The idea that most people will be affected by mental health issues at least once in their life has never seemed more prevalent.
While it’s a conversation that still feels relatively new, awareness of mental ill health is growing, and in turn the condition is becoming less stigmatised. It’s a topic heavily debated on social media, which is awash with tips and advice, celebrity confessions and discussions on the subject.
And while there are plenty of traditional treatment options available via your GP, including talking therapies, counselling and CBT, self-help methods such as breathing techniques, running and yoga are also widely used.
But an age-old tradition can also be effective in helping manage symptoms of anxiety and depression: Baking bread.
A series of initiatives have been set up using bread making as a way of treating poor mental health
One of the first schemes to use bread baking as therapy, The Real Bread Campaign, created Bethlem Baking Buddies, a series of baking sessions for resident service users at Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Kent.
With the help of Bethlem’s Occupational Therapy department, the baking sessions were trialled to determine if baking had therapeutic benefits for people with mental health issues.
A report from the study found service users “felt happier, more creative, and less anxious” as a result of the sessions, and found that “kneading and shaping had the greatest potential therapeutic value”.
Social enterprise Virtuous Bread supports their bakers, known as ‘bread angels’, to teach bread baking classes, including a specialist programme for people suffering from mental health issues.
Due to the mindfulness that can come with kneading, shaping and plaiting bread, and their meditative effects, baking bread can be a way to help reset your mind and manage anxiety. One bread angel even runs ‘Breaditation’ classes. Participants are also encouraged to knead as a way to release tension.
Alongside being a great way to meditate, practice mindfulness and release stress, here’s why else baking bread can be good for you…
It stimulates the senses
Is there anything better than lifting a freshly baked loaf out of the oven? The aroma of warm bread can really evoke a comforting sense of homeliness and cosiness. And eating the bread isn’t bad either.
Baking can have a positive impact on you and those around you
While baking a tasty treat for yourself is enjoyable enough, the act of giving a generously buttered slice to a loved one will make you feel even better, and make you feel proud of yourself too.
Feeding people can have wider benefits
Baking cakes for people is a lovely gesture, but bread is a staple foodstuff, the cornerstone of many meals. Joining a community bakery can help you and fulfil other social needs, such as establishing a sense of community and suppporting those in more challenging circumstances.
The sense of achievement is wonderful
From the mixing, kneading and shaping, to letting the dough prove and rise, witnessing the transformation of unbaked dough into warm loaf can fill you with a huge sense of achievement. And you get fed at the end of it.
It’s a great way to focus your mind
The technical steps involved in baking bread requires a fair amount of concentration and the ability to follow instructions. Let your mind pleasantly empty as you focus on the task in hand.