What do baking and biking have in common? They’ve both become outrageously popular activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the moment they heard the words “hunker down,” it seems people have been channeling anxiety and nervous energy into both. Toilet paper flew off the shelves, but so did yeast and flour, so much so that one flour company reported a 2,000 percent sales increase! Bike sales, according to a Bloomberg report, could be 35 percent higher than a typical spring.
“While baking and biking may not seem to have much in common on the surface, in fact, they are both positive coping skills!” said Dr. Laura Saunders of the Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network (BHN). “Physical activity in the form of biking meets the social distancing requirement and allows you the chance to explore your community. Going outside, getting needed Vitamin D for energy and biking makes it a fun and beneficial family activity. Baking, on the other hand, can be a very grounding activity. It requires precise measurement and sustained attention.”
Cooking is more prevalent with the closure of restaurants during the pandemic, but baking is the real winner when it comes to mental health because it requires keen focus to exact the chemical reactions needed to produce bread, cookies or cakes.
“Measuring precisely keeps us focused in the present so we aren’t thinking or worrying about the past or future,” Dr. Saunders said.
Other benefits, which have fueled its current popularity (check out #pandemicbaking), include:
- Helping you feel self-sufficient.
- Costing little.
- Keeping your hands busy which is meditative, therapeutic and calms your central nervous system.
- Making you feel satisfied producing something tangible and delicious.
- Comforting you with familiar and favorite recipes.
- Providing a sense of reliability no matter what’s happening in the news.
- Leaving you with a sense of control.
- Stimulating your senses with tantalizing smells, textures and tastes.
Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology determined that simple creative acts like baking, when done regularly, can improve your psychological function. Another from the Journal of Palliative Medicine said cooking and baking can help manage grief.
While bakers sift and roll out dough, others have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic by riding bicycles. The two-wheelers have been exercise of choice for people desperate to get outside and seeking a replacement for fitness routines disrupted with the closure of gyms and public parks. In urban areas, a survey by Trek Bicycle found that people are buying bikes because they feel they’re safer transportation than crowded buses and subways.
Also, 63 percent of those surveyed find biking helps relieve stress and anxiety, while 27 percent reported riding bikes for mental health and stress relief
“We know that regular exercise not only helps our physical help but it boosts our mental health as well,” Dr. Saunders said.
It does this by:
- Distracting you from negative thoughts and fears.
- Improving your self-esteem.
- Helping you feel a sense of control.
- Generating mood-supporting hormones and reducing stress-related hormones.
- ·Supporting nerve cell health.
“Baking and biking are both nourishing for you and your family. I’ve heard people boasting on social media about their “isolation bread” adventures! They are also good ways to pass the time!” Dr. Saunders said.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, the BHN has a 24/7 hotline with clinicians who can help. Call 833.621.0600.
The Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network is now scheduling virtual-health visits for mental health and addiction services. Call your provider for details. New patients can schedule a virtual visit by calling 1.888.984.2408.
For more information on the programs and services available through the Behavioral Health Network, click here.
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