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How to Turn Weeknight Dinners into Stress Relief

Can cooking release stress? The combination of mid-year exhaustion and shorter daylight hours can have anyone feeling seasonal sadness. Mix in the added stress of illness and chilly weather and it’s no surprise we start to feel unmotivated.

At the end of a gloomy day, you’re feeling tired and burnt out and you’re suddenly faced with the dreaded question: “What’s for dinner?”

Sometimes thinking  about cooking dinner after a long day is substantially more miserable than the making  part.

Research showed that culinary therapy is being trialled around the world to assist those struggling with mental illness. And we can access it without even leaving our house.

Benefits of Stress Cooking...

Mindfulness:

Without distractions little tasks, like chopping veggies and stirring sauces, can engage our brains and increase our ability to concentrate and focus. Cooking provides a sensory environment that keeps our body aware while allowing space for our thoughts to wander. If we can focus on good memories then this can relieve stress and boost your mood.

Creativity:

When people talk about ‘getting creative in the kitchen’ my mind instantly goes to 5 course dinners and macaron towers which increases  my stress level. But it can be something as simple as swapping out just one ingredient in a dish you’re familiar with. Trying a new vegetable or brand can stimulate a different part of your brain and combat the feeling of being stuck in a rut. Starting small ensures we don’t overwhelm ourselves (because that incredible new recipe always looks easier before we start) and keep our stress levels under control.

Aromatics:

Calming smells have long been known to encourage relaxation (I’m looking at you lavender scented body products) but did you know the smell of everyday spices can have stress reducing properties as well? Basil, nutmeg and turmeric are all known stress relievers, and you probably already have them in your cupboard. In the morning sprinkle some nutmeg on your cereal or in your coffee then after a long day have a basil-based pasta dish (pesto sauces work well!) or incorporate some turmeric into your rice water for a spin on a weeknight staple.

Sense of Achievement:

Your high school home economics teacher wasn’t lying when they said cooking improves your ability to plan and organise – all great workplace skills. But the real satisfaction of cooking comes from the boost of self-esteem we feel when completing a project. Experiencing a sense of accomplishment regularly, no matter how small, can help you feel more relaxed and happy.

There will still be days when we need a break and that’s ok! But dinnertime doesn’t have to be such a drag during winter; we can appreciate small parts of the process and see it as a way to relieve some of the days tension and get us feeling empowered for tomorrow.