College can be a stressful experience. It’s important to be involved in student organizations, keep your grades where you’d like them to be, network at career fairs, grab free items during Welcome Week, buy groceries to cook meals, schedule a coffee meetup with friends…
It can get overwhelming at times as you watch your to-do list pile up.
My sophomore year, I decided to pursue an unpaid, off-campus internship that was in Champaign, IL. Although I loved the fact that I got a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to work in a health center and had a chance to impact patients’ lives, getting there was a struggle. I spent an hour (sometimes two hours) on the bus every day of the week since I don’t have a car on campus. Spending that much time in public transit meant I lost productivity in other things I needed to do, like homework and planning for the student organizations I’m in. Simply thinking about my to-do list was enough to make me anxious.
I’m the type of person who likes to stay on top of everything she does as much as possible, so being unproductive was bothersome. The stress and anxiety I built up from managing the internship, working at my part-time job, co-running student organizations, and keeping up with assignments was extremely high. Eventually, I reached a point where I would stare blankly at my textbook and notes. It wasn’t writer’s block. It was me, in a swivel chair, paralyzed by my to-do list while staring at my homework.
I knew that I needed to find an enjoyable outlet that involved productivity with tangible results. Getting my schoolwork done was obviously a necessity, but it was impossible to do if I couldn’t read the words in front of me anymore. All of my work was generally overcoming me. I love what I do – I simply recognized that I needed to go a step beyond, “Let’s work all the time!” and instead find time for myself in something that my brain would translate as being productive so I wouldn’t feel guilty or unproductive.
YouTube was a platform that I often used to destress. It wasn’t nearly as effective when I was very anxious, so I looked at the content I was watching instead. “Binging with Babish,” “Bon Appétit,” “SORTEDfood,” and “MasterChef” were my most frequent searches. That’s when I realized that I had friends with apartments and full kitchens, which was a great environment to interact with others while trying to learn something new. I could be productive with people I liked to be around and learn an “adulting” skill at the same time.
The first dessert I made was a recipe for sheet pan cheesecake bars for Friendsgiving. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have chosen a recipe that involved four different cheesecake flavors that were only separated by graham crackers, not to mention the fact that I had to invest in thirty-two ounces of cream cheese. However, I had some midterms that week and a paper, and that anxiety was creeping up on me. Spending hours on that cheesecake with one of my closest friends next to me helped improve my mental state because the process was both social and productive. I didn’t feel isolated because I could talk through my stress with someone I trusted, and I could take out that same stress by smashing graham crackers for the cheesecake crust. While we were preparing ingredients, conversation ranged from, “How has your week been?” to “What are your ideas for your paper?” which gave me a chance to vocalize ideas and receive constructive criticism.
While watching the cheesecake bake in the oven, I remarked that I felt unusually calm. I left my friend to make sure the dessert wouldn’t burn, and I was able to quickly outline my paper without that overhanging anxiety. By focusing on the process of making the cheesecake and talking things through with a trusted friend by my side, I felt capable again. Baking, or “procrasti-baking,” was my way out of college-related stress.
Eventually I grew out of the phase where a friend would be right next to me while I baked. I realized that the process of baking was helping me relieve myself more than talking things through (especially because measuring cups of flour was easier in silence than it was while talking about class calculations). The methodical process was – and still is – soothing to me. I’m confident in this new skill I’ve picked up, not just because my friends and co-workers all rave about what I make and request more but also because it gives me time to self-reflect. My life isn’t all about “work 24/7” anymore; it’s more balanced because I interpret baking as my personal relaxation time, even if it’s for an upcoming event.
I’ve moved into my own apartment for my junior year, and it has a full kitchen. I’ve already made fudgy brownies, cinnamon sugar banana bread muffins, and chocolate cupcakes after two weeks of being here. I have two part-time positions and do a little freelancing. I still co-lead multiple student organizations. My class schedule is full at eighteen hours, and six of those hours are in 400-level courses. Despite all this, I’m much more relaxed than how I was during my sophomore year. I can quickly recognize when I’m reaching max stress levels, and “procrastibaking” is always possible because I ensure I have ingredients on hand.
There are others who “procrasti-bake” too. In a May 2018 New York Times
article, Erin Gardner commented that, “‘Maybe I’m like a professional athlete. We can’t just get out there on the floor and start playing and be at the top of our game. We have to warm up, stretch, do our drills.’” Gardner is a professional cake decorator and has a skill set miles beyond my own, but it’s reassuring to know that even professionals consider “procrasti-baking” a fair route to take in order to find inspiration or to get work done in general.
Life will be stressful beyond college – I won’t deny that. Knowing that I’ve found an outlet that is productive, rewarding, and therapeutic is useful, however. “Procrasti-baking” opened the de-stressing door for me because it allowed me to make and share food with others while also improving my mental health and focus. I’ve learned a new “adult” skill this way and have slowly branched out into cooking too. Who knew that stress could be so sweet?