TIME health

I Baked 50 Pies To Deal With My Anxiety

Homemade pie
Courtesy of Muriel Vega

I never feel as calm as I do when I’m cutting fruits or mixing custards

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Pie crusts are finicky things. No matter how much you think you’ve mastered the ingredients, something as tiny as one minute too long in the bowl can make the whole experience unbearable. Well, unbearable for me.

You see, I don’t like change or things not going according to plan. It makes my hands shake, gets me in fights with my boyfriend and gives me weeks-long migraines. At least, I used to react like that. I’ve always had to deal with anxiety, and the older I get, the bigger life decisions I have to make, making my anxiety creep up to the surface more often.

Last winter, I had a small breakdown triggered by a pretty serious fight with my mother. We’ve never really seen eye-to-eye, but over time, we’ve tried to get along better and spend time together. After this fight, we did not talk for about 2 weeks and my stress levels were off the charts. It was crippling. I wasn’t able to write, a terrible thing as I am a freelance writer, and I was unable to focus on my regular job. It wasn’t healthy and I had to do something about it.

I’ve always liked to bake. Before she died, my grandmother taught me how to bake cakes and the Panamanian pastries that to this day are my favorite things to make. However, I’ve never attempted making a pie. I like eating pies, but I had no idea what went into them.

One night around Christmas, I was aimlessly scrolling through Instagram and saw a blogger’s post about her grandmother’s pie recipes and how she was going to attempt to make 100 of them. Something clicked in my brain and it just felt right. I figured if I could concentrate on learning a new skill in the kitchen, I could work through my feelings about my stress, anxiety and my current fight with my mom, all while I attempted to make pie crust.

I know, I have no idea how my brain made those connections. I thought 100 would be too ambitious for me, so I decided to make 50 pies by Christmas 2014, so about a year.

At first, I didn’t even know where to start. I searched for pie recipes on Pinterest, trying to figure out what would be an easy, yet a bit challenging to make. Then I heard about the gals at Four & Twenty Blackbirds. They were about to come out with a book and were guest blogging around the Internet with their Salted Honey Pie recipe. I grabbed the ingredients at the grocery store, including a very expensive, but good local honey. I’ve never spent more than $2 on honey and here I was, spending almost $20. I decided that since it was my first go, I would make the pie with a frozen crust.

Here’s the thing about pies – they are all about chemistry. The ingredients need to be a certain temperature, otherwise they won’t mix and the whole pie turns into a giant mush pile. Well, I didn’t know this. As I started to mix the dry ingredients, I went ahead and added the hot melted butter. That was a mistake. The whole pie filling became a greasy mess and I could feel my frustration rising.

I threw everything away and started over. The second time I used the butter at room temperature and it mixed beautifully, but then sometime between adding it to the pie crust and putting it in the oven, I spilled it everywhere. I walked away, crying, over literally spilled pie filling.

I got myself together because this was ridiculous and decided that a pie wasn’t going to conquer me. This was my personal challenge and I was going to complete it, no matter what. I felt empowered and I made everything for the third time. When it came out, it was a perfectly brown custard. As we ate this both salty and sweet creation, I knew I had to keep going.

I felt encouraged by the whole experience and one of my best friends got me the Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie book for Christmas. After that, each time I would get frustrated because I forgot an ingredient, the pie crust didn’t roll out, or the custard wasn’t jiggly enough, I took a deep breath, laughed about it and redid whatever I needed to do. I started having fun with it and it became a really fulfilling challenge. Even better, among all of this, I was able to get things right with my mom and I was generally feeling more relaxed.

The more pies I baked, the more my friends encouraged me. They started requesting them for parties. Everyone started asking me what pie number I was on or what my next pie was going to be. I started posting them on Instagram under the #muriels50pies hashtag. It became bigger than me and that was awesome. I started thinking of recipe pairings, what design to make next on the top crust, what fruits are in season, and planning my schedule around making these pies.

The more advanced I get, the more ambitious I get. I now know how make crusts from scratch and 8 out of 10 times, they don’t end up in the trash. I feel like a badass when I get it right on the first try. I’ve learned pie secrets like rolling out your pie crust with a cold rolling pin so I’m that weird person who has their rolling pin in the freezer, or adding vodka for flakiness so I mean, who are we kidding, I already keep vodka around the house.

As silly as it sounds, the pies have pushed me past myself and challenged what I can do. I never feel as calm as I do when I’m cutting fruits or mixing custards. I’m currently on pie #30 and with only 20 more pies to go in this challenge, it makes me sad that it’s almost over.

But if I learned anything about finding pie crust in weird places or realizing my dog is covered in flour after I finish baking, it’s that those little things that stress us out on a regular basis are not worth it. Who knew pies would be the recipe to a more relaxed, healthy life? Plus, let’s be honest, life is always better with a slice of pie.

You can view all of my pies so far on my blog.

Muriel Vega is a writer and editor living in Atlanta.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Mental health/Psycholog

For Social Anxiety, Therapy Beats Antidepressants

For the estimated 7% of people who suffer from social anxiety disorder, antidepressants are often the first line of defense. But a new meta-analysis published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is actually more effective—and unlike with antidepressants, the effects last after you stop.

The analysis looked at data from more than 13,000 people with severe social anxiety across 101 clinical trials. CBT came out on top as the most effective therapy overall, as well as the most effective type of talk therapy.

Here’s how it works: “You set up these experiments to test whether people’s beliefs about themselves and the world are really accurate representations,” says study author Evan Mayo-Wilson, research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In doing that, you’re getting people to experience the anxiety, learn to cope with it, and in a real-world sense, challenge those maladaptive and incorrect beliefs about themselves and the world around them.”

People with social anxiety experience self-consciousness or fear from ordinary situations, like giving a speech or riding the subway, sometimes to a debilitating degree. In CBT sessions, the therapist identifies the beliefs, thoughts and behaviors that are feeding this fear, then find creative ways into them. If a person is afraid of being stared at on the subway, for instance, a therapist might tell them to take a trip and make funny faces to see how passengers react.

Another perk of CBT was that fewer people relapsed after treatment, the study found. And many of those who practiced CBT had sustained benefits without the side effects of medication.

“Greater investment in psychological therapies would improve quality of life, increase workplace productivity, and reduce healthcare costs,” Mayo-Wilson said in a press release. “We need to improve infrastructure to treat mental health problems as the evidence shows they should be treated.”

TIME Mental health/Psycholog

4 Signs Your Body Image Isn’t Healthy

woman-holding-shoulder
Getty Images

Last week, Tallulah Willis—daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore—bravely shared her struggles with body dysmorphic disorder in a video for StyleLikeU. “I’m diagnosed [with] body dysmorphia,” Willis, 20, told the fashion blog. “[My biggest insecurity] is my face. That’s where my diagnosis came into play. Because of the position I was born into, I would read these things on the Internet and I was like, well, Why would someone write that if there wasn’t some basis for truth out there?”

“It was something I never wanted to say out loud because it was so painful.” Willis goes on to talk about how hearing mean comments about her face drove her to dress provocatively and lose a lot of weight, thinking she could draw the attention to her body instead. “I started starving myself,” she says. “I got down to 95 pounds.”

Health.com: 10 Signs You May Have OCD

This is exactly why body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD) can be so difficult to diagnose, explains Health contributing psychology editor Gail Saltz, MD. “Disordered eating can be a symptom of it, but there is no surefire sign. What body dysmorphic disorder really means is that you are so preoccupied with either a real (but slight) or imagined imperfection that you become consumed by it.”

Plenty of healthy people have a body hang-up or two that makes very little sense (mine’s my fat ankles, full disclosure), so how do you know when someone you love is really struggling? Here are four ways to recognize body dysmorphia.

They always need reassurance about that one thing

“Most people who have body dysmorphia are not going to talk about it openly because they feel a lot of shame,” Dr. Saltz says. “But sometimes, it’s a friend who keeps asking you repeatedly for reassurance about this one body part.” If supportive comments like “No, your arms aren’t fat, really!” or “No, your nose is beautiful” don’t seem to make them feel even a little better, that could be a red flag.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

They dress in a way that doesn’t make sense

Obviously, you don’t have to agree with every style choice your friends make, but think twice if she’s dressing in a way that suggests she’s trying to compensate for that one thing. “For example, she’s putting on a tent of a dress and saying it’s to hide her belly that doesn’t exist,” Dr. Saltz says. Or in the case of Tallulah Willis, she mentioned that she would wear short-shorts and push-up bras in a bid to shift attention away from her face.

Health.com: 12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

They go to extremes

“Dysmorphia fits in with this constellation of anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder,” explains Dr. Saltz. “It’s a compulsion that gets in the way of your life.” So in the same way that no amount of hand washing satisfies a person with OCD, no amount of “fixing” seems to help people with BDD. Some patients may even get plastic surgery, and then still think they need more work done after they’ve healed, while others try a progressively restricted diet to lose, say, an imagined double chin.

Health.com: 7 Strategies to Love the Way You Look

They’re hiding out

“The thing separating a normal insecurity from a problem with body dysmorphia is how much it affects your ability to function,” Dr. Saltz explains. If you notice that that she’s not going out as much, or she doesn’t want to date, or maybe she’s turned down a promotion because she doesn’t want to have to give presentations, those are signs her body issues are getting in the way of her life.

Amelia Harnish is an Associate Editor at Health.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Sex

Losing Your Virginity Is Better Than Ever

New study shows that the "first time" is more enjoyable for this generation than for previous ones

If you’re a young virgin, you’re in luck! According to a new study from the Journal of Sex Research, losing your virginity these days is more enjoyable than it’s been in 20 years, at least if you’re a woman.

Researchers found overall gender differences in male and female approaches to virginity loss, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Men are much more likely to have a “pleasurable experience” than women (a truth universally acknowledged) but also reported more anxiety surrounding the act. Women were much more likely to feel guilty after having sex for the first time.

But the good news is that those differences have changed significantly since the research started in 1980. While men reported the same amount of “pleasure” from their first sexual experience across three decades, women have reported a significant increase in first-time-fun-times since the study began. Men also reported less anxiety over the three decades, and women reported less guilt. Which means losing your virginity now is probably going to be a better experience now than ever before.

The researchers also point out that the findings are consistent with the theory of erotic plasticity, which states that female sexuality is more likely to change with social and cultural norms.

But if women are reporting more pleasure and less guilt from their first time, and men are reporting less anxiety, that’s good news for everyone!

 

TIME Marijuana

Six Ways Science Says Marijuana May Hurt Your Health

New Year Celebration
Partygoers smoke marijuana during a New Year's Eve party at a bar in Denver, celebrating the 2014 start of retail pot sales in Colorado. Brennan Linsley—AP

With the increasing push for the legalization of marijuana across the country, science is rolling out research on why pot may not be so harmless.

Boosters of marijuana legalization often speak about the relative harmlessness of the drug, especially when compared to alcohol and tobacco, which kill millions of people a year worldwide. But while the evidence suggests that pot is less damaging than some other legal drugs, the exact effects of marijuana on human health have not been well studied. Existing research is often limited in scope and rarely shows a clear causal connection.

But there have been some worrying findings, especially considering the increasing use of marijuana by American adults. A paper published this year in Forensic Science International, for instance, described two rare deaths of young men that were attributed to heart conditions resulting from marijuana use.

With legalization taking place in Colorado and Washington State, more research will now be possible. For now, here is a tour of what has been documented so far about marijuana’s negative effects.

1. It can interfere with learning

Marijuana interferes with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, affecting cognitive functions such as movement, memory, and emotional control. A recent small study found that impairment in working memory occurs immediately after marijuana use. Subjects who received a higher dose of THC—marijuana’s main active chemical—took significantly longer to complete immediate recall and mental calculation tasks.

2. It can lead to dangerous driving

Pot impairs functions key to driving, including reaction time, hand-eye coordination and depth perception, a study by the University of Chicago reported. In the first full year after medical marijuana was legalized in Colorado, there was a 12% increase in traffic fatalities, according to data analysis by researchers at Columbia University. However, studies have not been able to provide consistent evidence to prove that the effects of marijuana cause an increased rate of collisions. According to a different study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, the closest comparison to the culpability of accident when under the influence of marijuana is to a driver who has taken penicillin, anti-depressants or an antihistamine, which suggests marijuana’s effects have a nominal impact on accident risk. More research is needed.

3. It may harm the developing brain.

Although a causal connection has yet to be found, studies show regular marijuana use—once a week or more—can change the structure of the teenage brain. Marijuana affects memory and problem solving abilities, both of which can impact academic performance. Researchers from the Harvard School of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine surveyed a small group between the ages of 18 and 25 and noticed structural abnormalities in the brain, specifically in grey matter, the nucleus accumbens, and the amygdala, after recreational marijuana use.

4. It could make you panic.

Marijuana may alleviate anxiety for some, but for others it can cause it. THC can cause increased heart rate, poor coordination, or lightheadedness, which can be triggers for anxiety attacks. Some research suggests that people who frequently use of marijuana—and who started using it as young adults—were more likely to have anxiety disorders or depression. Whether cannabis use causes anxiety disorders, however, is not known.

5. It can be addictive.

One in 10 users exhibits symptoms of dependence, according to the American Psychological Association. Marijuana’s rate of dependence liability of 9% is comparable to that of anti-anxiety medications and is well under the liability rates of alcohol (15%) and tobacco (32%), according to a study by the Institute of Medicine. However, the reason why some become addicted and others don’t remains unclear. Genetic studies have suggested that the involvement, or lack thereof, of CB1 receptors in response to cannabis can influence the likelihood of addiction. The receptor gene has been found to have a connection to the development of dependence to drugs and alcohol. Studies done on animals suggest that cannabis triggers reward centers in the brain, including neurons that produce dopamine, which could also encourage continued use.

6. It can stress your heart

Marijuana-related deaths are so rare as to be treated as mythological by marijuana boosters, but a paper published this spring in Forensic Science International does describe the deaths of two healthy men, ages 23 and 28, who experienced heart trouble after using marijuana. “To our knowledge, these are the first cases of suspected fatal cannabis intoxications where full postmortem investigations, including autopsy, toxicological, histological, immunohistochemical and genetical examinations, were carried out,” the authors write. The authors surmise that the cardiovascular events were the result of increased heart rate that can happen in some pot smokers, particularly in the first hours after using marijuana. Nonetheless, the authors conclude, that the “absolute risk of cannabis-related cardiovascular effects can be considered to be low, as the baseline risk for most cannabis smokers is low and cannabis-induced changes are transient.”

TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Ordered to Undergo Psych Evaluation

South African courts aim to settle the issue of Pistorius' mental health.

The trial of South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp took an unexpected turn this week when a judge ordered him to undergo mental evaluations to determine whether he suffers from generalized anxiety disorder.

Defense witness Dr. Meryl Vorster explained that Pistorius’ anxiety disorder is what forced him to respond to the perceived threat in “fight-mode” versus “flight-mode.” That claim led the prosecutor to request a psychological evaluation, which judge Thokozile Masipa agreed to allow.

It’s unclear whether the evaluation will help or hurt Pistorius’ as he attempts to convince the judge that he killed Steenkamp by accident because he mistook her for an intruder. What is certain is that the tests will delay the trial to allow time for both the evaluation and the report.

Pistorius’ double-murder trial started on March 3.

TIME Smoking

The Weird Link Between E-Cigarettes and Mental Health Disorders

US-HEALTH-TOBACCO-E CIGARETTE
This September 25, 2013 photo illustration taken in Washington, DC, shows a woman smoking a "Blu" e-cigarette (electronical cigarette). PAUL J. RICHARDS—AFP/Getty Images

A new study finds elevated rates of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders among users of e-cigarettes

A new study has found that people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental disorders are more than twice as likely to spark up an e-cigarette and three times as likely to “vape” regularly than those without a history of mental issues.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego drew their findings from an extensive survey of American smoking habits. Among 10,041 respondents, 14.8% of individuals suffering from mental health disorders said they had tried an e-cigarette, compared with 6.6% of individuals who had no self-reported history of mental disorders.

The e-smokers’ elevated rates of mental disorders reflected the elevated rates of mental illness among smokers in general. The authors note that by some estimates, people suffering from mental disorders buy upwards of 50 percent of cigarettes sold in the U.S. annually.

Many respondents said they switched to e-cigarettes as a gateway to quitting. The FDA has not yet approved e-cigarettes as a quitting aide.

“People with mental health conditions have largely been forgotten in the war on smoking,” study author Sharon Cummins said in a university press release. “But because they are high consumers of cigarettes, they have the most to gain or lose from the e-cigarette phenomenon.”

The study will run in the May 13 issue of Tobacco Control.

MONEY psychology of money

5 Ways to Reduce Your Financial Anxiety

Cutting down on discretionary spending and paying down debt will help reduce your financial anxiety. photo: shutterstock

Tired of feeling anxious about your family’s financial future? To reduce this lingering economic insecurity, try these strategies.

Create a plan. Fueling our anxiety about money is the feeling of being out of control — that economic events you have no hand in will hurt your prospects. Developing a financial plan with specific goals and targets helps you feel as if the control is back in your hands.

Need proof? Gallup reports that 80% of nonretirees and 88% of retirees with such plans said having a plan boosted their confidence that they could achieve their goals. And a Transamerica survey shows that workers with a written plan are 47% more likely to say that they’ll retire with a comfortable lifestyle than those without one.

Break off bite-size chunks. Lofty long-term goals like building a seven-figure retirement nest egg or saving enough to pay for your kid’s BA can feel impossible to achieve. So instead of focusing on big end numbers, set your sights on more manageable interim targets.

Related: What’s your money state of mind?

“Create small steps, each with its own deadline and reward,” says Harvard behavioral economics professor Brigitte Madrian. “The more small things you knock off your list, the less anxious you’ll feel about bigger goals.”

Accentuate the positive. “Our brains tend to focus on the negative, so it’s a struggle to see what’s going right,” says Rick Kahler, president of the Financial Therapy Association.

Help yourself by taking inventory of what’s going well for you moneywise — maybe you’ve upped your 401(k) contributions, your home’s value has jumped, or you’re saving money by brown-bagging it at work. Use the list to buoy your spirits when setbacks occur.

Related: How we feel about our finances

Plump your cushion. The single best move you can make to feel better about your finances: Build up your emergency fund.

A University of Georgia study has found that having adequate reserves is a better predictor of financial satisfaction than other moves, such as paying off credit card debt. “It’s like having extra insurance,” notes Terrance Odean, a finance professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Don’t get too relaxed. The recession made us realize how vulnerable we are, Madrian says. And that awareness led many to cut back on discretionary spending, pay down debt, and save more.

“These habits are good,” says Odean. “If anxiety motivates people to make these changes and can motivate them to save even more, you don’t necessarily want to relieve people of all of it.”

TIME Research

Science Says Stress Is Contagious

A new study from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universität Dresden finds that stress can be super contagious: not only can being around a stressed person physically stress you out, but so can watching certain videos

See someone yawn on the subway, and you know there’s a pretty high probability that you’re going to be yawning. But new research says that there’s another contagion out there that you can catch just through simple observation: Stress.

A study from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universität Dresden found that even being around a stressed person, be it a loved one or a stranger, has the power to make a someone stressed in a physically quantifiable way.

“The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing,” said Veronika Engert, one of the study’s authors.

During the study, test subjects paired with loved ones and strangers of the opposite sex and then divided into two groups. One group was given challenging arithmetic questions and interviewed in order to induce direct stress. The group of 211 observers simply watched the test and interviews through a one-way mirror and via video transmissions.

As expected, 95% of the people placed under direct stress showed signs of, well, stress. But 26% of observers had an increase in cortisol as well as a result of empathic stress. The impact of stress was particularly high when a subject was observing a romantic partner in a stressful situation (40%) but it applied to strangers as well (10%).

When observers watched stressful events through a one-way mirror, 30% experienced a stressful response. Another 24% percent of observers were stressed when they watched the events unfold on video. Lesson learned: be careful when you’re watching Breaking Bad re-runs.

Even television programs depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers,” Engert said. “Stress has an enormous contagion potential.”

TIME Social Media

How Facebook Could Sabotage Your Blind Date

Young blonde woman in kitchen preparing food checks laptop
Don Bayley—-Getty Images

Think twice before you cyberstalk—seeing someone online may make face-to-face interactions more stressful

We’ve all been guilty of Facebook stalking – looking up strangers who we might be meeting face-to-face soon – a blind date, a potential employee, or even the friend of a friend. It’s supposed to make us feel a little more comfortable and prepared when the real-life meeting actually takes place.

Or maybe not. Especially if you have mild social anxiety. In a study involving female college students, Shannon Rauch and her colleagues found that surprisingly, a Facebook introduction tended to make some people more nervous during the face-to-face meeting.

MORE: This Is Your Brain on Facebook

Rauch, an assistant professor of psychology at Benedictine University in Arizona, and her colleagues recruited 26 undergraduates and asked them to take a social anxiety test. A week later, the team invited to participants to what they called a facial recognition test – the students were hooked up to a monitor to measure changes in how well the skin in their hands conducted electricity (the more aroused a person is, the better the skin conducts electrical signals) while they looked at either pictures of people or actual people in the testing room. There were four groups: one saw only a person’s Facebook profile page, another saw only a person in the room, another saw a person’s Facebook profile and then saw the person in the room, while the final group saw a person in the room and then perused her Facebook page. For the live encounters, both the participants and the visiting person were told not to interact or talk to one another, which limited the experience to just being in the person’s company.

MORE: The Two Faces of Anxiety

The students who first viewed a person’s Facebook profile and then saw the person in the room showed higher arousal scores than those who simply saw the person, without a prefacing Facebook encounter. That surprised Rauch a bit, since most of the data on digital social interaction suggested the online experience could help to calm the anxiety of meeting someone for the first time in person. “Intuitively we all thought it should help to pave the way a little bit,” she says of her findings, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

MORE: Employers: Facebook Party Pics Don’t Always Reflect Employees’ Bad Judgment

Instead, the Facebook priming made them more aroused. Rauch says the study just measured arousal, and not levels of stress hormones so she can’t say whether the participants were more anxious. It’s possible, for example, that the students were just more excited by the face-to-face encounter, which is a natural response to seeing someone. But Rauch believes that the change was more negative than positive, since it raised arousal, instead of calming it, which is what a more positive effect of the Facebook encounter would have had.

The effect was strongest among those who scored higher on the social anxiety test, which suggests that the real-life encounter was still more arousing than the online one – something that previous studies have shown. Online interactions may feel more safe and comforting to those with social anxiety, since they have more control over the situation.

MORE: How You Deal With Your Emotions Can Influence Your Anxiety

The results go against the idea that online experiences can be a helpful way for some people with social anxiety disorders to gradually get used to real life encounters. “If your goal is to calm yourself for the face-to-face encounter, Facebook is probably not the best strategy,” says Rauch.

Why? The initial online experience could start a process of rumination that leads to expectations and comparisons that the real life encounter may not meet or fulfill. That’s supported by a growing number of studies that show regular Facebook users don’t feel good about themselves, because they are constantly comparing themselves to their peers – on looks, accomplishments and goals.

Rauch hopes the work starts to question conventional wisdom about how social media helps, or even harms, social connections, and plans to study the effect in more detail, by giving participants more choice and control over the real-life interaction, and giving them more opportunity to plan the encounters. “We’d like to start using physiological data to start challenging notions of how social media affects social connections,” she says.

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