Health & Wellness Blog

28/04/2023

How Different Cultures Alleviate Stress and Anxiety

Ben Cooper

Both stress and anxiety can become inevitable experiences. Between balancing work commitments, our personal lives, and random unexpected events, we can find ourselves battling with daily stressors that shake our foundations a little too vigorously.

Luckily, there are techniques that have been honed over centuries to help people cope with stress and different cultures have different approaches to this.

In case your current methods of managing stress and anxiety aren’t working as well as you’d like or you’d just like to try something new, let’s explore a few ways cultures around the world approach this to present you with new avenues that you may not have looked into.

 

Food Rituals

Personally, as a New Zealand European, I will often find myself unintentionally slipping into the French practice of Petit Aperitif, and maybe you have as well! Having a light snack, preferably healthy, at the end of the day is a small way to reduce cortisol in the system. Similarly, in Sweden, there is the practice of “Kifa”, which is a coffee break with a sweet treat among friends.

Kifa is almost the same as Morning Tea, which (fun fact), is a term unique to Australia and New Zealand. Originally it incorporated tea as the primary drink and is known as “Elevenses” in England (not to be confused with American Elevenses, where people drink whiskey).

Tea originates in Asia and is renowned for significantly reducing stress hormones, especially green tea. In China, you’ll find tea is a core part of a late morning meal called Yum Cha, which is a great thing to try with friends if you’ve never been. In South Asia, you’ll find the ever-popular Masala Chai, a spiced tea that is incredibly delicious and is actually viewed more as a herbal medicine to maintain health than a recreational drink.

Hot chocolate by the fire

Relaxation

I know this first one will depend on your work schedule, the Central American “Siesta” is a midday nap taken after lunch that really helps to reduce stress and improve your cognitive function.

There is also the Danish concept of Hygge (Hyoo-geh), which is all about the “art” of creating a comfortable space. In such a cold country, this often means a cup of hot chocolate with fluffy socks on, reading a book next to a warm fireplace. Ideal.

Keeping with Scandinavia, sauna’s have been found to reduce cortisol levels for long amounts of time, though in Aotearoa, you’ll probably have to go to your local pool or spa to find a sauna. Anywhere you go that has a sauna will likely include a spa pool (originating from anywhere humans can find hot springs), and your local spa will offer massages (also originating from many places, though we tend to refer to Swedish massage, Lomilomi and Thai massage). Both massages and spa pools reduce cortisol as well, but I imagine you already knew that!

Hiking in Nature

Nature

Spending time in nature is vital to many cultures around the world. If you can get away from the city on a weekend, many cultures (and science) speak of connection with nature as being vital. This is a universal experience in most cultures. Around the Pacific, this can manifest as the familiar day-at-the-beach, in Japan bathing in natural or purposefully designed forest springs is encouraged, and hiking can be found culturally in most places that don’t have an overabundance of dangerous animals. Respecting nature is often a form of stress relief as well, as many who have been tree planting or cleaning up a natural space will be familiar. If you don’t feel like leaving the house on any particular day, I can recommend Planet Earth 2 with David Attenborough.

Meditation and Relaxation

Arts and Culture

Music is an underrated form of stress relief in my opinion. I’m not just talking about the all-too-familiar experience of being an edgy teenager, lying on a bed with headphones on listening to My Chemical Romance, I also mean playing, dancing, and singing along to music. Almost all Polynesian, South American, and African cultures encourage drumming. Following a beat and constructing a rhythm goes a long way to bringing your mind away from larger stress and into the moment, alleviating a lot of anxiety about the future, though you can do this with a guitar or other instrument as well.

Dancing is huge everywhere, though it’s also important for a lot of us in NZ to remember that alcohol is NOT a necessity for dancing, and joining the center of a dancing ring isn’t just reserved for doing the worm, but also for letting out the stress of a week. The same applies to singing!

Meditation and yoga are popular concepts originating in India, though they have been somewhat altered to be accessible to people raised in other cultures as well. Different approaches to focusing your mind away from larger stress and into your current existence, focusing on your own body and forging gratitude.

 

Talking!

This sounds obvious, but many cultures have different ways of talking about stress and anxiety, and while it may seem taboo in some areas of Aotearoa, it should be encouraged more. Around the world, you can find kava circles, private therapy sessions, collective community discussions, trusted advisers, or support groups that all focus on mental health and addressing ways to focus on your well-being. You can also try something that my friends refer to as DMCs (Deep, Meaningful Conversations) about life and experiences with close friends and family. These are best done outside at night while stargazing, in my personal opinion.

However you choose to release stress, if what you’re doing now isn’t working for you, you may find comfort in a culture outside of what you’re currently familiar with.

At the end of the day, these approaches have something in common. They are all about focusing on our current existence, either alone or with others, drawing ourselves away from our long-term troubles, and embracing the moment.

 

Now I guarantee that I’ve missed a de-stress method or twenty from this article, so please feel free to send a few through to [email protected] if you have any you think should be included on our social media!

 

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) 

8 ways different cultures relieve stress:

  1. Creating a comfortable space
  2. Enjoying a light, healthy snack
  3. Drinking tea
  4. Massages, Spas, Saunas (Who knew?!)
  5. Committing to spend time in nature
  6. Dancing, singing or listening to music
  7. Meditation or Yoga
  8. Talking!

 

Until next time,

Ben the quasi-wellness writer

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