One of my favorite things in life is food — the act of cooking and baking, sharing food with friends and, of course, eating it. I don’t know about you, but I can personally attest to having very positive thoughts after filling my stomach with delectable sweets.
One day, after eating the remnants of uncooked brownie batter (don’t try this at home), the thought occurred to me that there must be some link between food and stress reduction. Lo and behold, there is indeed a vast trough of literature looking at food — both the preparation and consumption of it — as a form of self-therapy or “culinary art therapy.” The production of food as creative expression is a form of stress relief and the act of offering food to others is a form of positive interpersonal interaction and emotion regulation. Certain foods, such as cocoa powder and chocolate, also have the power to produce positive effects on mood and have a beneficial effect on the vascular system, including cerebral blood flow.
All of that information — particularly that last bit on eating chocolate — was enough to make me decide that something food-related, preferably sugar-related, would be my next stress-relieving activity. I decided to enroll in a cake decorating class with some friends.
Each of us was given a nine-inch plain white cake to decorate as we saw fit. One of my friends had found some ideas online and printed them out, such as different angles of a detailed Star Wars-themed cake she aspired to make. The rest of us decided to wing it. After a failed attempt at copying a globe (with Europe looking like a purple dinosaur), I changed tactics and decided to take advantage of Europe’s shape and make a Barney-themed cake for a relative’s birthday. I was surprised to learn that cake decorating meant more than just creating what would be on the top of the cake: it involved practicing basic border techniques, decorative piping and making elaborate items such as drop flowers and leaves. I soon became familiar with the different cake decorating tools and was able to call instruments by their proper names instead of just “that pokey stick.” I was completely unprepared for the physical strength needed to continually squeeze a piping bag and humbled in my realization that cake decorating isn’t nearly as easy as it appears. It is a lot of work, both from a physical and mental standpoint. The time passed by quickly and, before I knew it, I was the proud owner of a Barney birthday cake.
For those of you who are less artistically inclined like I am, I’d actually suggest coming in with some sort of preconceived notion of what you want your cake to resemble. Although printing out different views of TIE fighters and Kylo Ren’s duck-shaped mask might be a little on the extreme side, I think that having a general theme makes the experience more enjoyable. Also, be prepared for your hand to get very tired and shaky. If my group of friends and I didn’t know who was planning on entering a surgical field when we started, we definitely would know by the end. Decorating a cake and keeping your hand steady enough to draw something resembling a golden retriever rather than a lumpy potato are not as easy as they might sound. Apart from all of that, this was a great bonding experience and a lot of fun, well worth the price and the benefit of not having to worry about the mess (plus a cake to take home).
A very important topic is that of mental health in medical practitioners, notably medical students. According to a study in the Student British Medical Journal, 30 percent of medical students report having a mental health condition — with a majority of 80 percent stating the level of available support was poor or only moderately adequate. This column was born from these alarming statistics and aims to stimulate conversation on mental health in medical students, from providing suggestions on how to maintain one’s mental health to discussing the taboo and stigma surrounding conversations on mental health in practitioners and students, and how to eliminate it.