De-stress with DIY crafts and cooking projects


woman making pancakes

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Crafting and cooking are enjoyable activities, but did you know that they could also be good for you? In a fascinating article, “This is your brain on crafting,” CNN discusses crafting’s many health benefits, including its meditative qualities. CNN also reports that engaging in enjoyable activities such as crafting may also improve cognitive function and releases dopamine, which is referred to in the article as “a natural anti-depressant.”

The crafting benefits carry over into the kitchen. Recent reports by The Wall Street Journal and the BBC reveal that some mental health facilities are starting to offer cooking classes as part of treatment for a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety and schizophrenia. The Wall Street Journal highlights recent books that incorporate mental illness and baking, such as the cookbook of U.K. baker John Whaite, 2012 winner of popular British cooking competition The Great British Bake Off. (Its most recent season ran in the U.S. as The Great British Baking Show on PBS.)

In 2013, Whaite, who has manic depression, told the BBC, “Baking helps lift my depression. It can’t cure it, but it helps,” and explained that baking gives him a sense of control.

For me, crafting is a wonderful form of anxiety management. There’s no shortage of crafty blogs out there, but in the throes of anxiety, my brain can’t handle any overly complicated or fussy crafts. Whether it’s a cut-and-paste craft or whipping up a quick treat in the kitchen, I crave simple activities that give me the time and space to focus and breathe again.


Keep a selection of craft ideas and materials on hand

Pinterest is a great tool for keeping easy crafts and recipes on hand. Try making a board specifically for calming crafts so you can find something to do without much stress. Pinterest can be overwhelming, but when I start seeing that I am drawn to projects from a certain blog, I make sure to keep tabs on it by following it on social media. That way, when I see something that will fit into my calming crafts selection, I pin it right away. Check out my Spring DIY roundup for a selection of blogs you might enjoy and some super simple crafts. I also like keeping some resources around such as cooking magazines and craft books for looking up simple ideas without relying on the computer.


Make healthy food when you can


According to The Wall Street Journal, “Therapists say anyone developing a regular cooking habit is wise to stick to healthy recipes, particularly since depression and other mood disorders can cause weight gain.” We have highlighted lots of healthy recipes for you to try, including healthier takes on classic sweets, takeout mainstays and diner classics. I love to cook and try to keep a balance between healthy meals and more decadent treats. Here are two delicious recipes I’ve added to my calming collection.

  • John Whaite’s Tomato and Pesto Insomniac Tarts: Whaite has a sense of humor, naming these tarts as such because he created them while dealing with insomnia. This recipe requires only a handful of simple ingredients, yet the tarts are surprisingly elegant and taste amazing. Plus, the size makes for built-in portion control. I can have one or two and save the rest for later.
  • Margaret Fox’s Amazon Chocolate Cake, via Food52: This recipe is part of Food52’s Genius Recipes collection, and with good reason. This cake is shockingly easy and inexpensive to make, yet it is one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted. It’s totally vegan, so no butter, eggs or milk are required. Of course, vegan does not automatically equal healthy, but this cake has a very light texture. If you can make cake from a boxed mix, you can make this cake from scratch. This is the budget chocolate cake of your dreams.

Remember, not everyone benefits from the same activities, so if you find baking and crafting aren’t for you, that’s okay. Likewise, trying a variety of different crafts and recipes may help you discover what works best for you. You may try knitting and hate it but love weaving or making candy. This is in no way intended to substitute for medical advice, so please, if you are struggling, talk to a mental health professional to come up with a program that suits your needs.