What Self-Care Looks Like Around The World

Self-care, as we've mentioned more than enough times this week, is about understanding what you need to feel well, and committing to fitting that into your life, free of guilt.
In the UK, we are pretty rubbish at it. A very silly 52% of us don't take a lunch break. We're 45th on a list of 50 countries when it comes to sleep quality, 40% of us check work emails five or more times out of work hours, and one-third of us are sleeping for less than five hours a night.
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Does that sound like we're taking care of ourselves?
Currently, one in three sick notes are due to mental health problems and one in four of us will experience mental illness in our lifetime. Things are pretty diabolical; experts are warning not of a coming mental health crisis but that "the crisis is here, the crisis is now".
People in many other countries are well versed in taking time for themselves. For some, it's down to centuries-old traditions of self-care practices; for others, it's the result of recent government laws. Read on to find out how people around the world are embracing self-care.
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France

Bless our southern neighbours and their tech-forward self-care. From January 1st this year, French workers in companies with more than 50 people were compelled by law not to send or read emails out of working hours.

This "right to disconnect" law comes after several studies over the past few years showing the effects of not being able to switch off after work, including this much-quoted study from mid-2016 which found that emailing out of office hours can cause people to become "emotionally exhausted" and cause "anticipatory stress" eventually leading to burnout.
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Hungary

If you've been to Budapest, you'll more than likely have taken to their famous baths (gyógyfürdő) in a bid to cure your hangover after a night hopping from ruin bar to ruin bar. But other than helping you sweat out last night's palinka, regular hot baths have been shown to help lower blood pressure, ease joint pain and lower heart rate. The waters, readily absorbed by the skin (the body's largest organ), contain minerals such as sulphite, sodium, calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, fluoride and metaboric acid.

Add to this the social element that Hungarians incorporate into their bathing; older men sit for hours in the waters playing chess, while women slip from pool to pool over the course of a morning or afternoon, chatting all the way. Seems slightly more nourishing than sitting at a table in Wetherspoons on your own.
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Japan

For us uptight British people, the idea of naked communal bathing doesn't come naturally. For Japanese women, though, heading to an onsen – a Japanese hot spring – is a lifelong tradition. The communal (gender separate) nakedness and the social interaction breaks down boundaries. The shared experience is dedicated to relaxation and recharging.

For those stuck in cities, an alternative is sentō; indoor public bathing houses which adhere to the same strict rituals of washing fully before entering the bath.

Read more about Japanese onsen in our piece here.
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Turkey

Visit touristy places in Turkey and across the Middle East and you're bound to come across a huge, grand (and probably rather expensive) hammam which will offer to scrub, exfoliate and clean you from head to toe over the course of a few hours. And it's worth doing – it's a marvellous experience.

However, hammams from Istanbul, north Africa and across the Middle East have provided a self-care ritual for women for many years. "The hammam is a place where women can relax completely and reveal much about themselves," Valerie Staats wrote of her local one in Morocco. "It has specific norms for behaviour and a social function beyond that of bathing." In countries where women struggled for many years to find a place outside the home to socialise, the hammam gave them a lifeline to other women as well as a way to cleanse and relax.
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Sweden

Coffee is popular the world over, but how we take coffee is very different. In the UK, we use it as a fuel; a takeaway drug from a popular chain to drink while we gear ourselves up for work. In other countries however, especially outside big cities, takeaway chains are harder to find. This is because coffee constitutes a break; a time to sit down, relax and socialise during your day.

In Sweden, "fika" is a tradition that revolves around a coffee break ("kaffeepause" in Denmark and Norway). At work, everyone from the bosses to the junior admin staff stop twice, usually at 9am and 3pm, to drink coffee, eat biscuits or pastries and communicate with one another. Studies show "collective restoration" can be beneficial to your mental health.
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Denmark

There was a reason we in the UK got so excited about hygge last year and then dropped it like a hot potato; we didn't understand it because it goes against the British mentality completely.

As British people we struggled with hygge because we wanted a definitive list of practical things we could do in order to adopt it. Unfortunately, hygge is more a state of being, and trying to break it down into components to fit into our already busy lives negates the whole practice completely.

Yet taking time for unforced togetherness in a safe, nurturing environment produces the kind of "cosy" mental wellbeing that hygge is designed for. Time spent with family and friends should be seen as therapeutic rather than something you "have" to do before heading back to slum out in front of Netflix.
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India

Wellbeing practices from India are varied and plentiful. Obviously yoga and all its components have had huge influence over here already but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Ayurveda is a medicinal system that's starting to creep into our consciousness. It's based on the idea that people are made up of a combination of three different doshas and that your being is best served by adhering to the principles of life required by your particular make-up. Many recognisable rituals like tongue scraping, oil pulling and body massages with oil stem from ayurveda.
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