkheim, a community or society may at times come together and simultaneously communicate the same thought and participate in the same action. Essentially, this is the fizzy feel-good feeling you get when you are participating in a societal movement- doing the same as your fellow man, harnessing that we’re-all-in-this-together type feeling.

Occupational Therapists are all too familiar with how important the sense of community and belonging is to our well-being. It is well-established in the literature that being part of a community decreases stress, improves health and quality of life, even extending years. We might be collectively missing our fellow man, but we are wired up to them via the internet and we can still all hang out virtually in our kitchens!

So here we are… ????????

Clearly, the act of baking and cooking can have knock-on, powerful effects on our psyche. Is it any wonder that in a time of such deep uncertainty, we all are flocking to an activity that may remind us of our Mum’s kitchen, or baking with your Nan, or even just an activity that you can completely immerse yourself in, and block out the outside world, even for a sec?

“Life is like making a series of cakes, but the recipe is yours to modify and perfect.”

Scott E. Shjefte

We hope you enjoyed reading about this ‘baking therapy’ effect! If you have been cooking up a storm, have anything to add, or just want to drop a sweet recipe, hit us up in the comments below!?? We ALWAYS love to hear from you guys.

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