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Time to Talk: Connecting over food and a cuppa

Sharing food and drink is a good opportunity to talk about our mental health and wellbeing, says Sheffield Mind CEO Margaret Lewis ahead of Time to Talk Day 2022.

Noodle soup ros

Comfort food: Thai noodle soup

Ros Ayres

The aim of Time to Talk Day, which this year falls on Thursday 3 February, is to encourage people to start conversations about mental health. While not everyone will want to talk about it, the annual event tries to foster a sense of openness - with friends and family, in workplaces and in communities.

There's no doubt that getting together for food or a cuppa is one of the universal ways of connecting. It shows we care and it can be a safe space to talk and listen. Being there for someone can make a big difference.

I find that what I eat can really improve my mood, and Mind agrees that eating and drinking well can make a difference for many people. The act of cooking itself, for ourselves or others, can make us feel helpful and provide an anchor in times of uncertainty or anxiety.

Personally, cooking has been particularly vital for me during the isolation of lockdown and in dealing with the prolonged aftershocks of family bereavements. If I can make something simple like a comforting Thai noodle soup, it makes me feel like at least one thing is in my control.

This is why Time to Talk Day is important; because by sharing experiences we can help others to learn what might help them. I asked Margaret Lewis, CEO of Sheffield Mind, to tell us more about how food and talking about mental health can help to create supportive communities.

How do you think food can make a difference to mental health?

Evidence suggests that as well as affecting our physical health, what we eat may also affect the way we feel. Improving your diet may help to improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think more clearly. Food also helps us connect – by preparing food together, eating together, sharing a cup of tea and a bun, we talk, share and connect.

If you know someone who needs help, how could shared food - or just a cuppa - help start a conversation?

Some people find it easier to talk about things if there is another focus to the conversation, like preparing food together. It can help make things feel less intense and more natural.

If you want to start a conversation with someone, sharing a cuppa is a good start. Taking the time out to share a tea or coffee gives us space to talk, it helps us take a break from our busy days, it’s a well-recognised ritual and the familiarity helps us feel safe and relaxed.

Do you think cooking can help with mental health?

By building moments of mindfulness into activities you already do each day, like cooking, you can turn mindfulness into a daily habit. Mindful cooking presents the opportunity to anchor the mind and focus attention on the senses, tuning them into the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the task at hand.

What other food themed advice would you give?

Research shows that growing our own veggies can be especially satisfying, as we get to harvest and eat our own produce, which can give us a sense of self-sufficiency helping to combat feelings of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. The more you get into it, the more adventurous you can become. Before you know it, you have a new hobby that other people admire!

How can people learn more about Sheffield MIND?

Although affiliated to national Mind, Sheffield Mind is a local independent charity, responsible for raising our own funds and delivering local services.

We’ll be having a low-key Time to Talk this year, due to Omicron, but we’ll get the staff together for a cuppa over Zoom.

If you’re isolated or feeling lonely, or you have mental health issues and would like to talk to somebody, you can phone Sheffield Mind’s Listening Line on 0114 312 2209 or email with your name and phone number to arrange a call-back. The phone line operates weekdays, 10-4pm.

If you would like to make a donation to Sheffield Mind to support our work in the city, you can donate via our website or phone 0114 258 4489.

Learn more

Sheffield Mental Health Guide is a directory of services and activities across Sheffield that are mental health focused and mental health friendly. It includes over 300 services and over 150 activities. Coupled with the website is a phone line, email service, live chat function and, mostly recently, a printed guide.

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