6 Reasons Baking Therapy is a Genuine Form of Self Care

Soothe your soul and fill your belly as we share the reasons psychologists say baking can help ease anxiety and relieve stress.

Talk about flour power: Mounting evidence suggests that cooking and baking are one of the best forms of self-care. Even mental health pros swear by the therapeutic effects: "I consider this one of my greatest mental health strategies. I have declared Sunday 'baking day' for more than 15 years of my life," says Tracy Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist in California. "I go into a baking zone for a whole day and just bake my buns off, pun intended," Thomas says.

But why, exactly, is baking so good for your brain, your mood, and beyond? Preheat your ovens and read on for the top six reasons from Thomas and Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., author of the best-selling book Life Will Get Better and the founder and executive director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Caledonia, Michigan.

Caramel Spice Cake

1. The Step-by-Step Process Makes You More Mindful

By now, you've likely heard about the concept of "mindfulness." It's the driving principle behind meditation and mindful eating and involves being fully present and engaged in one task rather than multitasking or reacting to external distractions. Baking takes focus to follow the step-by-step instructions, and compared to other activities, it requires a lot of attention. Thomas explains that creativity, coordination, reasoning, and more are needed to bake and have a successful result. All those factors combine to inspire a level of "focused relaxation" that's soothing for many people.

"Baking can be considered a mindful activity, meaning it focuses us on the here and now, which helps reduce stress and the kinds of future-based thinking that contribute to anxiety," Beurkens says.

2. Repetition Is Calming

The repetitive motions involved in kneading, mixing, measuring, and cake-decorating can be soothing and stress-reducing, Beurkens says.

Dedicating all (or at least most) of your physical and mental energy allows Thomas to reach that state of "flow" that many athletes and musicians refer to when they're in the zone. "Flow increases self-connection and self-esteem, which are part of having a high emotional capacity," Thomas says.

3. The Barrage of Sensory Inputs Is Uplifting

Touch, smell, sight, and (of course) taste are all engaged by baking. "The multi-sensory aspect of baking can be very therapeutic for some people, particularly if they have strong positive memories associated with baking those items. Our episodic memory...is very connected to how we process and feel about situations in life. Episodic memories incorporate the sensations experienced, such as the smell of bread baking in the oven or the feel of the dough as we knead it," Beurkens says.

Speaking of those positive memories, that nostalgia can be a big mood booster when you're feeling down. "There are all kinds of neurochemicals [including serotonin and dopamine] released when people do something that triggers fond memories of eating and bakeries, and the great taste we are anticipating from our past," Thomas says.

4. It Offers an Escape from Stresses of the Day

You'll likely feel more grounded the moment you grab your mixer. "The physical activity and sensations associated with baking can be very grounding for people who feel anxious or overwhelmed, as it heightens awareness of their body and being present in the moment; both of which can reduce stress and improve mood," Beurkens says. (By the way, cleaning can boost your mood, too!)

Plus, creative endeavors get us out of our heads and allow our heads and hearts to focus on something else besides the current stressor(s). "For people who struggle with anxious thoughts, these creative pursuits act as an effective distractor to get the mind focused on something more productive and beneficial than ruminating thoughts and worries. Research suggests that creative activities support more positive thoughts and feelings, which lead to stress reduction and mood improvement," Beurkens adds.

5. Having a Sense of Control Over Something (Even Sugar) Eases Anxiety

Noted at the top of each recipe: Total time. That's an important detail not only for your schedule but for your stress levels, according to Beurkens. "Baking has a set start and end point that helps people feel a sense of control and purpose, both of which help stave off feelings of overwhelm and depression," she says.

Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D.

Baking has a set start and end point that helps people feel a sense of control and purpose, both of which help stave off feelings of overwhelm and depression.

— Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D.

The only thing that needs your mental, physical, and emotional intelligence is what's headed for the oven. Plus, you have all the power over the finished product. That focused attention fosters a strong sense of being capable and at ease, even when the world outside your kitchen might be hectic and messier than a sugar-coated countertop.

6. The End Result Is Sweet (and Good for Sharing)

Keep in mind that the results are best enjoyed a bit and shared. "Baking is not a very effective form of self-care if the person is baking and then eating cake, cookies, breads, and brownies daily. Nutrition is such a major component of how we feel and function, and what we eat is very connected to our mental health. While baking can be a soothing and mood-supportive activity, it needs to be balanced with what is made and consumed," Beurkens says.

For the most effective baking therapy, taste test a bit of your product (mindfully, of course), then share the rest with others.

"As an emotionally sensitive, highly-driven, very creative person, I love to eat baked goods, and I love giving myself an entire day to fill the house with sugary smells and to fill my belly with all the deliciousness that baking entails," Thomas says.

The best part, though, is that the results of her baking escapades can be shared with her husband.

"Baking gives me a chance to get my husband into the kitchen more often, which gives us the opportunity to share some extra hugs and kisses. Overall, this is a mental health strategy I highly recommend," she says.

Cookbooks to Inspire Your Baking Therapy Adventures

Not sure where to start? Take a peek at our favorite classic cake recipes, our best breads, and our most tempting cookies of all time. Then for bonus ideas, flip open these editor-approved baking cookbooks.

  • Weeknight Baking: Michelle Lopez teaches time-crunched cooks how to get their baking fix in minutes a day. ($28, Target)
  • Procrastibaking: Erin Gardner shares 100 ways to satisfy the craving for distraction. The laundry can wait. ($10, Walmart)
  • The Joys of Baking: Samantha Seneviratne's uplifting essays and recipes are divided into five themes, including bliss, courage, and wisdom. ($27, Amazon)
Was this page helpful?
Better Homes & Gardens is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources—including peer-reviewed studies—to support the facts in our articles. Read about our editorial policies and standards to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Silver Julie K. et al. "The Impact of a Culinary Coaching Telemedicine Program on Home Cooking and Emotional Well-Being during the COVID-19 Pandemic." Nutrients, Vol 15, no. 7, 2311, MDPI, doi:10.3390/nu13072311

  2. Nelson, Emily et al. "The effectiveness of culinary therapy: A study examining cooking as an anticipatory grief-specific intervention in clinical grief and bereavement support groups." SPFC Research Conference. 2019.

  3. Conner, Tamlin S. et al. "Everyday Creative Activity as a Path to Flourishing." The Journal of Positive Psychology. vol. 13. no. 2. 2018, Routledge, pp. 181-189. doi:10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049

Related Articles