Reminder: Take a breath

3 minute read

In Sweden, there is a longstanding custom in which friends, family or coworkers take a pause from their daily routine to enjoy coffee and conversation. This moment to recharge and connect with others is known as fika. It’s often taken several times a day, can be done alone, in the company of others, at home or in a cafe. The place and time for fika is arbitrary. What matters more is the purpose that it serves: to take a restful break— something that most of us couldn’t find the time for until the pandemic hit.

Americans aren’t exactly well known for leisure and break time. The latest Gallup poll from July 31 to Aug. 12 reports that 40 percent of Americans work over 45 hours per week, compared to other western countries like Germany and Canada, where only 4 percent of workers clock long hours. The spare hours that we have left to ourselves on Monday through Friday are typically spent running errands, commuting (granted, the daily commute time fell steeply since COVID-19) or scrolling through infinite content

It seems that TV is our version of fika: Americans also spend more time per day watching TV than socializing and exercising. Don’t get me wrong — when I’m burnt out and can’t even bring myself to run around the block, nothing sounds better than a glass of wine and YouTube. There’s something to be said, though, about a quiet, mindful moment where we can truly find reprieve from our noisy world, if even for a few minutes. A distraction-free pause is crucial to finding happiness and calm in our day-to-day, but it’s too often overlooked.

What if I chose to not fill every precious minute and waking hour? What would every day look like with an intentional fika?

As a teenager living in the Bay Area when the words “founder” and “seed funding” became everyone’s new favorite lingo, I also felt a growing expectation to pursue a side hustle in addition to my “full-time gig.” In other words, if I’m not studying or working my 8-6, I should be ideating and researching “the next big idea.” The pandemic made this pressure even more palpable, especially among my friend circle. Perhaps you’ve felt this over the past six months too. I asked, and was asked more times than I would like to admit, “What have you been working on in your free time?” But after some introspection, I wondered: What if I chose to not fill every precious minute and waking hour? What would every day look like with an intentional fika?

Around mid-April this year, I decided to do exactly that. I put the world, and the demanding expectations I had for myself, on silent for a few hours. Sometimes even days. I told myself it was okay to take a break from job searching, news scrolling, or picking up a hobby. I spent many afternoons walking, as we so often do in quarantine nowadays, journaling about my day and catching up with friends and family with one goal in mind: to appreciate the present moment.

Self-care, whatever that might look like for you, is essential. Without it, we burn out quickly and find ourselves in a seemingly endless cycle of work, eat, sleep. Taking an intentional fika might seem like a waste of time, especially for those of us who like to stay busy in order to feel productive or in control, but I guarantee you will come away with a refreshed sense of purpose and peace.

  • Start small. Whether it’s a short run, a dedicated 15-minutes going “no-phone,” or short breathing exercise, these small moments to recharge make a big impact on your mood. I especially enjoyed a quick yoga flow as a way to check-in with myself, something that I continue to implement during my workday.
  • Practice self-compassion. Learning to accept what you cannot control and forgive what you see as a setback is both the hardest and most important part of self-care. We hold ourselves to such high expectations that when we miss the mark, it can feel like our dreams are unreachable. Fika starts with a reminder that you are enough.
  • Stay in tune with your body. If you feel like you need a break or time to yourself, listen to your intuition. We can easily make the mistake of thinking we can just push through something or work harder to get it done, but that typically leaves us feeling even more exhausted than before. Give yourself the break that you deserve.

I hope that these ideas will plant a seed for you to start setting aside time for your own daily fika, and that this pause will help you get through challenging times just as much as it did for me.