Anyone who has lived in Britain for any great length of time will know about the British tradition of putting the kettle on and enjoying a cuppa. Whether it’s sad news, good news or any kind of news really, the simple, stoic act of ‘putting the kettle on’ is a distinctive and stereotyped characteristic of society here.

You may never have given it much thought. It’s just something that you do and is done. But actually this simple and unassuming act provides genuine psychological and self-care benefits.

The stoicism of the cuppa

The everydayness of the act of making a cuppa regardless of what’s going on has an undoubted feeling of stoicism. It is a belief shared by many that there is nothing like putting the world to rights over a cup of tea. No matter how stressed you are or struggling, putting the kettle on will help you through.

This belief is so implicit in people’s psyche that it is as invisible to us as water is to fish. Edward T Hall, a cross-cultural researcher, is said to have made the observation that a fish cannot see the water that it swims in. It’s easy to see how the shared cultural behaviour of putting the kettle on and the belief in the power of that cuppa, invisible as it may be is there nonetheless, like the air that we breathe.

Putting the kettle on and the ABC for Feelings

The act of putting the kettle on is an action that creates a break or a pause. This allows us to step to one side of the situation at hand and arrive in the moment. This affords us the space to gather our thoughts, shift our perspective and consider our next move.

Regardless of whether we’ve just received some good news or bad news we need to comprehend, or we need to motivate ourselves to do something we’ve been putting off, the act of making a cup of tea often provides the important break and headspace we need.

In fact, putting the kettle on fits perfectly into the three stages of the ABC for Feelings we use here at The Helpful Clinic.

Here’s how:

  • Awareness – Waiting for the kettle to boil provides you with a couple of minutes to pause, gather your thoughts, arrive in the moment and pay attention to where you are physically; what room you are in, etc. and how you are feeling and what you are thinking.
  • Breathing and Body – While the tea is brewing, you have the opportunity to take a few breaths, shuffle your shoulders and wriggle your toes, enabling you to get a sense of how you are feeling in your body at the present time. Remember, the breath is a great portal to the present because breathing is always real-time; you cannot catch up on breath from last week and you cannot store breath for next week.
  • Choice – Now you are in a position where you can assess what you need and decide what the most Helpful next step is.

Making tea is an act of self-care

A cup of tea can also give a significant boost when it comes to self-care and wellbeing. For example, a cup of tea is not only hydrating, it can also provide more health benefits, thanks to the antioxidants and other ingredients it contains. 

But whether your choice is herbal, green, black or white, the act of making tea: boiling the kettle, waiting for it to brew and then drinking the tea enables you to slow down and take care of what you need. 

As Walter Hagen, golf’s greatest showman, said:

“Don’t hurry, don’t worry, you’re only here for a short visit, so be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Isn’t that a great outlook to take?

There is a satisfaction and happiness that many of us get from having beautiful tea sets. Simple pieces of crockery that are designed to serve a single purpose can provide much satisfaction, with many individuals excited about the prospect of savouring tea that is presented in a decorative set and having particular cups or mugs for their brew.

Dates for your calendar

It’s not just us here at The Helpful Clinic that recognise the power of putting the kettle on and savouring your brew.

A fantastic initiative that highlights how therapeutic a cup of tea can be is the PG Tips Cuppa Together campaign, which is designed to encourage people to get together, have a cup of tea and ultimately reduce the loneliness many individuals feel each year.

The Samaritans Brew Monday campaign is another great example of how a simple cup of tea can make us feel better and help us manage the ups and downs of life.

On January 20th we supported the Samaritans Brew Monday compaign here at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge and held a biscuit dunking competition for people in the building providing them with a chance to get together, have a chat and do something fun. We asked the question: Do you dunk and if you do… what’s your favourite biscuit for dunking? This created a great and often hilarious conversation with multiple references to Peter Kay’s sketch about Hobnobs being the best biscuit for dunking.

Tomorrow, Thursday February 6th is Time to Change’s Time to Talk Day 2020. It’s an initiative that’s designed to get us all talking more about mental health and reduce the stigma associated with the topic.

Are you attached to your tea making ritual?

There’s something quite ritualistic in the preparation of a cup of tea. After all, we all do it slightly differently and have our own tea making rituals that we adhere to religiously. There have been many a heated discussion about which is the correct way to make the perfect cup of tea, highlighting just how passionate we all get about this simple act.

I once knew someone who would actually set a timer when they made a cup of tea. After exactly 4 minutes they would remove the teabag and then add the milk. And she’s not the only one. With our preferences about type of tea, pot/mug/cup, with milk or without milk and so forth, the reality is that most people are sincerely attached to their cuppa and specific about how it is made.

It’s not just putting the kettle on, drinking the tea boosts mindfulness

Then there is the part we all love best: enjoying the cup of tea we’ve just made. Sitting down and savouring the moment when we taste that freshly brewed cuppa. Even though we’ve all had thousands of cups of tea throughout our lives, we still enjoy the next one just as much (providing it’s been made in accordance with our own best practices). Like the breath being a portal to the present, so the cup of tea can be a portal to the present. After all, just because you had a cup of tea yesterday doesn’t mean that you don’t want (or need) a cup of tea now.

There are various traditions that celebrate the act of making and savouring tea. The Japanese tea ceremony, also known as the Way of Tea is one such where the purpose of the ceremony is to achieve deep spiritual satisfaction through the drinking of tea and through silent contemplation. While many people in the UK won’t take their next cuppa to this level of meaningfulness, it does show the potential power that this simple ritual of making and drinking a cup of tea holds.

After all is said and done, the act of making and drinking a cup of tea is one that promotes mindfulness, supports our short-term mood and our health, hydrates us and potentially connects us with others, affording us more headspace to gain a better perspective on what we’re experiencing and making more helpful choices.

Why not celebrate the psychological contribution that the simple act of making a cup of tea has on our day-to-day lives by savouring your teaming and drinking. Treat yourself, put the kettle on!

Do you have any specific tea making habits, or a ritual that you follow? We’d love to hear about them. Do you put the milk in first, or is that simply wrong (in your eyes)…


Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.

All the best, Thor

Want to stay connected with more Helpful information? Sign up to the fortnightly Helpful newsletter here.