With the rise of COVID-19, millions of people around the world have self-isolating in their homes, to flatten the curve and minimize the spread of the virus.
Suddenly there are limitations to mobility, social gatherings, and the kind of activities people can engage with. There’s more free time – and people have become creative with how they choose to spend all the extra time hours they have.
Social media apps like TikTok have seen an uptick in downloads and usage since the lockdown, where
people spend hours recreating dance routines.
People have spent so much more time on Netflix, that the streaming company has seen a rise in their stock value.
Baking is one of the activities that has found its way into many people’s COVID-19 coping toolkit. Photos of baked goods are flooding many Instagram feeds, with banana bread topping the list. Memes of “quarantine guides” mark “baking banana bread” as a first milestone to getting through quarantine.
Google Trends shows a surge in keyword searches related to baking such as “baker’s yeast,” “sourdough” and “yeast” in the last two months.
This ‘toilet paper’ cake that this woman stress baked seems to encapsulate best the anxiety and trends of these unprecedented times.
Beyond its ease and Instagram-ability , there is perhaps more to this social media trend of baking during quarantine.
We are always craving carbs, and this study by Psychology Today links the consumption of carbohydrates to better moods and decrease of depression.
Is it just a social trend?
Carter Thomas’ article, “Feeding the body and soul ; Cooking can be good therapy after an illness”, features a study about a patient that underwent brain surgery and felt better after baking cookies. While demanding, the whole process brought together patients and had them laughing together. Thomas interviewed a few cooks, and they all reported the positive effects of cooking and how relaxed and content they felt afterwards.
The activity of baking can contribute positively to people’s self-esteem and demonstrate their ability to realize their own potential, a study by Haley and McKay found. Participants in the UK-based study learned how to cope with a challenge, experienced success, and developed a new skill set.
Most of the participants required a safe environment that did not have any pressure.
Based on the above two academic studies, it’s to assume that people are attracted to baking during this pandemic because it is giving them a challenge and a sense of relief from the unusual circumstances we are in at the moment; a situation that none of us seem to have any control over.
I decided to raise the question ‘Does baking relieve stress?’ to my Twitter followers to get an anecdotal from my social circle. 68% of them agree that baking is a stress reliever.
Do you think baking relieves stress?
— L (@lynnischillin) May 3, 2020
To supplement these findings, I decided to interview a set of people to get more answers
Most of whom are professional bakers.
A conversation with Dr. David Lee a consultant clinical psychologist from American Center for Psychology and Neurology in Dubai, agrees that baking is a good source of stress relief and stated,
“Any activity that requires a sustained sense of mastery and focus can help to promote positive mental health, and to safeguard against mental health problems (e.g. baking, cooking, learning a new language, learning to play the guitar). In Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) we promote the need for such scheduled activities that facilitate pleasure and mastery.”
Following through with the social media trend, founder and Co-director of Street FZC company Bhoomika Ghaghada based in New York and Dubai, stated that she has recently baked banana bread and expresses the positives of baking and advice on how to cope in a balanced way. Bhoomika stresses that as long as you have a balanced mix of activities along with baking it will remain as a positive act.
Another interviewee, online bakery owner of CookieCrib Layan Khamis, based in the United Arab Emirates, compares the pandemic with her previous experience in the Yemen War. Layan started baking during the Yemen war and continues to do so till date. Layan also touches upon some negative side effects of baking (such as increase in weight gain in an unhealthy manner) but affirms that baking has helped her cope well during stressful times.
On another hand, bakery owner of Zo’s kitchen, Zhora AlQureshi, based in Sharjah, also mentioned important points in regards to the negative aspect of the sudden surge of baking around the world. Zhora discusses how ‘taking more than you need’ leads to waste and also takes away from those more in need.
Bader Najeeb, a social media influencer based in Dubai, has over a hundred thousand followers on Instagram. His Instagram page is a showcase of his work, most notably his baking sweet concoctions.
Bader shared with me how baking started for him as a young boy making cake once a week with his mother. The shared experience grew into a passion that he shares with people online. In the interview, Bader gives his take on why people are baking more nowadays.
Based on the research and the interviews conducted, it is proven through various resources that baking is a stress reliever and a great activity if you’re looking for a challenge and a distraction. So, I decided to take the challenge and see if the results of my research would apply to me.
I picked a recipe from Buzzfeed’s own Tasty to try and bake the world’s best chocolate chip cookies.
I faced a lot of challenges, one of which was not finding all of the ingredients(such as chocolate chip and baking soda) in different supermarkets. I had to substitute baking soda with baking powder; something I later found out was a mistake. The cookies didn’t taste bad, but they weren’t chewy.
Below you can find a gallery of my process.
Though the entire hour in the kitchen didn’t give me the results that I wanted, I was so immersed with the task at hand that I didn’t even think of anything but the cookies.
Based on the research and the interviewees, I did come to the conclusion that baking is truly a stress relieving activity. It is safe to admit that mixing the flour and staring at the oven as the cookies baked was a challenge but in some small way, it felt like within the four walls of my kitchen Coronavirus simply did not exist.
Somehow that feeling makes me want to go right back into the kitchen and bake all over again.