How Stress Baking Is A Unique Coping Tool For the Patient With Cancer

November 5, 2020
Marissa Holzer
Marissa Holzer

Marissa is a forty-something Flattie in sunny SoCal living with metastatic breast cancer, her boyfriend (and high school sweetheart) and her not so mini schnauzer, Heidi. She enjoys reading, stress baking and roller skating. She hopes to inspire others with her dry humor and zest for life.

Finding ways to manage the stress and anxiety of cancer can be a challenge when the disease is ever-present, but activities like baking can distract you just long enough to handle that stress and make a tasty treat.

Whether it be cookies, cupcakes, candy or chocolate cakes, baking is a great coping mechanism that helps me to decompress in a time of stress. Baking is my go-to recipe for calm and distraction which are key components to help handle my stress. Besides, did you know when you spell “stressed” backward it spells “desserts”?

The first step to destressing when I bake is choosing what to make. I love digging through my piles of vintage cookbooks. The feel and smell of the old paper are comforting. The vintage illustrations are so kitschy and reminiscent of a different time. You’ll also find me scouring Grandma’s recipe box and even Pinterest for baking inspiration. I will on occasion challenge myself with a new recipe to use up something we have in abundance; for example, zucchini or bananas always seem to find a place in my kitchen.

My boyfriend is always overbuying bananas too. They tend to end up in our freezer just waiting to be turned into banana bread. Other times I take comfort in the nostalgia of a timeless recipe, such as chocolate chip cookies. Starting with measuring the ingredients, I have control over what I am making, even when other areas of my life are out of my control. With each step, I have some sort of focus, direction and oversight.

For me, baking also uses all five senses. From touching the ingredients and creating something delicious to flipping pages in an old cookbook, it just relaxes me. It forces me to focus on what I am doing and not on my disease. If only someone else would clean up the kitchen and put everything away when I am done baking. I guess we can’t have it all!

However, just hearing that hypnotic whirl of my Kitchen Aid mixing up something decadent makes me happy. The aroma of a chocolate cake starting to form into a batter is intoxicating. It can take all your troubles away in just one whiff. Your house starts to smell cozy, safe and familiar. An added bonus when baking something with chocolate is dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, those chemicals in the brain that creates feelings of pleasure. Dark chocolate also contains serotonin, known to be an antidepressant that can elevate mood.

The sight of the batter contained within its pan in the oven rising or the cookie dough turning into golden goodness is so rewarding. I always want to watch the process as it unfolds. I try my hardest not to open the oven door, but you know the light is on inside and I am peeking in the little window. It’s just another part of being in control when nothing else is controllable. The only thing better is indulging and sharing once your creation is cooled and ready.

A word of caution for those who wear synthetic wigs: do not open the oven door and put your head in. Use the oven window or remove your wig. I learned from experience this is not a good idea. I wound up with singed ends and that takes away those good baking smells in a hurry.

Sharing your baked goods with friends or neighbors is gratifying. Who doesn’t love a homemade treat? It can make your day and someone else’s day better. I’ve been known to bring goodies on occasion to the cancer center. There is always more than enough to go around and everyone benefits from chocolate cake.

So, go ahead, put on your apron. Let's get baking.

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