Why breadmaking and baking can help soothe anxiety amid the pandemic

Have you been going hard on making bread or baking more biscuits than you could shake a baguette at?

You’re not the only one.

Baking has become a major trend amid the coronavirus pandemic – and it could be doing us a lot of good when it comes to soothing anxiety in Covid times.

‘There is not a thing that is more positive than bread,’ said Fyodor Dostoevsky, and you’d be hard pushed to find anyone not seduced by the smell of bread baking or comforted by buttered toast.

If the past six months taught us anything, it’s that when the going gets tough, we lean into sourdough starters or bake banana bread.

During lockdown, flour was as rare as hen’s teeth as the nation got ‘kneady’.

The BBC Good Food website reported a 700 per cent increase in traffic to the video ‘how to make bread’ during the last two weeks of March 2020.

This is no surprise to Pauline Beaumont, 63, author of Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art Of Baking Bread.

‘We’re living in an atmosphere of threat and what we need is to feel soothed, calm and to regulate our emotions,’ she says.

‘We also need grounding, which is about belonging. Breadmaking does that. It’s symbolically, culturally and socially significant, and it gives us this feeling of safety.’

Beaumont is a trained psychologist and student mental health counsellor at Newcastle University, and is well placed to understand how society can nurture mental health.

But baking has also helped her personally: she is one of six children and a mother of six herself, with one of her children born with neurological issues.

She has also been through redundancy and career change. Hers is a busy, unpredictable life, with breadmaking the anchor.

In the book, which is a beautifully illustrated hardback, Beaumont details how bread baking can make our lives more peaceful, self-loving and creative.

She also includes a number of recipes to either complement or kick-start readers’ breadmaking journeys, from a yeasted loaf to spinach flatbread. Beaumont started making bread 15 years ago.

‘My life was frantic – I was spending too much time in my head and I had an urge to make something with my hands,’ she recalls.

‘Breadmaking forced me to slow down.’

Since that first loaf, she has also recognised that when things go wrong, accepting flaws and mistakes is key.

‘The pressure we put ourselves under in pursuit of perfection is a significant cause of anxiety and so activities like breadmaking allow us to accept that we all make mistakes,’ she says.

According to the Office for National Statistics, when Covid-19 gripped the nation in late March 2020 half of the UK’s adult population – about 25 million people – reported high levels of anxiety.

But Beaumont believes breadmaking’s benefits aren’t just for the anxious.

‘To be creative, to learn and to put attention on something outside of ourselves is good for us whether we have mental health problems or not… the simplest approach to mindfulness is to focus on our senses,’ she says, adding that a significant part of mindfulness is training our attention, which is so easily manipulated.

‘Baking bread helps us control our attention with all the practical, physical things we need.’

And what about the baked bread itself?

‘I love giving bread as a present,’ she says.

‘Making bread is an expression of love: you put something of yourself into bread you bake. I feel that deeply.’

Beaumont’s Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art Of Baking… (Yellow Kite) is out now

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