Des Willie/Love Productions/BBC/Netflix

Watching Paul Hollywood & Mary Berry Is The Best Kind Of Self-Care

by Madeleine Deliee

I’ve tried lavender oil, white noise, a weighted blanket, but if my monkey mind is in top gear and I really need to decompress, nothing works better for me than a bunch of British people serenely baking their butts off. Most of us feel anxious at one time or another. I feel anxious a lot. My brain just keeps on going, inventing reasons for the work problem or the friend fight, running them out to doomsday scenarios where I get fired or have no one to talk to again, ever. I recognize the illogic, but often feel powerless to stop it. The Great British Baking Show empowers me. Watching the competition go down in the “big tent,” my kids are in bed, my husband is zonked out, and I have no concerns beyond whether someone’s fondant will remain firm. I can hit pause on my real-world anxiety and gain some needed perspective.

Why is TGBBS so soothing?

First, it’s impossible to view the bucolic English countryside and feel uptight. The location, incidentally, is a residence in Berkshire, with grounds sometimes open to the public. It’s so green and lush, it looks like a nursery rhyme come to life. Plus, there are often entirely gratuitous shots of adorable baby animals — sort of Mother-Goose-Meets-All-Those-Cute-Animal-Videos-That-Distract-You-from-Work. And that’s before we even get to the baking.

Richard, from season 5 of The Great British Baking Show, is a family man. YouTube/Netflix

The show follows a soothingly consistent format: the “signature bake” (something the bakers have practiced at home that showcases their individual tastes), the “technical challenge” (an on the spot test of skills, baked blind with sparse instructions), and the “showstopper” (practiced beforehand, but so elaborate that many confess they’ve never completed it entirely before the big day). My own baking efforts are mostly confined to chocolate chip cookies and the occasional “Oh my god, you’re supposed to bring something for that party tomorrow?” pan of Brownies a la Mom Guilt. I’d seldom describe the experience as soothing.

Top Chef is all quick cuts and dramatic music; British Baking is extended shots and hushed voice-over narration. The camera work is nearly glacial compared to American television, but that sedate pacing lulls the stress right out of me. The sunlight streams into the tented pavilion where they peacefully create, and I briefly forget all about my dryer’s newfound habit of melting my underwear.

Mary Berry "leads a herd of 20 sheep over London Bridge," per the Daily Mail. This is the kind of content you can expect in the GBBS universe. YouTube/Daily Mail

If the visuals weren’t enough, there’s also the lovely array of accents. From the hosts to the judges to the contestants, listening to the participants speak simply makes my ears happy. I might not always understand every word spoken in, say, a particularly thick Scottish burr, but the musicality charms me all the same. I can simply listen to the various populations of the UK hold forth on the merits of Italian versus French buttercream and breathe into my zen. There’s something gentle there that is missing from my life here in the colonies.

My attachment to the show and its benefits did attract my husband’s attention. Now he’s in on the routine as well — with his own variation. He finds the show so relaxing, he falls asleep. Almost every time. It’s a miracle if he makes it to the technical challenge. That does, however, mean a little 40-minute oasis of time that’s just for me. I know the self-care label is worn a bit thin, but whatever: TGBBS slows me down in a way that I just need sometimes. Perhaps meditation would be more brag-worthy; it would almost certainly be more Insta-ready. Really, though, the whole point of watching this show is the opposite of posing for the camera: it’s old sweatpants and my own cup of tea, relaxed and comfortable.

Furthermore, would meditation teach me how to make puff pastry from scratch, even if I don’t plan on ever doing so? Would it afford me the opportunity to laugh at the show’s inability to recognize challah (the confusion caused by bagels was pretty good too)? I doubt it.

British Baking brings me zen when it’s in short supply, nestling my brain in a warm blanket of gentle humor, baby chicks, and lingering shots of lovingly constructed pastry. Is it improving me intellectually? Making me a better citizen? Maybe not. But with every episode, it shows me that in baking, as in parenting, you can fail twice, then get up the next day and give it another go. The show lets me go to sleep with my jaw unclenched and my mind at peace, and, as they say in the pavilion, “I’m pleased with that.”

After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.