Therapy 2021: Baking & Gardening

According to the Oxford dictionary, therapy is “treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder or health problem.” An athlete who sustained a sprain may undergo physical therapy and for anxiety and depression, one may seek out a counsellor or psychologist.

But what if like me, these past few months, you were just feeling shitty? What if it was just sadness due to some event or something outside your control and you’re just feeling lousy and you know talking to a coach or counsellor will not chase away the blues?

Here’s an A-ha moment for you (well it was for me). I was talking to my Intern, R, who is training to be an occupational therapist and she was discussing how gardening is a form of therapy and I almost jumped up from my seat because it all made sense - my sudden obsession with baking and urban gardening this past year and more so these past few months - it was my subconscious coping with the difficult situation (the pandemic). It all made sense.

So how do activities like baking and gardening double up as therapy? Research has shown many reasons but here’s the TOP THREE reasons why you may want to consider baking or gardening if you’ve been feeling shitty or lousy lately.

1. Regain Control

In challenging times, we often begin to feel helpless as things are largely out of our control. Take the pandemic for instance, we can practice good hygiene, even get vaccinated but how it spreads in communities and the restrictions imposed are largely outside our control. Baking and gardening brings back that control to you - you can choose what level of complexity you want in your activity - you could bake simple cookies or something more complex like sourdough. You could plant sprouts or tomatoes. Indulging in these activities allows you to make decisions based on your capabilities, resources and environment - you’re in-charge.

2. Gives Purpose and Direction

Often in difficult and uncertain times, it is difficult to plan anything and we are reacting to whatever comes our way. The inability to plan makes us feel helpless and sometimes the days go by and we feel we’ve accomplished very little. Activities like gardening and baking give us structure - for example, the moment I wake up, I’ll check on my plants, feel the soil to determine which plants need to be watered, and check if any plant had been attacked by pests. I even move my plants around for optimum sunlight. With the baking, I assess the growth of my sourdough starter daily, and then I make the necessary adjustments. These little activities throughout the day give me structure and I can plan my other activities around it. And when I see a plant grow or my bread is baked or even the sourdough starter bubbling, it gives me a sense of accomplishment.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a very misunderstood concept with people thinking you need to take on some meditative poses or sit in silent meditation and be aware of your breath and posture. However, mindfulness is more than that - it is about being present, being aware of your actions, thoughts and emotions at any given point in time. When you’re gardening or baking, you will bring your awareness to the activity you’re doing at that point. For example, I will take note of the leaves or stem structure - are there signs of distress that my pant may be undergoing or have the seeds I sowed begging to sprout. Similarly, when I’m baking, I will assess the condition of the dough as I add the ingredients as each batch of flour is different and may not necessarily need the same amount of water as stated in the recipe. And I know when I’m not practising mindfulness - cos that’s the day when I would have killed some plants or baked a teeth-breaking sourdough bread!

So if 2020 and 2021 have been difficult years for you, Therapy 2021 is just what you need - a little bit of gardening, a little bit of baking and a whole lot of love.