Cooking as a Therapeutic Activity for Managing Symptoms of ADHD

For Some, It Alleviates Anxiety and Creates a Space for Focus and Creativity

Graphic Carleen Loney

Have you ever found yourself taking 40 minutes to slice vegetables for a soup or salad instead of studying for a final exam the next day?

You might wonder why you’re doing this, against all logic.

If you have ADHD, you might be used to the procrastination game and know you have an ability to hyperfocus on virtually anything that is not the task at hand.

“Why on earth are you making a salad when you need to be studying for your final?!” Mom shrieks, tearing me out of my bubble.

“Because it makes me feel calm!”

That’s when I began putting things together. When ADHD was explained to me by my therapist, she mentioned that it isn’t at all the common notion of a complete inability to focus; in fact, there are different ways in which it can pronounce itself.

ADHD will cause me to occasionally lack attention toward things that require my focus and gives me the ability to hyperfocus on something else.

The underlying cause might be stimulation (or lack thereof).

I can spend hours on a YouTube journey through different species of birds when I have an assignment to research.

If there is anything less interesting to me than the rabbit hole I’m in, my brain just feels like a toddler on the floor at a store, melting down and refusing to move forward.

Procrastination is the gateway to utter panic, and utter panic is not really helpful to my focus.

What I found as the root of my procrastination was the realization that anything that can calm that feeling of stress might be preferable to the task at hand.

Cooking has become my instrument of choice to manage procrastination and anxiety.

As a slow, repetitive, creative process that requires sustained attention, cooking became one of the least destructive ways to channel that need for calm and focus.

Cooking good, healthy, homemade food is a remedy to the self-neglect that comes with being mad at oneself for procrastination.

Self-care is the antidote to self-hate.

I call it optimal procrastination.

A sense of failure is no way to approach the challenges of managing ADHD, and cooking can create a sense of accomplishment and of wellbeing.

I began to wonder if this was a common experience and not simply anecdotal and true for me.

I fired up Facebook and polled my friends. Overwhelmingly, people confirmed they too found solace in cooking to alleviate their ADHD and anxiety symptoms.

Some cited more anxiety from meal-prepping, but the ones who did say cooking helped them called it therapeutic or cathartic.

I queried Google to see if I could find a larger group of anecdotes and found an article about hip-hop musician Loyle Carner teaching children with ADHD or anxiety how to cook.

The artist said he was inspired to do this because culinary experiments helped him with his own symptoms.

Isabelle O’Carroll wrote a piece for Bon Appetit explaining how cooking helped her see her ADHD as a talent rather than something to be ashamed of.

“Everything outside of cooking didn’t feel nearly as successful or fun,” she wrote.

“At school, I was forever getting into trouble, not for being troublesome but for being late, forgetting my books, my pencil case, and once my entire school bag.”

This article resonated with me, being what I thought was a type A- student and worker my entire career.

Anyone at The Link might describe me the same way—ambitious, but sometimes scatterbrained or exhausted. Sometimes, I feel like my whole aura is just burnout and exhaustion the moment I enter the office.

Then, suddenly, I can make a killer presentation, write a killer piece, be on top of the world.

These are not flaws, though.

What I learned from Loyle Carner’s cooking school, O’Carroll’s piece, and hearing from my therapist as well as friends and colleagues is that we have to work with our situation and not against it.

I accommodate my ADHD and see it as a superpower, something that helps me always seek something new and interesting, something stimulating.

I can’t be confined to dead-end situations, boring circumstances, or sit around moping. I always strive to grow, keep my hands busy, stay creative, think about solutions instead of accepting circumstances.

I speak my mind, sometimes by compulsion but always by a desire to improve things, keep things moving.

ADHD helps me truly know what excites me and what bores me, what motivates me and what kills my spirit.

It prevents me from settling for a life and situation I don’t want or sit through things I don’t like more than I have to.

More than anything, though, cooking helps keep the negative side-effects of ADHD at bay by keeping my hands busy while I think, create, take a break from stress, and get into a space of meditation.

I would thus like to credit ADHD with the absolutely incredible rosemary bread I was able to make this week, and for the fact that this article took far too long to write.

Sometimes, things must wait for the bread to rise.