I have high-functioning anxiety. I can best describe how it feels by comparing it to a duck swimming: I may look calm and collected on the surface, but underneath, I am paddling like crazy and trying to keep a million worries about several hundred things at bay. There are days where I am perfectly OK, for the most part; other days, I think anything can and will go terribly wrong. I have been taking medication off and on for years in addition to journaling and therapy to help manage it.
When the pandemic hit, everything was strange and uncertain, which made my anxiety levels go through the roof. I’ve had to try new techniques to help manage all the newfound stress. One of the things that helped the most came from an unexpected source — the kitchen.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with cooking. I had a few staple meals I could make, and I didn’t mind firing up the stove and cooking them. However, meal planning and grocery shopping were never things I enjoyed doing pre-pandemic. Long days at the office and unpredictable commutes had a lot to do with that ambivalence. By the time I got home, I had no desire to think about what to make for dinner. My fiancé often picked up my slack, and I am forever grateful that he is an excellent cook. We relied on meal delivery kits to account for at least two dinners a week.
But working from home changed that drastically. Suddenly, I had an extra two hours every day to spare when I normally would have been rushing out of the house or waiting for a delayed red line train. And I had energy and the desire to cook for my family, which I hadn’t had before.
And, as it turned out, cooking brought a sense of calm to my anxiety. I found that cooking forces me to focus and concentrate because I don’t want to mess up the recipe or, even worse, injure myself. So this concentration allows me to block out any triggering thoughts about parenting, work, or the general state of the world.
Cooking has also become a new outlet for my creativity — which I never thought would happen. This was especially true when my son’s daycare was closed due to state COVID guidelines and I had to care for him and work from home. I would often use ingredients we already had on hand and leftovers from dinner the night before to make “Chopped” style lunches for us.
In the past, cooking would often lead me to brief stints of burnout. But I no longer dread the idea of having to make dinner at the end of a busy workday. And if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I will be able to adapt to whatever the post-COVID work situation is, and I will be able to keep up with my newfound love of cooking.