How Hygge Can Help You Cope with the Stress of Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness adds a significant pile of stress to your life as you deal with pain and other “interesting” symptoms, the unpredictability of the condition, and endless doctor’s appointments. On top of that, there’s coping with people who don’t understand, and adjusting emotionally to the reality of chronic illness.

Hygge can help.

Explaining hygge
Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a unique part of Danish culture. There’s no exact translation in English, but coziness and togetherness get part of the way there. And it was shortlisted by Oxford Dictionaries for word of the year!

Hygge often involves food with people you like. Taking a bit of extra care with the meal is fairly common, but not necessary. It can be as simple as some pasta with tomato sauce, a salad and some crusty bread. If you dim the electric lights and put some candles on the table, hygge is almost guaranteed.

Candles are big part of creating an atmosphere of hygge. So is taking your time. For instance, lingering over dinner, rather than rushing through the meal and bolting away the minute you have swallowed the last bite.

Slow down. Pause between bites, look at the people around the table and talk to each other. When you’re finished, nibble away at some bread or leftover vegetables while you have another glass of wine (or milk or water) and continue chatting.

The point is to take your time and connect with the people around you. And it doesn’t just happen when you eat, although food is very important to the Danes. If someone we know has been to an event, the first question is never “did you have a good time?” or” who was there?” It is always, without fail, “what kind of food did you have?”

You can hygge — because it is both a noun and a verb — over playing a game with your kids, taking a walk, even over homework. The key is the positive, loving connection that happens only when you spend some time paying attention to each other.

Hygge and chronic illness
It could be argued that hygge is an expression of mindfulness. In the audio program Mindfulness for Beginners, John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “"paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” I get the impression that the nonjudgmentally means that you should be kind of neutral, but although hygge meets all the other requirements, it’s far from neutral. It is loving, supportive, positive, trusting — all those wonderful emotions that make you feel so good.

And that’s a stress-buster right there. That kind of atmosphere makes you breathe deeply from your diaphragm, relax, and sink into the moment. You forget about the stress, and are maybe even able to ignore the pain. When the moment is over, you walk away feeling centered, at peace, and supported.

When you and your loved ones spend time together, you all experience that sense of connection. The feeling that these people have your back, that they accept you for who you are, so you don’t have to pretend. Just being yourself is a big part of hygge and that is one of the most healing things in the world.

Hygge on your own
But what if you live alone or isn’t up for company, is it possible to hygge alone? You bet! When Lucy the Cat is purring on my lap, it is hyggeligt (the adverb version of the word). When I am listening to Christmas music while wrapping presents, there is a lot of hygge in the air. When I take a bit of extra care with my dinner, instead of just slapping something together because it is just me, it sends a message to myself that I am worth the effort. And when I eat that meal with lovely music in the background and perhaps a glass of wine, it is all hygge. And then when I light my Advent candle — or any other candle — it creates julehygge, the very special Christmas version.

So embrace your inner Dane this holiday season and beyond. Let the hygge start! 

To help you and your family hygge this season, take a look at The Danish Way of Parenting’s hygge oath.


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