An integral part of Swedish culture, fika reminds us to slow down and connect. But what exactly is it, and how can we bring more of it into our lives?
As I write, I’m sipping on coffee and nibbling a blueberry flapjack. If I wasn’t also working, I’d be enjoying fika – translated as a coffee and cake break.
But fika is so much more than eating baked goods and drinking hot beverages. Originating in Sweden, fika is a mindset, a ritual, a moment of pause.
In their book, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, authors Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall describe fika as: “Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park, or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about.”
The aim is to step away from work for a moment, socialise with others, and enjoy all the benefits taking a break gives us. And, dear reader, we need to be taking more proper breaks.
A 2017 study by Total Jobs revealed that one in three of us don’t leave our workplace during the day, with 56% of us never taking a full lunch break.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that not taking breaks is bad for our health – it can increase stress, and even lead to burnout. Plus, it’s bad for the economy. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 11 million working days are lost every year due to stress.
Now, I’m not saying fika can solve all our work-related woes, but there are some powerful stress-relieving benefits to these mindful breaks.
"Sip your coffee slowly, press your thumb into the crumbs on your plate, and enjoy every minute"
To start with, the whole point of fika is to slow down. We move at such a fast pace, it’s hard to catch our breath. Slowing down gives us the chance to check in with ourselves, ask ‘What do I need?’ and gain perspective when we’re stressed.
Taking the time to sit down away from work, with a mug full of freshly brewed coffee and a baked snack, gives us the time to do this. Sip your coffee slowly, press your thumb into the crumbs on your plate, and enjoy every minute. Put all thoughts of work to one side, and let your mind settle in the present moment.
While you can enjoy this glorious break alone, for many, a key aspect of fika is socialising (vitually still counts). Indeed, connecting with others is great for our wellbeing.
According to research by Steve Cole, professor of medicine, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the UCLA School of Medicine, the genes impacted by social connection also have a role in our immune function. This means socialising more could help to strengthen our immune system. Those who feel more connected also have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
So why not use your fika time for a catch-up? Perhaps make a regular mid-morning ritual for your team to chat about non-work related matters. It can be easy to feel consumed by work and forget about all the other facets that make us, us. Chatting about relationships, hobbies, even the latest TV series we binged, provides a moment of light relief.
James Lintern, co-founder of rota planning and software company RotaCloud, tells me they introduced fika in 2018.
“Fika has definitely had a positive effect on the wellbeing of our team,” James says. “Having this time set aside is important because it creates an environment of sharing and learning, and to some extent, helps employees build a support system in the office.
“Creating a fika-based culture has helped us to improve the quality of our employees’ days. Fika, for us, isn’t just about having a break, it’s about fostering a mentality that makes it OK to stop, to slow down, and to reflect.”
It’s this mentality that makes fika special. And remember, what you eat and drink doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you’re taking time for yourself. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, call a friend, head to your nearest cafe, and enjoy a fika moment.