Chilling the beans: my entirely accidental fall into cooking therapy 1 month ago

Chilling the beans: my entirely accidental fall into cooking therapy

Switch on the hob to truly switch off.

Just be careful while you're doing it.

There are certain concessions that come with living in such a connected world. We're always online, so by extension... we're always on.

Spending my more formative teenage years with an iPod Shuffle consistently plugged into my ears, I had very little time to entirely switch off.

Couple that with a solid decade of blasting podcasts wherever I go, listening to playlists while diving into a new novel, or throwing on a Netflix documentary as I do my washing, and it's hardly surprising that the gentle buzz of disturbance has almost become normal.

It's easy to zone out, but it's not easy to switch off. These days, there's very little time to just be.

The solution to all of this has appeared to come in the form of mindfulness and meditation. Set yourself a specific amount of time to sit with just your thoughts, shut everything else out, and be present.

But what if being present doesn't come so easy? What if shutting out the world isn't that simple, because your own thoughts are sometimes intrusive and mostly restless?

There came a point when I presumed that switching off for me would peak at heading out with my friends, having a few pints, and distracting myself with their problems.

But then I started cooking.

Julia Ohana says that there is always an element of mindfulness involved in the culinary arts - especially when a person is cooking on their own.

After becoming a qualified counsellor in the States, she decided that she wanted to use her passion for cooking in a way that would help other people too.

So, she started using cooking as a form of therapy - one that would help everyone from to young people suffering from anxiety to patients in substance abuse treatment facilities.

"[There's] something about being in the moment, focusing on the here and now, that is cathartic," she says.

"We all have so many things going on and life moves at such a fast pace for so many of us. There is something really beneficial about slowing down, being 'present' and just simply focusing on the task at hand."

The process of cooking is, at the very least, a distraction.

Chopping vegetables requires attention. Assessing timings and temperatures expects consideration. Giving flavours the space they need to flourish to create something truly delicious demands patience - a value that I often find myself lacking in severely.

The first time I undertook the task of cooking a substantial meal for myself that required at least three different forms of cookware and half a spice rack, the evening passed by with an ease that was previously unknown to me.

I had spent an extended period of time just on myself. No phone, no mates, no podcast blasting in my ears. And I had been content while doing it too.

This was during a period of my life when spending time alone was almost daunting. Preferring to surround myself with other people, I dreaded full days where I'd have to entertain myself for fear of debilitating boredom or baseless anxiety.

Those days have thankfully long since past, but my excitement around cooking hasn't. Nor has the fascination with how remedying the entire process can be.

Julia says that the sense of achievement a person feels from cooking by themselves isn't just based on the one meal they've made, but the continued skills that they're building over time.

"It really depends on the person and the experience," she says, "but overall I see people learn a life skill that they can feel good about."

"They gain confidence by doing something helpful and meaningful for themselves and their loved ones.

"They learn how to be present, slow down and live in the moment, appreciate the small things. [They] learn to communicate with others in a different way, problem solve, time manage and so much more."

Cooking is creativity.

Make something that tastes incredible and you've immediately got bragging rights on that dish. Make sure it's aesthetically pleasing enough to throw on Instagram and be inundated with drool emoji reactions. Let the praise come to you.

Working in the creative industry can sometimes make you feel like you've simply got nothing left to give once you leave the office.

Spending nine hours a day reading, writing, and consuming culture can often become the only time you ever want to do those things.

I had managed to turn my hobby into a career, but then I was left with no hobbies - until I started cooking.

It's become something I look forward to at night, a means of switching off but having something to show for it.

It's my own personal therapy session that I don't end up 50 quid short at the end of - while also gaining a solid 2kg of mushroom and parmesan risotto.

Everybody wins.