It has been joked that banana bread was the “person of the year” in 2020, and we’ve had a good laugh at the expense of the quarantine bakers who piled on to the craze. However, baking is an instinctual coping mechanism for many during times of fear and uncertainty. As empaths, we use food as a way to care for others and provide comfort when there is a threat of disease. Has your mom ever made you chicken noodle soup when you were sick?
As we push forward through our “new normal” of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to find tools that help us manage stress. Whether you’re mentally drained from a difficult patient or replaying a code blue over and over, consider turning to baking for some stress relief on your day off.
After a series of tough shifts, baking can:
Help clear your mind
Provide an outlet to channel anxiety
Produce something sweet—a symbolic way to honor your patients
Let’s discuss how each of these baking outcomes can strengthen your relationship with nursing.
Clear Your Mind
I once worked with a hospital chaplain who would periodically bring in batches of cookies for the nurses. For him, baking was an outlet to release the stress of his job. Working in a children’s hospital meant the chaplain’s role went beyond leading prayer at in-house services. He would perform baptisms for babies who weren’t going to make it and even arrived in the middle of the night after someone shouted “call the chaplain” when their patient coded. On his days off, a snickerdoodle cookie was born out of the pain he shouldered.
After experiencing a run of deaths myself, I evaluated how I was coping—I wasn’t. I thought I could sweat out the sadness in a high intensity workout, until I got lightheaded and had to sit out the remainder of a group fitness class. That’s when I took the chaplain’s lead and started channeling my own experiences into baking. It became my ritual to make something new after multiple stressful shifts. I nailed down my recipe for scratch-made cinnamon rolls while listening to an entire Kanye album, which took my mind off the sound of cardiac monitors and vent alarms.
When the world began shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I turned to breadmaking. Recalling all of the World War II novels I read that depicted long queues for bread rations, I feared that the same could happen here and now. I started with easy beer bread, borrowing recipes from fellow concerned family friends.
I eventually realized that despite the chaos caused by COVID-19, we were not going to run out of bread. Therefore, I went back to baking for fun. I landed on a recipe for bagels, which turned out to be a fun way to manage my post-nursing shift anxiety. The process of creating the dough from scratch, patiently watching it rise, and punching it down proved to be quite cathartic!
Honor Your Patients
One week, I had a busy stretch with a patient in her early 20s who was in the thick of cancer treatment. She was miserably sick from the chemo, with urgent bowels bordering incontinence. To offer some distraction from the awkwardness, I made conversation as I cleaned up her back side. I learned that she was a line chef at a fancy hotel and her favorite item to make for brunch was eggs benedict. I confessed I was intimidated by the dish because I had never successfully poached an egg, so she told me her process.
I was in this patient’s room for most of the day hanging IV meds, while she FaceTimed with family who couldn’t visit due to COVID restrictions. Their conversations were largely centered around the gravity of her illness. Some family members provided motivational talks about overcoming cancer, while others broached topics like her relationship to God in preparation for death.
On my day off, I found myself feeling guilty that I was able to relax on the couch while this young person was dealing with much heavier circumstances. So, I decided to make some bagels in her honor. I spent the day creating a batch of everything bagels when it occurred to me that they needed an accompaniment—it was time to tackle that poached egg. With the help of my patient’s instructions (and a YouTube video or two), a bagel-benedict brunch was served.
Nurses, keep in mind that you don’t have to be a pastry chef to produce something sweet that honors the hardships that our patients, their families, and our colleagues are facing in these times. On your next day off, I challenge you to try a recipe you’ve been thinking about and see what happens when you change your intentions. Remember that no matter how big of a “pinterest fail” you may think your creation is, it’s bound to disappear quickly if you bring it to the breakroom!
Alexa is a freelance health writer and registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric and neonatal intensive care. As a travel nurse, she worked her way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, taking care of some of the most inspiring kids in the country. When Alexa is not busy putting pen to paper, she can be found recreating dishes from her favorite restaurants at her home in Charleston, SC.