By Emily Souder, LCSW-C
I’ve been having a hygge problem. I think about it ALL. THE. TIME.
Hygge. Hygge. Hygge.
And when you finally get the pronunciation of it down (hue-gah, according to Alex Beauchamp of Hygge House), that’s a pretty fun internal soundtrack.
Not familiar with hygge? I think pictures are one of the easiest ways to start to understand it. Check out @allthebeautifulthingsblog on Instragram, or just follow #hygge. Watch as all the wondrous warmth fills your feed! These just address the physical, seen part of hygge, but it’s more than atmosphere. It’s something we feel, not just something we see.
I like how Alex Beauchamp explains it here:
Some also refer to hygge as an “art of creating intimacy” (either with yourself, friends and your home). While there’s no one English word to describe hygge, several can be used interchangeably to describe the idea of hygge such as cosiness, charm, happiness, ‘contentness’, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, kinship, and simpleness.
Hygge is definitely experiencing a surge of popularity in the U.S., and I am in no way immune to the seemingly magical powers of this Danish concept which doesn’t translate exactly into English. Other cultures have similar concepts, though none are exactly identical. Hygge is central to Danish culture and it’s used in conversation often – as a verb, adjective, etc. It shows up in all sorts of ways!
This season, as I’ve been moving more and more into my authentic professional (and personal!) self, I keep thinking about hygge and my work. While I’m only doing a very limited amount of clinical work at the moment, I offer psychotherapy to pregnant women and new moms who are experiencing some degree of anxiety and/or depression, or who are just plain having some trouble adjusting.
New mamas are often feeling anything but hygge. Things are not warm and inviting. Things don’t feel secure or safe. Things might feel suffocating. They might feel cold. They might feel downright unbearable. Mamas who are anxious and/or depressed have no energy to conjure hygge on their own. It’s too much work. Even if some level of hygge is already accessible to them, it is likely hard to appreciate it in their current state.
I don’t think it’s a far leap from hygge to the warmth of the therapeutic relationship. I like to think of us as bringing the hygge (are you still practicing saying hue-gah? Fun, right?). Whether you come into an office to see us, or we come to your home, if the connection is there, we hold that space where you can let loose. Tell us the fears, the losses, all of it. No judgment. And with that, if things are right, there is a warmth and a space that is healing. Even without working in a physical office, where therapists can do things like adjust lighting and add warm colors to create a comforting atmosphere, we can bring the openness that is needed.
In order to have effective therapy, there needs to be a connection. Karen Kleiman, a pioneer in the field of maternal mental health, talks about this part of working with postpartum women in her book, The Art of Holding in Therapy. In order for therapy to work (especially in this population), there needs to be “holding”, and part of that is establishing a connection and trust, and allowing the client to feel safe and vulnerable.
I would absolutely add onto that and say that the hygge factor helps too! So, mamas, let us hygge you. You’re so worth it!
Emily is a mama, author, and clinical social worker in Maryland. She provides therapy to pregnant women and new moms who are experiencing anxiety or depression, or who are just needing some help adjusting to this new time in their lives. She is married, has two children, and loves spending time outdoors. She wrote Birth Story Brave, a series of questions, to help mamas reflect on their childbirth experiences.