increasingly, people are finding a new way to support their mental health and wellbeing which is enjoyable, productive, accessible, easy to fit into your routine, and healthy.
Exercise, cold water immersion, meditation, taking up new hobbies, and of course, professional psychological therapy and counselling are all legitimate ways to look after and support your own mental health and wellbeing.
However, for one reason or another, they aren’t always for everyone.
Some people are unable to exercise through disability, while meditation and cold water immersion take a lot of time and practice, and can seem intimidating.
For others, accessing therapy for your mental health struggles is either too costly, or if you use a public service, too slow. If you’re attempting to take up a new hobby, you might come up against financial barriers there too, or find that it becomes too difficult to fit into your schedule.
However, increasingly, people are finding a new way to support their mental health and wellbeing which is enjoyable, productive, accessible, easy to fit into your routine, and healthy.
And there’s more good news: it’s probably something that you already do in some form, at least once a day.
To support your mental health and wellbeing, try taking up cooking.
Cooking as a mental health support tool
Taking the time to cook one or two meals a day can have real, perceivable benefits on your mental wellbeing.
A 2018 review of the relevant psychological literature showed that when cooking was used as an intervention in therapeutic and rehabilitative settings, it had many positive outcomes that went beyond physical health benefits.
When cooking was used as an intervention, its psychological benefits including improved socialisation, a positive influence on self-esteem, and a reduction in anxiety.
While the evidence for cooking’s positive impact on mental health is still relatively new, it is promising and suggests that there is a scientific basis for the positive impact of cooking on mental health and wellbeing. More research will undoubtedly be conducted in the future, as interest in this relationship grows, to fully understand the impact of cooking on mental health.
Why does cooking help my mental health?
Cooking can improve your mental wellbeing and ease feelings of anxiety and depression. But why?
There are several reasons for the positive impact of cooking on mental health and wellbeing, and they will vary between people.
Firstly, as anyone who has burnt an omelette will know, cooking is a very involved process that often requires almost complete concentration. You might be able to listen to music, radio, or a podcast, but there are plenty of moments where you will be fully absorbed by the process of cooking.
This complete focus means that your mind and thoughts are taken away from sources of anxiety, or feelings of depression.
While you’re cooking, you can just focus on creating food that will be good for your body and taste great too.
Secondly, cooking is about making deliberate choices, and taking control of your actions. While you’re cooking, you’ll make lots of decisions without even realising it. The recipe might want you to peel your carrots, and you decide not to. Or, you might decide to take your salmon out of the oven a few minutes early, as it looks done.
If you’ve struggled with addiction, this can be particularly rewarding. Addiction often removes a person’s sense of agency, and you can find yourself making negative choices unconsciously.
Cooking is about making deliberate choices and taking control and responsibility for their outcomes, and it can help as part of a post-rehab abstinence/relapse prevention plan, or alongside other treatments like at-home detoxes or as part of holistic therapy at alcohol rehab.
This practice of exercising self-control, and honing your self-discipline might also transfer into other unexpected elements of your life. Through cooking, you can become more aware of thought process behind the little decisions that you take.
In addition, like most hobbies, cooking gives you’re the opportunity to improve your skills and strive for progress. Watching yourself as you become a better cook can be immensely rewarding, as you learn new techniques and try new recipes.
This progress can instil you with drive, purpose, and energy that can help to alleviate symptoms that come with depression or anxiety. This can have knock-on benefits on your self-esteem, and motivation to reengage with the social and enjoyable side of life on your own terms.
The impact of physical health on mental health and wellbeing
Our diets, made up of what we eat and drink have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing as well as our physical health. With a healthy diet you are less likely to suffer from fatigue, mood fluctuations, and it is also associated with a decline in feelings of anxiety and depression.
Cooking a meal for yourself, from scratch, is almost always healthier than buying frozen or microwavable ready meals, or ordering from a takeaway.
You can control the fat content, sugar and salt content, and it will contain fresher ingredients which have more nutrients.
Cooking for a meal for yourself, and for people around you, will give you a great feeling of gratification knowing that you’ve made something that’s tasty and healthy – for your body and for your mind.
Where should I start?
Cookbooks are widely accessible and are a great starting point if you want to take up cooking as a hobby.
You can set yourself a challenge, where you make new meals from the cookbook every week. On top of this, if you have specific dietary requirements, you can always find cookbooks that cater specifically to you.
Another alternative is using YouTube as a starting point.
If you don’t want to invest in a cookbook, there are plenty of YouTube channels dedicated to cooking which you can access for free. They often go into the science behind cooking, and the reasons behind techniques, as well as giving you great recipes to work from.
Whether it’s a recipe in a cookbook or from a YouTube video, don’t hesitate to adapt your cooking to suit your own tastes and nutritional needs.
How cooking impacts your mental health: the facts
- Cooking can be a fun, and healthy, way to support your mental health and wellbeing
- Evidence suggests that cooking is linked with improved psychological outcomes
- It can help reduce anxiety and depression, and can support you through your recovery from addiction
- Your diet impacts your mental health, and cooking gives you more control over your diet
- Its an accessible hobby with many positive benefits, and becoming a better cook can improve your life and support your mental health in a variety of unexpected ways