8 far-flung customs that can boost mental health

Let’s face it, we’ve all felt overworked or stressed, anxious or fatigued at some point in our lives, wishing we could just press a reset button and everything would be fine again.

And although there are few better stress releases than travel (a recent US study found foreign trips helped people to de-stress, cope with burnout and even improve their job performance), it’s one thing to take a trip away and another entirely to embed yourself within a different culture.

Do as the locals do and there’s every chance you can uncover eye-opening new experiences and offbeat customs which in turn provide a major lift for your personal wellbeing. Some of them may even come in handy at home as well. Here are some of our favourites.

1. Forest bathing (Japan)

Japan might be someway responsible for the world’s crippling smartphone addiction, but it’s also leading the way in getting us to switch off, too. ‘Forest bathing’ is the act of simply ditching all distractions and being at one with nature: walk slowly, breathe, open up your senses, sit down if you must; the idea being that your body will soak up the fresh air and essential oils including phytoncide, improving wellness and human function as a result. It genuinely works, it does. Between 2004 and 2012, millions were spent by the government in scientific tests, finding that forest bathing lowered heart rates and blood pressure, even recharging the immune system. Following a big government push for forest bathing in the eighties, there are designated trails across the country.

Read more: Why spending time alone makes us happy

2. Lagom (Sweden)

Hygee? That’s so 2016. Denmark’s term for self-fulfilment by cranking the heating up has since been ousted by Lagom, a similarly unpronounceable (laaaw-gum) buzzword embodying an entire lifestyle. Roughly translating as ‘just enough’, it’s used to describe living in perfect moderation and getting a lot less stressed as a result. If you ask us, we can think of no better reason than to spend a few nights in Sweden, remaining teetotal but wolfing down cuisine, checking work emails but never replying unless the office is burning down. Achieving optimum balance, basically.

3. Frilufsliv (Norway)

Norway too has learnt to embrace the positive mental impact of the great outdoors. Unlike the relatively tranquil Forest Bathing, however, Friluftsliv, which translates from Norwegian as “free air of life”, typically involves more rugged pursuits such as hiking, climbing and kayaking. Not that Norway is alone at wanting to make you happy by getting you absolutely freezing – over in Finland, there’s a famous tradition of running into a cold lake after a steamy sauna and then proceeding to whack yourself with birch leaves. It’s not weird, honest.

Read more: A digital detox in Finland

4. Tinto (Colombia)

Some bad news: those roasted South American beans you paid your local independent coffee haunt £5 to grind into a small cup aren’t a true taste of Colombia. No, the first drop most visitors taste when they visit the country, whether from a cart in a city centre or way out in a village in rolling farmlands is tinto – a thin and strangely sweet type of coffee which first became popular among working classes. Colombians swear by the stuff, so much that it’s bypassed mere drink status and is now practically shorthand for “welcome” and “let’s be friends”. The lesson here? Stop ducking into your nearest Starbucks and burying your head in your phone – strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet.

5. Ikigai (Japan)

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If you’ve not yet heard about Ikigai, a Japanese mantra already racking up the op-ed column inches as it surges in popularity, it was just a matter of time. In fact, since you started reading this article it’s already become the new ‘lagom’. Roughly translating as ‘the reason for which you get up in the morning’, it’s all about finding your purpose and drive in life, aiming to give your existence meaning and strive to better yourself at every turn. Go on, make it your new year’s resolution, before your mum hears about it on The One Show and it instantly loses all credibility.

Read more: 5 books everyone should take on an adventure

6. Jugaad (India)

Stressed at work? Can’t see the wood for the trees (which frankly you’re surprised are still standing given the sheer amount of paper you’re swamped with)? Take note from India, where the phrase ‘Jugaad’ has oft been used to describe workable solutions to everyday problems. It’s ‘thinking out the box’ without sounding like a contestant on The Apprentice; it’s a ‘life hack’ without some sounding like a millennial podcaster, but above all, it’s a way of looking at problems from a different angle. A viewpoint we could all do with taking a gantry from now and again.

7. Fika (Sweden)

Those Swedes really do know how to unwind. Another route to happiness they have under their plaid sleeves is Fika, a cultural concept based around the act of breaking from work or a busy day to drink coffee and scoff pastries with friends or family. NOT a hastily eaten muffin before rushing back to the office, but a proper sit down and chat with those closest to you. This tradition also provides a welcome opportunity for those with the weight of the world on their shoulders to properly open up, which can help an awful lot when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. You also get to eat cake – win, win.

Read more: Why your thirties is the best time of life

8. Christmas Book Flood (Iceland)

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More of a – *cough cough* – novel ritual this one, every Christmas Eve, many Icelanders come together to exchange books in a custom that binds festive revelry with the joys of being a bookworm. Come on, admit it, what a bloody lovely idea that is. What’s more, you don’t need a PHD in psychology to know that an act of Christmas spirit among strangers such as this one might just make you warm and fuzzy inside. No bad thing.

If you are feeling low, want to talk to someone, or simply want to know more about ways to boost your mental health, visit Mind.org.uk

Images: Instagram

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