If there’s one thing the U.S. values above all else, it’s the hustle. The more you go-go-go, the more revered you are among your peers. This is especially true if you can hustle like a boss while also seeming unfazed about not getting enough sleep or chill time. Who cares if you’re crying in the bathroom when no one is looking, right? Um, no. If you’re hustling your way toward burnout, you need to invite gezellig, pronounced heh-sell-ick, into your life. What is gezellig? This Dutch term is all about relaxing.
Like its Swedish friend lagom and Danish bestie hygge, gezellig doesn’t directly translate to any word in English. This makes sense because North Americans are terrible at achieving balance (lagom), slowing down (hygge), and relaxing (gezellig). From what I can discern, gezellig basically means to chill out. It’s about chillin’ at an unpretentious restaurant with friends, having a drink with your nearest and dearest, or seeing a good movie.
The website Dutch Amsterdam also explained what gezellig is not. "Trying to entertain the in laws from hell is definitely not gezellig." Basically, anything that brings you stress is anti gezellig. So my friendlies, if you’re barreling toward burnout, checking your email on your day off def is not gezellig.
To put into perspective just how inept people in the U.S. are at relaxing, a paper by economists Dan Hamermesh and Elena Stancanelli, published in Cornell University’s IRL Review, found that 25% of U.S. workers admitted to working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on a typical weeknight. On the other hand, only 7% of people in the Netherlands — the land of gezellig — did the same.
This behavior creates a vicious cycle because the more your work, the harder it is to relax when you actually have the time for some gezellig. As more and more is uncovered about the inner workings of the human brain, research suggests that when you’re in a prolonged state of stress and anxiety, which is not gezellig, your sympathetic nervous system is triggered. This is your fight or flight response.
In order to truly relax, you need to engage your parasympathetic nervous system. Relaxing is like a muscle, and if you’re always hyperaware, your parasympathetic nervous system isn’t getting enough attention. Having an underdeveloped parasympathetic nervous system makes is pretty difficult to chill out.
"We live in a world that makes it hard to really unwind. The demands of daily life are intense and never ending. We have come to equate success with achievement, and achievement with happiness," F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W., wrote for Psychology Today. "Furthermore, research has shown that stress, anxiety and depression, which come on the heels of this kind of non-stop pressure to achieve, physically interfere with the body’s relaxation mechanisms."
While this might sound dire, all is not lost. However, getting from burnout to gezellig won’t happen overnight. You’ve been taught to hustle since the day you were born, and it could take some time to turn that proverbial train around. Start slowly by adopting some relaxation techniques. Use a meditation app like Insight Timer to set aside a bit of chill time every day, even if it’s just five minutes.
Once you’re comfortable with that, add more time and incorporate other gezellig-like things into your daily routine. This could include turning your phone off after 10 p.m. and while spending quality time with friends and family. The more you exercise your gezellig muscle, the easier it will become. Learning to relax is hard work. But it’s also 100% worth it.
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