Why Cooking Can Be So Therapeutic

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Two years after her first cookbook was released, Chrissy Teigen is back with more recipes for us — and this time, she gets a little more personal.
In Cravings: Hungry For More, Teigen shares that cooking helped her cope as she was recovering from postpartum depression, and it did wonders for her mental health.
"Postpartum depression really kicked me in the ass, and it took be a while to get strong again, to feel good, to get off the couch and, quite frankly, to have an appetite for anything but a pillow and blanket," she writes in the book. "It sounds like a cliché, but starting to cook again really helped me get back on my feet and get back into normal life," she writes.
As it turns out, there are psychological benefits to cooking and baking. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggested that small, creative tasks — such as cooking — can make people a little happier and more relaxed. And Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology, says making a meal can be therapeutic for plenty of reasons, including that it results in something tangible that you can nourish yourself with.
"Generally speaking, [cooking and baking are] creative outlets and outlets of productivity," Dr. Amsellem says. "We tend to feel nurtured when we take care of ourselves, and sometimes engaging in creative activities is something that can do that for us."

You're taking that stress, anxiety, whatever it is that’s ailing you and turning it into something tangible.

Marni Amsellem, PhD
Plus, the whole act of cooking a meal can be a relatively easy and mindless task that gives you something to do with your hands — which can help alleviate anxiety and depression.
"When you are feeling depressed, it can be extremely therapeutic to activate behaviorally, [and] do something," Dr. Amsellem says, adding that when you have low motivation, it helps to start doing something, even if you're just going through the motions. And cooking is especially suited to that because it rarely requires a ton of emotional labor.
Not to mention, when you're cooking or baking, you're literally doing something for yourself, or someone else if you're prepping a meal for your family or friends. Either way, doing something to take care of yourself or others can also be hugely therapeutic.
"The idea of doing something for someone else really is associated with feeling good," Dr. Amsellem says. "You're taking that stress, anxiety, whatever it is that’s ailing you and turning it into something tangible and positive that could perhaps bring others joy."
So whether you're following Teigen's recipes or whipping up something of your own, cooking really can be a productive and satisfying way to practice self-care.
If you are experiencing postpartum depression, please call the Postpartum Support Helpline.

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