‘Kneading’ to relax

Sarah Henriques tries baking bread for the first time
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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It appears that the coronavirus lockdown has prompted a surge in stress baking among residents and, with the pandemic confining the population to their homes, bread and pastry making has become what many are calling a meditative and empowering act.

Sarah Henriques had never baked bread in her life, but she says the coronavirus pandemic forced her to look up the recipes and to her surprise, “they weren’t bad at all”.

The 20-year-old is a tour guide for a horseback riding company in Antigua that was forced to cease operations because of the pandemic. She is also a masseuse and, because of social distancing, her trade has also been placed on halt.

 “When I realised that I was stuck at home for a while, I had to find things to do. The idea came up when it hit me that I could not buy any bread. My nerves started acting up. I needed to relax,” she admitted.

Brenda Fontain, a student nurse, also admitted that she went into a baking frenzy during the lockdown but in her case, the finished products came out hard, even if she claimed they were quite edible.

Chuckling, she told Observer, “well, you know. It was my first time and I don’t know much but one thing is for sure, mi family belly full!”

She vowed to continue her newfound hobby even after the pandemic is over.

Meantime, local psychologist Dr Cleon Athill says rolling, kneading and mixing all have a calming quality that forces people to be in the moment and not stuck mentally in the future or past.

“Baking is active and one has to be actively engaged in measuring, weighing, kneading. This is in direct contrast to the passivity of the lockdown and the uncertainty of the pandemic. So, baking can provide people with a sense of control at a time when they feel their control is diminishing,” she said.

This sense of control, she says, can cause the production of hormones that help people feel good and relieve stress.

“Also, the odours released during baking can also trigger good feelings and conjure up happy times and these too can counteract stress. So, if baking provides an opportunity for persons to cope … let’s bake,” she added.

Dr Athill, who holds a doctoral degree in psychology and social psychology, said the baking frenzy could also be a “copycat” of what is happening worldwide.

Her perception could also be backed up by reports from Google that baking recipes have reached an all-time high.

Psychologists in the United States have started exploring cooking and baking as a therapeutic tool to help people dealing with things like depression and anxiety.  

And a 2016 study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, suggests that people who frequently take a turn at small, creative projects report feeling more relaxed and happier.

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