Is Cooking Better Than Prozac?
Alleviating stress is often associated with indulging your vices—blowing off steam with an extra glass of wine, sneaking a few cigarettes here and there, and of course, practicing the time-honored tradition of stress-eating. Obviously, in this age of enlightenment, numbing yourself to cope is frowned upon, yet the healthy alternatives are unappetizingly “good” for you. Yoga (ugh.) Meditation (boo.) But what if the best stress reliever was actually something beneficial that you already know how to do—like cooking?
It's not a pipe dream. There is something primitive and genuinely therapeutic about cooking that reaches us on a deeper-than-expected level. Psychologists and mental health experts are likening the act of cooking from scratch to a form of personal therapy, helping with things like depression, anxiety, behavioral and eating disorders. In fact, mental health clinics have started using cooking as a type of therapy—much like music or art therapy. Unlike traditional cognitive treatments, it's less about talking, more about doing.
Why does it work so well? Turns out cooking satisfies, on many different, essential levels.
"Baking helps lift my depression. It can't cure it but it helps," says John Whaite, winner of 2012’s Great British Bake Off, who was diagnosed with manic depression in 2005. "When I'm in the kitchen, measuring the amount of sugar, flour or butter I need for a recipe or cracking the exact number of eggs—I am in control. That's really important as a key element of my condition is a feeling of no control."
Psychologically, cooking is what’s called “behavioral activation.” In order to put together a good meal, you have to be engaged and present, not stuck in your head. You need to taste, make snap judgements, add or subtract heat. You can’t just stare out the window and think about your ex. It’s a positive activity filled with easy, achievable goals.
Creatively, there’s something about losing yourself to the flow and process that’s super healing. It’s a chance to flourish and shine, and the relatively easy learning curve gives a sense of personal growth. In the era of Instagram, it creates gratifying, share-worthy moments to be proud of in ordinary, everyday life.
Physically, cooking is active and meditative (chopping, whisking, stirring—ahh). Not only that, it satisfies immediate need and gratification. Because honestly, at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of animals who need to eat.
So next time you’re about to lose it, hit the kitchen. It may not be a be-all-end-all cure for mental illness, but it really does work.