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We Should Fika More!

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

It feels like a lot of us are using an incredible amount of brain energy everyday without giving ourselves a break. Physically the fallout feels exhausting. Since lockdown, a lot of us are working longer hours, we are juggling more at home and we are dealing with additional stresses. In the midst of running on life's treadmill it can be hard to know what can help us to alleviate the overwhelm we are feeling. I came across the Swedish concept of Fika a while ago and it has only just made sense as to why it is so important. By the way, there are many words in other languages that are untranslatable particularly when it comes to cultural references, and fika is one of them.

It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee and a little something to eat (traditionally cake...which is a bonus). It is not just the act of it, but more essentially the experience of the activity. Many Swedes consider it fundamental to make time for fika everyday. The Nordic countries have a number of cultural and lifestyle activities that relate to self care, stress management and healthy living. You may have heard the Danish word Hygge, which represents a mood of cosiness and being comfortable whilst promoting wellbeing and contentment. Think log fires, mugs of hot chocolate and fur throws....snuggly! Fika is a Swedish concept; a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture.

You can not experience or feel the benefits of fika at your desk at work or on the sofa in front of the telly. That would just be having coffee and cake without any sort of meaningful break for your mind (arguably telly is a distraction but I do understand that this could constitute as a type of 'break', but for the purposes of this article, I am not considering it as a meaningful timeout). And this is the key to fika - it's nourishment for brain, body and soul. The Swedish take fika so seriously that the giant Volvo plant in Gothenburg stops for fika every day. Fika is a ritual. Swedes consider it important to make time to stop and socialise: to take a pause. It refreshes the brain and strengthens relationships. There is a reason why Sweden is one of the happiest countries on the planet.

So what can we learn from fika? In a recent survey, 56% of workers never take a lunch break. 1 in 3 never leave their workstation and on average a worker will only take 26 minutes of their allowed lunch break*. We seem to have equated constant and high performance working with productivity and we have prioritised multitasking over self-care. Consistently operating at a high level of output for a long time with no refreshment or rest for your mind and body will lead to inevitable overwhelm and eventual burnout. Fika teaches us the necessity to take a break, and not just from work, but from anything that causes us stress, constant focus and attention, and the things that stop us from taking time for ourselves. But why should we fika?

It increases productivity

Having time out from being actively engaged in work, or a difficult or stressful activity, not only boosts happiness, creativity and the ability to problem-solve, but it also makes the time spent on work more efficient. The refresh for your mind helps the brain to better concentrate and focus on the task at hand. A break can also boost innovative thinking. Whilst you're on some down time, your brain is quietly still working in the background without the distractions it would have if you were forcing it to come up with a solution, write a report, or resolve a situation. Give it a break and the ideas will come.

Stop the noise!

For those who have constant noise, anxious thoughts or worrying tendencies, the break to purposefully stop and draw the attention away is invaluable. A relaxing atmosphere, safe space, comfortable company and a warm drink are effective ingredients to quieten and calm the rushing brain activity. During a busy day, it can be even more powerful as your mind and body are forced to come to a halt and encouraged to concentrate on something nicer, kinder and more positive.

Manage your boundaries and expectations

Scheduling fika or any meaningful break and making it your own ritual or routine will force you to manage your boundaries. As you have read, a break is beneficial for not just you but everyone and everything that is effected by your output and productivity. Last minute meetings, phone calls, messages and chores can all easily overtake your fika time, but making it habit will enable you to solidify your boundaries and set expectations to others - this is your break time and it is important to you.

Time to connect!

We are social creatures (well most of us are) and although we as a species have evolved, we still feel comfort in bonding and being with members of our personally selected tribe. This is by default an effective way of alleviating stress and making us feel safe. It is important to make time for this and to connect with others on an emotional level and fika is perfect to enable it.

Fika goes a long way in not just championing the joy of coffee and cake with a friend, but also in the importance in stopping and having a meaningful timeout which can make a difference in what we do and how we feel doing it.

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