A Recipe for Mental Health. Can Baking Cakes Save Lives?
Baking cakes is both therapeutic and rewarding. The sweet aroma of freshly baked goods helps wash away stress, anxiety — even trauma.
Amen for the chocolate cake that melts and oozes gooey goodness in the warm custard
Amen for the rich taste of the moist soft sponge
Amen for birthdays and anniversary’s
And all the excuses
Amen for the most enticing smell
Amen to not resisting temptations
Amen to diets meant to be broken
Amen for powerful combinations
Like cake and ice cream
Cake and custard
Cake and coffee
Cake and tea
Amen to icing and buttercream
Amen for cake
-Cake by Simpleton
Baking cakes has become more than just a hobby for me. It’s turned into a form of therapy that is helping me heal from trauma, grief, and anxiety. Baking cakes is giving me a new lease on life and maybe it can do the same for you.
I lost both my parents within fourteen months of each other. Dad was 94 and Mom was just one month shy of her 91st birthday when she died. Mom died on my 59th birthday, which makes it both a lovely blessing and a deep sadness.
That’s a lot of years. A lifetime of history we had together — to remember, to grieve, to process. Writing my poetry book Borne to Unfurl was an introspective journey exploring the impact they had on my life, and I thought once it was published, I would move on from that grief. Not so, it turns out. In some ways it was just the beginning.
It opened a door to help me realize the level of anxiety I held within my body and psyche for all the unprocessed emotions and traumas I experienced going back to my childhood. My father was a gunner in WW2 who fought in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. We knew he suffered. We knew he had memories that were debilitating for him. But we didn’t know the extent, other than how it impacted those of us near to him.
Trauma affects not only those who are directly exposed to it, but also those around them. Soldiers returning home from combat may frighten their families with their rages and emotional absence. The wives of men who suffer from PTSD tend to become depressed, and the children of depressed mothers are at risk of growing up insecure and anxious.
— Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score
With the help of psychotherapy, I’m slowly unravelling the sum of all that. The key word is slowly. Slowing down, growing slower, paying more attention to what my body is communicating. My OCD like perfectionist tendencies, regrets for all the ‘wrong’ turns I took in life, a debilitating spinal nerve pain that took twelve years to diagnose and I nearly gave up on life over. These are just a sampling of the complexity of mental health issues that have plagued me.
I treated myself to a KitchenAid stand mixer with my inheritance. Oh, what a luxury! It mostly sat on my counter unused for a year and a half though. Ironically, it was guilt of not using this beautiful appliance that finally got the better of me and I decided I wanted to bake a cake. Not just any cake though.
I hadn’t really baked much in many years, decades even, but I wanted to test out my KitchenAid to see what it could do. I also wanted to challenge myself and bake a fabulous cake for my son’s girlfriend’s birthday. You see, she’s quite the baker and I wanted to celebrate her for being an inspiration.
I had never even baked a two-layer cake, never mind one with five components! This Samoa Girl Scout Cookie Cake (thanks Cake by Courtney!) came out absolutely, divinely decadent and the most delicious cake I’ve ever had. It got me hooked into baking cakes.
If you look up the therapeutic benefits of baking, you’ll find a list that includes:
· It can help you release stress
· It improves concentration and helps you become more mindful
· It’s a boost for your self-confidence
· Generosity makes you happier
· Make other people happy
· Baking is creative
Yes, it did all that for me. The entire process from selecting a cake to bake to serving it to eager to receive these sweet treats people is a joyful one.
Yes, it takes me away from grief and anxiety and transports me to a world of creating beauty. Beauty in the focus it takes, the mindfulness required, the science of experimenting and mixing different ingredients and flavours together. Beauty in the decorating and in the generous giving of yourself of time and love.
In my experience, of all these things, there is one that holds the key to transform the practice of baking to creating a new realm healing my soul, and that is music.
Listening to music while you bake. Not just any music though. Music that lifts your spirits and takes you to another time, a nostalgic time — where good things wait.
My favourite playlists are the oldies. Singers that my parents listened to. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney… Sometimes I cry with the powerful healing emotion of beauty and love.
The process of baking has helped me see myself in a different light. It’s not just about cake or food but it’s also mental health therapy. If you’re looking for an enjoyable way to help heal your mind and soul, then baking cakes might be for you. And don’t forget the music.