Living in Spain as an American has forced me to confront my fast-paced tendencies. The Spanish lifestyle embodies slow living so effortlessly, but after three years of living here, I still occasionally catch myself in a needless hurry.
I’ve spent the past year living in a tiny fishing village on the northwestern coast of Spain. At first, the small-town life amplified any resistance I had to a slower way of life. Daily reminders to slow down are embedded in the culture, whether it’s shorter operating hours, the language people use, or the leisurely stroll your neighbors take each day. Sometimes I let cultural differences frustrate me, but for the most part, living here has allowed for much-needed healing.
The change to a slower pace has been so soothing for my mind and body. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I will take all the extra reminders I can get to slow down, take a break, breathe, and rest. When I catch myself resisting these things, I try to use it as an opportunity to steer back to the present moment. I remember there is plenty of space to check in and care for myself, even during life’s most chaotic moments.
Here are a few ways Spain has helped me heal my relationship with myself, learn to take better care of my anxious mind, and give myself extra space for rest:
Keep it Simple
In Spain, and specifically where I have been living this year in Galicia, people pride themselves in keeping things simple. This applies to anything from making plans to cooking food. You can’t meet at five? Okay, then we’ll meet at six. That’s it. People are direct about what they want and what they can do, which I find to differ from my nature. I tend to overcommit to activities and obligations in order to please others. Spain has helped me get better at asking myself what is doable for me, and be upfront about it from the beginning.
Hungry? Order a plate of fish. It will be cooked with olive oil and plated with a lemon wedge. No fancy sauces or seasonings. A tapa of peppers will come out lightly charred, salted, and absolutely delicious in its simplicity. There is something so nice about just letting the food speak for itself. Maybe it’s nice to branch out sometimes, but this way of cooking reminds me to appreciate things as they are.
Of course, Spain’s famous siesta had to make this list. Shops shut during the day, and the hours will depend on where you are. Where I currently live, shops close between two and five in the afternoon. If possible, people go home to enjoy a long lunch, rest, or nap before gearing up for the afternoon’s activities.
Not everyone has time to take a nap every day, but the fact that so many people plan their days around a nice, long break can at least remind us to rest at some point. I’m not going to lie, some days I get frustrated if I need something when shops are closed. I try to shift this mindset and use siesta as a reminder to honor the rest of the people around me. This has helped me learn to more readily give myself breaks as well.
A Daily Stroll
In the evening, the sidewalks and playgrounds grow full of people unwinding, socializing, and getting in their daily stroll. This was a surprisingly challenging element of the culture to adjust to. Sometimes I catch myself rushing past slow walkers on the street, zooming to my destination without enjoying the journey. The whole point of these evening strolls is to enjoy the people around you, get some fresh air, and take time to appreciate life. It is truly a daily act of mindfulness.
When I struggle to relax, walk slowly, and enjoy the process, I remember that I am the odd one out here. No one around me is speed walking, because there is no need to. Embracing the daily art of a slow stroll has obvious physical health benefits. It allows me to break up any stagnant energy in my body, and refocus my mind as well. I can take in the beauty around me and remember to be grateful. Even if I don’t have time for daily walking, I can take inspiration from this notion. I can take one mindful break to just breathe and appreciate the world around me.
Sobremesa is a word used to describe what happens after a meal. Maybe you’ve heard that waiters do not speed to your table to give you the bill in Spain? This is because they want to give you time to chat, laugh, and enjoy the company of the people around you. This activity is sobremesa.
In a fast-food world, I think the concept of sobremesa is so important. Seeing a meal as a full experience, rather than a means to an end, helps me view this time for what it is: a precious opportunity for connection. Time enjoying loved ones, free from distractions and stressors, is what life is all about, right? Sobremesa reminds me not to rush from activity to activity, but fully enjoy where I am in the present.
Letting Go, No Pasa Nada
If I run late, my inclination is to apologize profusely. I feel the other person might be secretly annoyed that I inconvenienced them. In Spain, the response would most likely be, “No pasa nada,” which literally means, “Nothing happens,” but in my mind, it’s more like, “It’s okay,” or “Don’t worry.”
This is usually said with a comforting and calming tone. I am often hard on myself for small mistakes, but this phrase reminds me that things are just fine. There is no need to sweat the small stuff, and it is okay to let go and forgive myself. In my mind, this saying is a little nudge to stop being hard on myself. No pasa nada. Everything will be okay.
The healing properties of the Spanish lifestyle have been a balm for my anxious soul. Adjusting from a busy and buzzing mindset into this more laid-back lifestyle has been challenging, but I’d say the shift was necessary. Has anything in your life inspired you to live more slowly and take some pressure off of yourself? I’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks in the comments below!