by Maddie Roberts
Cooking at home became a sort of trend when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Most people assume it just benefits your physical and financial health. While these are both true, cooking at home has added benefits for your mental health as well. “Culinary therapy” is a new intervention used to boost mental health. Culinary art therapy uses cooking as a way to increase one’s self expression and promote communication. Cooking has multiple mental health benefits backed in research including a healthy routine, improving mood, decreasing stress and helping social connections.
Cooking meals at home helps establish a daily routine. While we all deal with changing schedules and the other bumps in the road that life throws at us, cooking meals at home can be a solid and planned out routine. Cooking and planning out meals makes us more focused. Cooking becomes more of a planned activity than something we are scrambling to figure out. It is a constant factor in our lives, instead of another thing giving us anxiety.
Studies have shown that cooking is associated with improved mood. One study done with 190 cancer patients found that after 10 weeks of cooking interventions, patients had increases in positive affect, as well as lower levels of negative moods. Cooking can also give people a creative boost, in the same way that other art forms like painting or drawing can. Creative projects can lift your mood and distract you from other worries. Another study that used cooking as a creative intervention found that cooking can lead to improved mood, personal acceptance and a sense of self empowerment. Almost all of the participants in this study reported better moods during and after cooking. They described feeling accomplished, independent and even that cooking made them feel more relaxed.
Cooking meals also works as a way to decrease stress. The physical act of cooking helps to create a distraction. Focusing on chopping and sauteeing delicious vegetables takes your attention away from the things making you anxious. Cooking forces you to slow down and direct your attention to an enjoyable activity with a desirable end product.
In many cultures, cooking is seen as a social activity. Instead of just rushing to get something on the plate to end your hunger, cooking and eating is a way to bring people together and enjoy food mindfully. Cooking and eating with friends and family decreases feelings of loneliness and promotes a sense of connectedness, which can improve one’s mental health. It can also foster trust and better communication in our relationships, as we work towards a shared goal together.
Cooking at home does more than saving money and providing nutrients; it functions as an overall mental health booster. When dealing with the stress of college and life in general, we can all turn to cooking yummy meals as a way to decrease stress, boost our mood, create a solid routine and foster healthy social relationships.