Why Is Everyone Baking and Gardening Under Lockdown?

Kneading dough

It’s not just out of boredom.

In the midst of the pandemic, many have found themselves gravitating to their kitchens, gardens or knitting needles.  In fact, so many people have started #quarantinebaking that there are reported shortages of essential ingredients like yeast and flour around the U.S.  But given the stress and uncertainty our society is facing, perhaps it’s not surprising that many are finding a sense of comfort, joy and agency from creating things for themselves and others.

“Restorative activities like knitting, cooking and baking help us because they are rewarding activities that also help us feel a sense of control over our lives in unsettling times,” says Dr. Girija Kaimal, an associate professor of creative arts therapies at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

In fact, science shows that these specific activities can be a real psychological boon to us, especially in a time where we need healthy sources of stress relief.

These DIY Activities Restore the Brain

Though seemingly different, the acts of baking, knitting, and gardening share characteristics that make them well-suited for self-care.  These activities all help to improve mood and lower stress.

“The effort involved in ‘making something’, the multi-sensory engagement, repetitive actions and anticipation of satisfaction from the rewarding final product are related to release of neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, that promote joy and well-being, while also reducing stress hormones like cortisol,” says Dr. Kaimal.

The activities also have a meditative quality due to their repetition: for baking, it’s measuring, rolling, and kneading; for gardening, it’s weeding, watering, and pruning; and for knitting, it’s stitching and purling.  But these activities also require focus and attention, which can provide healthy distraction from other stresses. Along with their full engagement of the senses, these restorative practices can help us engage in mindfulness, keeping us in the present moment.  Mindfulness benefits our mental health by activating parts of the cortex involved with regulating emotions and dampening activity in the amygdala, which is implicated in processing negative emotions and fear.

There is perhaps no better time than now to start or re-discover the restorative art of your choice, which can not only be done in the comfort of your home but also make quarantine life more livable.

Get Started with These Self-Care Arts

There are numerous tutorials online that can help you get started with making your own baked goods and stitched scarves.  Remember to be patient with yourself and enjoy the learning process.  This is for self-care.  After all, “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”.



Knitting and Sewing

This is article is a part of IAM Lab’s regularly updated COVID-19 NeuroArts Field Guide. Be sure to check the Guide for the latest, evidence-based tips on how the arts can support our wellbeing during the pandemic.

We would also like to hear from you: Are you, your loved ones or colleagues dealing with specific issues and want to learn more about art-based solutions?  Are you already using the arts to help you cope?   

Please share your thoughts, ideas and concerns with us at covid19arts@artsandmindlab.org.  Be well and stay safe.

Written and reported by IAM Lab Communications Specialist Richard Sima. Richard received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins and is a science writer living in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Lead Image: Unsplash

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