We’re all aware of the stereotypes around the student meal time. Noodles or baked beans on toast seems to be the go to that all your family assume you eat and to some extent this stereotype is accurate. Cheap meals that require little preparation can be a simple solution to the busy student schedule, but is there a greater benefit in labouring for an hour to create a more elaborate plate?

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Many of you may have been deterred by the very idea of cooking an actual meal but bear with me – the benefits of cooking are severely underestimated. Maybe you fit the stereotype, or perhaps you simply don’t like cooking? Read on.

Cooking – and I mean real cooking – provides refuge from stress in the same way that meditation does.

University live is hectic, busy and stressful. Juggling lectures, essays, your social life and extra-curricular commitments is very demanding. Without an escape, the pressures of uni life can be crippling. No wonder it is estimated that one in four students suffer from mental health problems.

Everybody needs an escape from this stress to a greater or lesser degree. However, many students don’t have an escape method. Without a means to relieve stress, mental health can enter a dangerous downward spiral. You get stressed or because you can’t keep up with uni life, which stops you from doing the things you need to do, so you get even more stressed, and so on. This continues and plunges you into more serious mental health issues. It may not be stress; it could be a feeling of inferiority from not being able to keep up with social pressures, or perhaps you are anxious about an upcoming exam? Either way, having a way to escape and deal with these issues is necessary and essential.

The common way to deal with such problems is meditation. All sorts of counsellors, health gurus and professionals support the benefits of meditation, and rightly so – it can be invaluable. But meditation is not for everyone, I get it.

Cooking could be the alternative relaxation method that many of us need.

Many of us struggle with the idea of sitting still and focusing on thoughts and feelings and, although meditation can be improved by practice, physically performing an activity may be a better way to switch off for a lot of people. Some people are simply not suited to traditional means of meditation. People with ADHD, for example, would struggle with the concept of being still and focusing on their thoughts and cooking has proved a great way to deal with their hyperactivity.

So just why is cooking such a good alternative way to achieve mindfulness? Of course, slicing through vegetables with a perfectly sharpened knife can be very therapeutic, but there is a deeper benefit to cooking.

After a long day of lectures, reading and various other commitments, cooking is centering in a way that allows you to catch up with yourself and be truly in the present. With the busy modern life, many of us live at a pace that our minds can’t always keep up with. Cooking allows the mind to catch up as it works in tandem with your body in the present as the two are focused solely on the task at hand – creating a meal. Even when you are completing smaller tasks within the preparation of your meal, they are still parts of the greater goal.

Given the demands of making a more elaborate meal, especially when you are new to cooking, you stop thinking about all the other aspects of your life – the anxiety about that upcoming exam, the worry that you’re deep into your overdraft or the difficulty you have had finding good friends. Your focus is solely on creating a meal.

Cooking may, therefore, be the alternative relaxation technique that you need but didn’t know about.

When you first start cooking, you will probably struggle, you may find it frustrating and your meals may not be Michelin Star, but no one said it would be easy. Much like any other hobby or relaxation technique, it requires practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you enjoy it. You might even find yourself creating a masterpiece every evening – now that will be rewarding!

Hopefully you will quickly become absorbed in your meal preparation and the deeper benefits of cooking will really start to show.

Not everyone is suited to the traditional means of meditation – even if you are, an active meditation may be a nice way to diversify your relaxation. Cooking could be the alternative that many of us need.

 

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