Why you should care

Because maybe you should eat your stress away.

We all have our coping mechanisms, those hard-won ways of dealing with daily stress. In this series, we at OZY share our secrets to staying sane.

Every writer knows the feeling. It’s 7 p.m., the sun is going down and it suddenly dawns on you that you haven’t left the house all day. Instead, you have spent the past 10 hours hyperventilating in front of a bluish screen (cue sound of soul sinking).

It’s in this moment that my lifesaving routine kicks in: I close the thousand open tabs on my computer, put on some comfy clothes, tie my hair up and crank up some tunes. Then I take a deep breath and walk barefoot into my happy place, which isn’t a shrine or a home gym. It’s my kitchen.

No, I don’t mean sitting on the couch snacking on Pringles while binge-watching Celebrity Chefs.

Over the years, I have tried countless things to maintain a semblance of work-life balance — meditation, juicing, running — but the only one that works consistently for me is food. And before you suggest I join Weight Watchers, I don’t mean sitting on the couch snacking on Pringles while binge-watching Celebrity Chefs (though that may have happened once). I mean real food — homemade, livesaving, soul-lifting yumminess.

Here’s why cooking is the perfect antidote to a digital diet of cortisol and eye fatigue: It requires little to no brainpower, you can see the results straight away and it encourages social interaction. I live alone but cook as if I were an Italian matriarch, which means I regularly invite friends over for dinner or show up at my neighbor’s door with Tupperware full of broccoli fritters or ginger-and-oatmeal cookies. What’s more, I live on the third floor of a huge apartment block in the asphalt jungle of downtown Nairobi, Kenya, so washing cabbage is the closest I come every day to being in touch with nature.

Still, I think the major advantage of cooking is that I need to eat every day. My calves may be tighter if I don’t practice my downward-facing dog, or I may snap at a telemarketer if I don’t meditate, but if I don’t eat … well, I die. And I’ve found that “life or death” is what it takes for my goldfish-like mind to develop a healthy habit. Not to mention that, given the extortionate price of acai bowls, green juice and Xanax, homemade healthful meals also keep the stressful prospect of bankruptcy at bay.

Not everybody gets as excited as I do about well-stocked spice racks and very sharp knives. I have a journalist friend with drawers full of stretchy yoga pants; I collect aprons. Some listen to “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat while lifting weights at the gym; I chop onions to the rhythm of Django Reinhardt’s guitar. My hippie aunt swears by divination cards; I use cookbooks as tarot decks — a recipe for couscous-stuffed bell peppers makes me want to travel to Morocco, while one for mint-and-cucumber salad reminds me I should call my mom.

Does my waistline betray my love of cooking? Maybe. But so does my giddy smile at the end of a long, stressful workday.

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