5 Ways To Soothe Anxiety Through Folklore

May 5, 2020

Feeling a wee bit stressed? 

Yeah, us too.

Which is why we are sharing our best tips for soothing stress and anxiety THROUGH THE POWER OF FOLKLORE.

Really though, these are strategies that we profoundly believe in. They helped us survive grad school, and we’re leaning hard on them again now. 

And we know these tools can help you, too. After all, at its best, folklore is about what makes people tick, what connects them, and what helps them thrive. And we could all definitely use some of that right now!

So here are 5 of our favorite ways to fight anxiety with folklore.

1- Listen to someone read a fairy tale out loud.

Or really any kind of story, but we’re partial to fairy tales! There’s something about hearing someone read out loud that can be incredibly comforting. You can lose yourself in a new story, a process that sparks curiosity, which means that your brain is paying attention to something. (This means less time for the Brain Weasels to wreak havoc inside your head.) Or you can listen to something familiar, which has its own kind of comfort and reassurance in repetition.

Most importantly, hearing someone else’s voice can help you feel connected and grounded. In this bizarre time when many of us are so isolated, a new voice – one that doesn’t make any demands on you or expect you to respond in any way – can be profoundly healing. 

Pro tip: This can be incredibly helpful if you’re prone to insomnia. Listening to a story can give your anxious brain something to latch onto so that it stops running on a hamster wheel. Find a book on tape or a good podcast, and prepare for some actual shuteye!

Where to start: The incredible LaVar Burton has a podcast where he reads short fiction, much of which is fantasy, sci-fi, or fairy-tale inspired! Authors include greats like Kelly Link, N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, and Genevieve Valentine.

2 – Collect jokes.

Did you know that jokes are a folklore genre? They are! And there are folklorists who specialize in jokes! We not are breaking new ground when we say that laughter is good for you. So why not harness its power? Ask you friends and relatives for their favorite jokes and write them down in a journal. Make a file on your computer for your favorite memes. 

(This, for example, is one of our all time favs :P.)

We’ve been friends for over a decade, and we think it’s safe to say that our friendship is at least 30% based in our weird, overlapping sense of humor. We send gifs or memes (or sometimes just videos of us making weird faces) to each other daily. Find your friends and family members who have similar senses of humor, and send them your favorite jokes. Or share your favorites on social media! Be the healing hilarity we all need in the world!

Where to start: When you’re scrolling through your social media feeds, take note of what makes you laugh out loud, and save it to a joke folder! Or call your best friend and ask them to tell you the funniest thing they’ve heard this week.

3 – Learn a new dance.

Okay, we know, when you’re feeling anxious, the last thing in the world you feel like doing is jumping up and dancing around the room…but that’s exactly what you should do.

Research has proven over and over again the benefits of exercise for mental health, and moving your body jolts you into a different level of consciousness where it’s difficult to focus on the things that are worrying you. Neither Sara or Brittany are major gym bunnies, but they both enjoy dancing (especially when it’s super low stakes!) and try to remind each other to JUST DO IT. 

Attempting a folk dance is a fabulous way to interact with different cultures too – might we suggest trying an Irish Light Jig or this Italian Tarantella?

Where to start: The links directly above! Or you can search for “Just Dance” videos on YouTube or find an online dance class in your preferred genre. 

4 – Make an altar.

People traditionally think of altars as religious spaces, erected in order to praise certain gods or goddesses, but altars can be so much more than that too. Altars have always had a place in folk belief beyond religious mandate. They’re also places to center dreams, remind yourself of desires, honor histories and ancestors, and so much more. Altars can be about who you are, your core self, but they can also help you zero in who you want to be and make that vision a reality. They don’t have to be complicated either – yes, altars can be incredibly elaborate, but they can also be just a photograph and a candle. When you’re feeling lost, worried, in pain, making an altar to process these feelings can be a wonderful way to refocus on what you really want and how you can get back to feeling the way you want to feel. Honor your anxiety, and then let it go in favor of that which is more useful to you.

Where to start: If you need a little inspiration, we highly recommend checking out Dr. Kay Turner’s book Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars. She’s one of our favorite folklorists, and this book is absolutely beautiful. 

5 – Learn a ballad by heart.

Ballads are basically stories set to music. They can be funny, historical, bawdy, or full of murder. Some of them even have Robin Hood or fairy knights! If you’re feeling especially stressed (or if you just like cool traditional tales), learning a ballad can be a great distraction. They are often quite long, so this is a project that could take a while. Find a ballad you love, memorize the words, and dazzle/ confuse your friends and family at your next Zoom cocktail hour! You could also find YouTube videos and sing along with the balladeer!

Where to start: Two of our favorite ballads are “Tam Lin” and “Twa Sisters”! You can also pursue the classic The English and Scottish Popular Ballads online for free.

So there you have it! Our favorite ways to soothe stress with folklore. Try them out and let us know which is your favorite in the comments or in our Facebook discussion group!

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