Stress can affect anyone, at any time, and, while a little bit of pressure can help push you to do something new or difficult, a lot of stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health.
It may seem strange to suggest that hygge – aka the cosy Danish concept that’s taken the UK by storm – could be the solution to the problem. After all, it’s hard to see how all the flickering candles, cashmere blankets, mugs of tea, and woolly socks dominating our homes and our Pinterest boards can ever hope to lower our stress levels.
However Brontë Aurell, the Danish Londoner who co-founded the Scandinavian Kitchen, says that it can do just that.
“When we feel stress in our bodies and stew on issues for a long time, our bodies produce cortisol,” explains Aurell in ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge. “This gets us all fired up and we feel our engines running on all cylinders. Cortisol is a natural response in our bodies – we need it. It is part of the fight-or-flight mechanism that keeps us alert.
“When levels spike, the body is ready for action, ready to physically fight. In order to reduce cortisol, you need to have a release. But if you don’t have a release, the levels just sit there in your body, causing all sorts of other issues.
“If our cortisol levels spike for a prolonged period of time, it can interfere with our learning, memory, immune functions, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and can even make it harder to control our weight. If you have chronic levels of cortisol, you could also increase the risk of depression.”
This sounds completely at odds with hygge, which is only ever experienced when you are able to be fully present in the moment – and feel content, at ease, with the world around you.
However, as Aurell explains, making time for the familiar and for the comforting, is the ideal way to channel your stress into something more hyggelig.
“We don’t tend to get release by sitting in front of a computer,” she continues, “so we need to find ways to diffuse this time bomb inside our bodies – or we potentially develop stress-related illness.
“It isn’t as simple as just saying: ‘I’m not going to be stressed anymore’ and then following through. However, there are ways to slow things down a little and really make a difference – and allow yourself a bit of a break.”
Read more: 5 expert stress-busting tips
Hygge, explains Aurell, is the ideal coping mechanism, helping you to regain control over your life – and combat stress head on.
“I’m not ashamed to say that I have been in a place of stress, and statistics say I am most certainly not alone,” she says. “The thing that got me out of it in the end was the people I had been neglecting all along: my family and friends. I asked them what to do and they guided me back, quite simply, because none of the answers were complicated and mostly involved being present with them.
“I left my phone in another room, turned the ringer off and started breathing again. Slowly but surely, I found my old self by taking time out and making space for being together with ‘my people’.”
Here are some practical, no-nonsense tips on how best to use hygge to combat stress…
Do something physical
Hygge may sound like it’s all about hunkering down indoors with endless mugs of tea and cake, but the Danes are just as likely to found it in the great outdoors. Wrap up warm in cosy knits, pull on some comfy shoes, and get out there; the endorphins will give you a mood boost – and there’s nothing quite like a dose of Vitamin D, either.
“Go for a run or a walk or play some football,” says Aurell. “Even if it is just walking the last two bus stops to work. Thirty minutes’ movement a day is optimal. Get your body to release stress the natural way by using it. It’s all wound up inside – moving it will unwind it, naturally.”
Go to bed an hour earlier at night
Transforming your bedroom into a hyggelig sanctuary, filled with soft blankets, fluffy cushions, and scented candles is all well and good – but it’s only going to do the trick if you get in there and make the most of it. Sleep is a wonderful healer, says Aurell, and you should ensure you’re getting enough of it at night. She also advises that you “meditate for 15 minutes a day when you wake up. If you don’t have time to meditate daily for 15 minutes, you should meditate for an hour each week.”
She adds: “If you don’t like meditating at home, do some yoga. It provides part of what you need and it is also a good way to be physical.”
Take regular breaks at work
Making a conscious effort to stop work for a moment, even if it’s just to make a cup of tea in your special mug, is crucial to a hyggelig workplace. Keep a stash of your favourite teabags in your drawer, and make sure you use them. And be sure to take your full lunch hour, too; run some errands, go for a walk, or simply grab a book and find a snuggly spot to read.
And leave work on time
Maximise your downtime and make sure you leave the office when you’re supposed to, says Aurell. “If leaving at 5.30pm is too much in the beginning, just try 30 minutes earlier, then move it to an hour earlier every day over time.
“Be strict with yourself on this: you didn’t sell your soul to get a wage (anyway, you will be more effective if you know you have a set leaving time).”
Switch off electronic devices
Aurell advises: “Allow yourself to disconnect from the world, even if it’s just for a few hours a day. Buy an alarm clock that isn’t your phone – leave your phone in a different room to the one you sleep in.”
Adapt your lighting
Harsh fluorescents are not what you need when you’re feeling stressed; invest in lamps with warm, orangey light and dot them around the house. These little pools of radiance are much more soothing on the eyes, and so will better aid concentration – not to mention help you to unwind in your own glowing sanctuary.
The act of lighting a candle itself can feel very hyggelig – and opting for certain scents, such as vanilla, lavender, or chamomile, can trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that aids relaxation. Cucumber flavoured candles, in particular,are said to aid anxiety, because the scent is so deeply rooted in nostalgic childhood picnics.
Allow yourself a daily indulgence
Embrace the tradition of daily ‘fika’: a break to sit down, enjoy a hot drink and often a sweet pastry or a cinnamon bun. And don’t forget to make the most of ‘lordagsgodis’ – otherwise known as Saturday Sweets.
It’s ingrained in Scandinavians from childhood that you treat yourself on the weekends (which is something we can definitely get on board with).
Listen to music
Music is key to a good hyggelig environment. Try to choose songs that conjure up feelings of warmth and intimacy wherever possible. Some suggestions include Mumford & Sons’ I Will Wait, Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place, or Touch The Sky by Julie Fowlis.
Be together with other people
And here’s where the hygge truly comes in.
“Be more social, surround yourself with love and make sure you also have proper downtime with yourself,” says Aurell. “In order to consciously create pockets of time where hygge may be found, you have to first remove all time restrictions and annoying electronic devices and just settle in to the moment. Even if it’s hard in the beginning, it becomes easier over time.”