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Being cozy is good for your health

Cozying up at home during the COVID-19 pandemic can be great for not only your physical health, but also your mental well-being. Thanks to the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), researchers have learned that embracing coziness and life’s little pleasures can improve overall happiness.

Need proof? Danes are considered some of the happiest people in the world, according to the 2017, 2018 and 2019 World Happiness Reports.

“I think of hygge as mindfulness wrapped in a blanket,” says Lauren Garvey, MS, CRC, NCC, a counselor and facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “The whole concept is geared toward contentment, being present and being comfortable in your body, mind and space. In our culture, we are often hustling and striving, moving forward at a fast pace. If you are practicing hygge, you are embracing presence over productivity.”

Health benefits of hygge

Hygge has a wide range of benefits. It can:

  • Increase happiness

  • Decrease the adrenal stress response, resulting in fewer cortisol spikes

  • Help you be present in the moment

  • Improve your self-care and self-love

  • Increase feelings of contentment over consumerism

  • Combat maladaptive coping strategies, such as spending excessive time online or watching television, drinking too much alcohol or using drugs

How to practice hygge

Here’s how to infuse hygge into your life.

  • Embrace self-care. Light some candles and curl up in a comfy chair with a warm blanket, a book, your journal, or a sweet treat if you want one. “Hygge allows us to dedicate time to ourselves and give ourselves those joys and comforts as a gift,” she says. “When we were children, we often had adults comforting us, such as a parent tucking us in at night. You can do that for yourself when you practice self-compassion and self-care.”

  • Practice self-compassion. “Let yourself be. Don’t be hard on yourself for not being productive in that moment or for having a sweet treat,” she says.

  • Create a cozy environment. “When curating your home, think about the comfort factor,” suggests Garvey. “Surround yourself with whatever is going to help you feel more relaxed and supported.” This may mean removing unnecessary clutter and tidying up regularly, using lamps for a cozy feel, and selecting comfortable pillows and furniture.

  • Spend time in nature. Even in the winter, Danes take long walks and spend time outside. Spending time outdoors has proven stress-relieving benefits and can help you connect to something bigger than yourself. If you're able to, go for a walk around your neighborhood.

  • Connect with others. “Social support is an important aspect of health and well-being,” explains Garvey. “People who practice hygge surround themselves with family and friends. It’s about connecting with and enjoying each other’s company, not competing or impression management.” Spending quality time with others also boosts feel-good oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone.” Note: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, it's best to keep these social interactions virtual, unless you live with these family members or friends.

  • Slow down. If you allow yourself to slow down, you’ll relax your physiology and reduce your adrenal stress responses. “We know from mindfulness research that there are many health benefits to slowing down and being present in the moment,” Garvey says.

  • Live in the moment. Hygge isn’t something you achieve, but rather a lifestyle. “You don’t have to put pressure on yourself to do life perfectly,” she says. “View life as a journey, not an end state.”

Learn more about stress management from Living Better experts.

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