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Baking to Cope? That Won’t Help Your Anxiety

January 15, 2019

 

I want to warn you, your new baking habit might backfire.

 

It’s not because you’ll eat too many cookies. It’s because you might make the psychological problem you are trying to fix worse.

 

Let me explain.

 

Last week I got an unusual request when Meredith Goad, food writer for the Portland Press Herald, asked to interview me. Being hopeless at cooking and pretty clueless about cuisine, I was surprised.

 

Did I know anything about this rise in “anxiety baking” The Atlantic reported on just before Christmas?

 

Yeah, I do actually have some thoughts, I told her. I’m no chef nor do I even cook, but I do know something about anxiety.

 

Anxiety of powerlessness

 

As a therapist and coach, I work primarily with what I call purpose-driven professionals. People who seek to do good work and help others. I consider myself part of this club too.

 

We are a group of compassionate, competent people and we are increasingly anxious and frustrated. I believe this comes from a sense of powerlessness.

 

I explained to Meredith that I believe that this sense of anxiety and raw frustration, fueled by powerlessness, is the same force that has people taking up baking.

 

It’s about regaining power.

 

Baking is satisfying in an obvious way: you get a delicious reward—something tangible and nourishing for your efforts. There is a lot to like about it.

 

But I think it goes way beyond that. It offers a salve to those who feel deeply, irritatingly frustrated by the changing political climate that permeates our everyday lives.

 

A lot of us feel that the rules have changed. Hard work doesn’t always get rewarded. Actual competence is valued less than the appearance of competence. Talking the talk is better than walking the walk. At least that’s how it feels.

 

I don’t know about you, but what I was taught about what it takes to be happy and successful does not always pan out.

 

A lot of us are stressed, in debt, and feeling not good enough even though we worked hard, went to college, and got a “good” job.

 

On top of that, we feel we are being led by people who are less capable and less ethical than we are. It’s maddening.

 

We don’t know the rules anymore.

 

The allure of controlling your [culinary] destiny

 

Baking can relieve this frustration. It follows the same rules for me as it did my grandmother. I do the right things in the right order and get the intended result.

 

That rarely happens outside of the kitchen.

 

The relief from anxiety comes from being in charge of the process and outcome—to have my culinary destiny within my control.

 

I can be the master of the results from the comfort of my own kitchen.

 

If we are using this as a coping skill, we may never channel our frustrations to the right places. Nothing changes in our personal or professional lives just because we’ve got our muffins under control.

 

You’ve got to learn how to be more powerful and influential in real ways away from the comforts of warm cookies.

 

In short, nothing will relieve our anxieties like learning how to navigate a world where power is rewarded, not necessarily merit. Most of us simply don’t have the blueprint to success in this changing landscape.

 

Recipe for coping with anxiety

 

My goal in working with people is to help them make key mindset changes that can help them navigate this new world. We have to be willing to adapt to the rules of success in 2019, without losing ourselves, our values, and our skill sets.

 

I coach people to become expert communicators who know how to use their power to be influential in promoting their ideas that are consistent with their competence and values.

 

Savvy, bright people can’t just work hard and wait to be called on. They have to know how to speak up and be initiators.

 

Knowing how to use our power while anchored by our values and guided by ethical standards is the antidote to feeling crushed by those who want power over us.

 

Power for good, not greed, is the way forward for me and the big-hearted, thoughtful people with whom I am honored to work.

 

Bottom line? Go home and bake at the end of the day. But don’t let that be the substitute for learning new skills and taking new risks that will address your anxiety and frustrations head-on.

Hannah Curtis, LCSW works with purpose-driven professionals such as teachers, counselors, social workers, and healthcare professionals, to improve communication, boost confidence, and beat burnout. Join her for a personalized, individual 12-week Deep Dive coaching program and gain the skills to face stress and frustration head-on.

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