We often associate alleviating stress with indulging unhealthy vices, like an extra glass or two of wine, binge watching TV for hours, stress eating, even smoking a cigarette. The trouble is, after one of those activities, you’re rarely left actually feeling better—in fact, you usually feel worse, leading to added stress.
But what if one of the best stress relief activities is actually something good for you and your wallet and it’s fun? Yes, you guessed it: It’s cooking.
If you think of cooking as a chore, it’s time to give it a fresh look. There are more reasons to cook at home than there are coconut waters (#alot). Why does it work so well? Turns out cooking satisfies us in a few essential ways.
For one thing, mental health experts credit cooking with helping to relieve depression, anxiety, and its manifestations, like eating disorders. Mental health clinics have started using cooking as a type of behavioral therapy, much like music or art therapy.
Not only is the act of cooking meditative on its own (chopping, whisking, stirring—OM), it also leads to improved diet, which experts are now recognizing as crucial to mental health. Studies also show a link between a healthier diet and higher levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone).
Psychologically, cooking is what’s called behavioral activation. To put together a good meal, you have to be engaged and present. You need to taste, make snap judgments, add or subtract heat. You can’t just stare out the window and think about your ex. It’s a positive mindful activity filled with easy, achievable goals.
Creatively, there’s something about losing yourself to the flow and process that’s healing. It’s a chance to flourish and shine, and the relatively easy learning curve gives one a sense of personal growth and mastery.
Physically, cooking satisfies an immediate need and offers quick gratification. Because honestly, at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of animals who need to eat.
If you’re thinking, “But what about the stress of meal planning, shopping and prepping?” one way to mitigate that hassle is with a meal-kit service. Green Chef, for one, offers high-quality recipes like this Korean Shrimp Noodle Bowl (above) that fit any diet, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free or omnivore. Plus, its ingredients are USDA-certified organic, they provide flexible delivery and eco-friendly packaging. All you have to do is get yourself into the kitchen and enjoy the process—and the meals. (Show us your mad chops with #ILoveToCook on Instagram.) Now all of that is a stress reliever.