4 ways baking can help support your mental health

by Kaiser Permanente |
Smiling teenager and mom in the kitchen

Looking for something to help you relax, feel creative, and indulge your senses? Baking has all the ingredients you need to feel refreshed and recharged.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, increased stress — plus more time at home — has given rise to a new trend called “stress baking.” Search the Instagram hashtag #stressbaking and you’ll find over 55,000 posts of beautiful baked goods. And it turns out these amateur bakers are on to something. The act of baking really can help you manage stress.

“Baking is an opportunity to clear our heads and de-stress,” says Pamela Honsberger, MD, a family doctor and director of physician engagement and leadership development at Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, California. “When you focus your attention on an activity like baking, you’re more present in the moment and less focused on stressors of the past or future.”

In addition to stress relief, there are other reasons baking can be good for our mental health.

Taking time for yourself

According to Dr. Honsberger, “Taking time to do something that recharges you and brings you joy in the moment helps build resilience when things are hard — or when new challenges come up. And making time for an activity that recharges you is an essential form of self-care in our busy lives.”

Inspiring creativity

By choosing what to bake and how you’ll make it, your creative journey has already begun. Whether you’re following recipes or improvising, using your hands to create and decorate is an artistic activity. And studies show that spending time doing something creative can help with stress and boost overall well-being.*

“The most important part about any new creative task is to go in with realistic goals and not aim for perfectionism,” explains Dr. Honsberger. “Success is trying something new, not comparing yourself or your creations to a picture online or in a cookbook.”

Recreating happy memories

Baking engages all your senses including taste, touch, and smell, plus it’s fulfilling to see your process from beginning to end. But it can also spark nostalgia. “When we’re cooking and baking, we’re often recreating positive experiences or happy memories. For example, using the cookie recipe your grandmother passed down to you. That can help you feel connected to moments, memories, or people you love,” says Dr. Honsberger.

Sharing the joy

Baking for others shows you care. It can be an expression of love, appreciation, celebration, and even sympathy. “Sharing baked goods with your friends and neighbors is a great way to feel connected or make new connections,” says Dr. Honsberger.

You can also stick with healthy eating habits when baking by swapping a few ingredients. Try going for dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. Or use dates in oatmeal cookies for natural sweetness. Baking also doesn’t have to be limited to sweets. You can make a healthy — and delicious — version of a potato pancake using yams, scallions, and antioxidant-rich ginger. “Whatever you choose to make, try to stay present in the moment and just enjoy the experience,” says Dr. Honsberger.

Ready to try a new recipe? Discover healthy and delicious recipes on our Food for Health site.

Explore mental health and wellness resources

Choose from a broad range of on-demand self-care resources, including self-care apps to help with stress, sleep, anxiety, and more.

* Lily Martin et al., "Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention — A Systematic Review," Behavioral Sciences, February 8, 2018.