How Cooking Can Actually Relieve Your Anxiety


By heading to the drive-through line and skipping the kitchen, you're missing out on a potentially relaxing, therapeutic and enjoyable activity: the act of cooking for yourself. Here's why you might need to give cooking a chance.

We live in a fast-paced, busy world where time-saving tips and tricks are highly valued:

“Breakfast On-the-Go for the Busy Young Professional!”
“5 Ways to Cut Your Morning Routine in Half!”
“Two Ingredient Dinner, Ready in 10 Minutes!”

It’s understandable. Between work, exercise, social activities and raising a family, we often jump at any time-saving opportunities that might cut down our workload or allow for more moments of peace at the end of the day. It’s in those moments when the idea of just picking up dinner at that convenient drive-through on your way home from work, or hitting the “place order” button on your Postmates app starts to sound really appealing.

And sometimes, it’s just what you need! We all love a good take-out dinner every now and then. But if you’ve been feeling sluggish, run-down or frustrated about your food choices, the drive-through dinners and consistent take-out meals might be to blame. When we eat out or pick up take-out, many times there is no way for us to truly know what is in the food we’re eating. Even food that we might think is healthy could potentially be packed with hidden ingredients that leave us feeling sick and sluggish.

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But it’s not just the potential negative health consequences of constantly eating out that is bad for us. By abandoning our kitchens for the drive-through line, we’re missing out on a potentially relaxing, therapeutic and enjoyable activity: the act of cooking.

Now, you might think, Cooking? How on earth could that be therapeutic?  However, according to a study published in the “Journal of Positive Psychology,” people who frequently take a turn at small, creative projects report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives.” Researchers in the study followed 658 people for about two weeks and found that doing everyday things like cooking and baking made the study participants feel more enthusiastic about their pursuits the next day.

LightWorkers cooking

Image courtesy of Paper Antler, Used By Permission.

“Cooking is a great destresser because it serves as a creative outlet,” says Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress.” “And while stress can numb your senses, cooking activates them. It’s a sensory experience with aroma, taste, touch, visual delight and even sizzling sound.”

But it’s not just creativity and the potential for cleaner eating that makes cooking such a valuable activity, it also gives us a sense of control which for some, might be the source of daily stresses and anxieties. Maybe you’re at the beginning of your career, working in an environment where you’re at the bottom of the totem pole—lacking any authority to make daily decisions for yourself? But when you’re in the kitchen, you’re the boss. You get complete control over what recipe you tackle, what ingredients you want to experiment with and every step from start to finish of your meal.

Or, for those of us with partners or families, cooking provides an avenue to express love and to nurture. Maybe expressing emotion or affection is more of a challenge to you? Cooking is a great way to communicate that love. This kind of nurturing is a actual form of altruism, which can bring people happiness and make them feel more connected to others“There’s a tremendous amount of confidence-boosting and self-esteem boosting, performing an act like cooking for others. And that’s part of what lends itself to those psychological effects about being able to do something that you feel really good about,” explains Julie Ohana, a licensed masters clinical social worker and culinary art therapist.

However, a mind-shift must take place to take cooking from an annoying household chore that you might throw in the same category as doing laundry or taking out the trash to a therapeutic act of creativity that you enjoy. The fact of the matter is that many of us actually derive a joy from cooking that you simply wouldn’t get from these other types of mundane chores. Eating and the enjoyment of food is an innately rewarding experience, therefore, the act of preparing your own meal which leads to eating possesses a strong, built-in reward system.

But how do we make that much-needed mind shift to enjoy our time in the kitchen after a long workday as much as we would just relaxing on the couch? 

Start by taking a few minutes over the weekend to find recipes that look delicious and healthy. You can search online for food blogs and websites, or even scroll through social media. Instagram is full of delicious and easy-to-prepare recipes that you can save as you’re scrolling—often times, they have videos to help even the most novice cook! Pick a few that you want to try that week. One recipe might yield enough food for dinner plus lunch for the next day—which is also a great way to save money!

And while stress can numb your senses, cooking activates them. It’s a sensory experience with aroma, taste, touch, visual delight and even sizzling sound.

Then, take the time to shop for your week’s worth of ingredients on a weekend or a day that you don’t feel rushed. That way when you come home from a long day, you know your ingredients are there waiting for you and you don’t have to add a trip to the grocery store to your list.

Now, you’re ready to get cooking! This is the part where you need to find out what makes your kitchen and cooking experience a positive one. For some, this might mean turning on your favorite playlist and pouring yourself a nice glass of wine to sip on as you cook. For others, it might mean setting up your phone or iPad on a stand playing a couple episodes of “The Office,” in the background as you chop veggies—or even playing a great audiobook . You can get your partner or kids involved! Turn on some tunes and ask your husband peel those potatoes while you prep the chicken. You’ll talk while you work and might just find that the kitchen becomes a place and time that you both share about your day.

But most importantly, find a way to make the food you’re cooking and eating mean something to you. Don’t just eat to be full, eat to enjoy your food and honor your body—to be good stewards of our bodies means to be thoughtful about what we put in them. And that is one long thread beginning with what kind of food we grow and purchase, to what we prepare and eat.

So when you’re in the kitchen, give your food and consequently, your body and health, the honor it deserves by showing them some love! Get your hands dirty and get to know your stove. Pour that glass of wine and get Dean Martin crooning in the background as you whip up some pasta. Or simply enjoy the peace and quiet of the kitchen as your sauce softly simmers on the stove and you reflect over your day. You might just find that the kitchen becomes a place that brings you peace.

The joy of cooking is real, just give it a try.