In the weeks since coronavirus came to the United States, people have been muddling through in a variety of ways. Binge watching television. Taking long walks. Adopting pets. Drinking a bit more wine than usual.
Many people have been baking. Oddly, whipping up a batch of cookie dough seems to be quite an effective coping mechanism.
There’s a reason “stress baking” and “anxiety baking” have been trending on Instagram for months. Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, says, “The smell of spices and vanilla are comforting, and [they] often remind us of happy times. Olfactory scents are particularly linked to areas of the brain that involve emotions and memory.”
According to psychologists, giving your time and attention to a specific task that has a rewarding outcome (like baking!) is good for your mental health.
The process is almost like a mindfulness activity: Baking requires you to follow many steps, from preheating to mixing ingredients, and the immersive experience can make you forget everything else for a little while. For those stuck in quarantine, it can take your mind off what is going on in the world and provide a small break.
Baking is a Great Activity for Seniors
For seniors, especially, baking can be a welcome distraction from the stresses of quarantine and social distancing. Here’s why it’s such a great activity for older adults:
- Reduces stress. Stress is a common problem for older adults, especially those with dementia. Baking is a good way to alleviate this. Though following a recipe requires attention, some are quite simple and repetitive actions (like kneading dough) can be meditative. Plus, baking can help increase the release of endorphins (the brain’s “happy” chemical).
- Triggers memories. A lot of people have positive memories when it comes to baking. Personally, I like to recall baking butter cookies from scratch with my grandmother. We made the recipe so often that I had it memorized by time I was six. Familiar recipes, smells, tastes, and feels can help remind seniors of activities they once enjoyed.
- Encourages creativity. It is known that there is a link between expressing ourselves creatively and our general wellbeing. Though baking does involve a lot of structure, it also allows some creativity – choosing flavors, adding decorations, and adding extras like chocolate chips, for example.
Choosing the Right Recipe
What should an older adult bake? Anything you feel like! Recipe books can be a great place to start, but you can also try recreating a favorite recipe from childhood. If you’re feeling creative, take a recipe you know by heart and swap out some ingredients to make something new!
You can try choosing a simple recipe so it’s easy to make and you don’t mess it up – but remember, even an ugly cake is delicious. Don’t be afraid to take risks and have fun!