Besides being known as the self-developed coffee consumption capital of the United States, New York City boasts an untold history of firsts, uniquities, and delightful eccentricities. The fact that over 8.5 million people can successfully navigate a 300 square mile land mass on a daily basis (with relative efficiency) qualifies as a minor miracle in and of itself. In fact, if separated from the metropolitan area, the borough of Brooklyn alone would be the fourth largest city in the country. Perhaps all of that coffee is the ‘secret sauce’ that holds it all together.
In any event, this grand experiment of mass humanity in limited space has also spawned it’s own unique set of challenges to our mental and emotional health. The American Psychological Association found that New Yorkers report stress levels that surpass the national average. The numbers don’t lie - dwellers in the city complain about the stresses of money, career and health significantly more than other Americans.
:: Complaints About Stress (NYC vs. Other Americans) ::
Money: 78% vs. 69%
Work: 78 % vs. 65%
Economy: 71% vs. 61%
Health: 62% vs. 52%
Newsflash: living here is tough. And quite often, the culture, the lifestyle and all the perks (see what we did there?) of living in the metropolis are not enough to balance out the inevitable drain on our mental resources. In fact, there’s evidence that living in the city may actually be related to systemic changes in our brain chemistry. A study conducted by University of Heidelberg and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University discovered noticeable differences between city-dwellers and their suburban counterparts. One finding showed that people who live in big cities have higher sensitivity in the part of the brain that controls emotions like anxiety and fear - leading to “hair-trigger” responses when compared to the responses of people who live in more rural regions.
Now if those responses remained momentary - as in a well-timed (and perhaps well-deserved) blast from your car horn towards a wayward pedestrian - we might not have much cause for concern. But persistent pressure elevating our stress levels leads to anxiety. Left unchecked, anxiety can disrupt our everyday lives and our enjoyment of living in New York City.
Stress is caused by an EXTERNAL factor. Anxiety is stress that continues after the stressor is gone.
The National Institute for Mental Health reports that over 40 million people in the United States suffer from some type anxiety-related disorder. Naturally, millions more remain undiagnosed. From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety is a part of our biological makeup. A heightened sense of awareness can protect us from danger. However, a continual state of anxiety is a recipe for poor quality of life. That said, New Yorkers are tasked with going above and beyond to find an antidote for the stress of living in a big city. Here’s some help:
1: The Sound of Silence
Now that you’ve contained your spontaneous outburst of laughter, we’re serious! It may seem like a virtual impossibility in the cacophony of emergency sirens, jackhammers, and screaming voices in the city, but it can be done. Close your eyes. Turn off the phone. Find space in your life to indulge in the wonder of silence and just being. Think of it as a detox for your mind and senses. Let go. If you feel the impulse to meditate, feel free. However, ruminating on the chaos of the day is not the point in this exercise. This is a reset for your mind and body. For how long? As long as you want. Practice this simple pleasure several times weekly, and your mind can begin to develop the ability to rest and reset.
2: Curb the Coffee
Yes - we know that we got your craving going at the beginning of this post. And no - you don’t have to shred your Starbucks gift cards - but you should definitely minimize the amount of coffee and other caffeinated drinks that you consume. Oh, and and try to resist the urge to stop into every cafe on the Lower East Side that beckons you with that delightful aroma. Caffeine works as a stimulant that can artificially increase stress. And that after work drink? Careful. Alcohol is a depressant in large quantities, but acts as a stimulant in smaller amounts. Proper hydration can help you battle stress. Choose water, kombucha or herbal teas as a substitute.
You don’t have to train like you’re preparing for the New York City Marathon, but if you want to shake off the stress, get that workout in. The best kind of exercise is one that you will enjoy and one that you’ll do consistently. Research shows that exercise has a very positive effect on mood. A quick 30-minute walk, a morning run, or a regular Zumba class could do the trick. Note that exercise in and of itself does not eliminate stress, but it will give your body the tools that it needs to overcome it.
Talk about irony, right? Our calling card is “the city that never sleeps”. Sleep deprivation makes you more vulnerable to stress. Chronic sleep loss can lead to irritability, increased appetite and a variety of medical problems. Develop a consistent sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day (well once in a while you can break the routine) and aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep. Turn off the Netflix. Cut down on the late night snacks. And avoid keeping electronics near the bed (that soft blue light is not your friend).
5. Go Away
We all love being in a “New York State of Mind”, but regular breaks from the chaos can be beneficial. A good vacation can give you a fresh perspective and opportunities for self-discovery. Try a day trip to nature or a simple weekend at a bed and breakfast. A change of scenery and environment is good medicine. And until we get The Lowline project on track, you’ll need to plan some creative escapes to keep your mind healthy.
In recent years, more New Yorkers say that they are struggling with health concerns. The overwhelming fast pace of the city combined with the challenges of everyday life can become a severe strain - especially if you are struggling with your mental health concerns. If you’re finding that you’re not making the progress that you’d like, consider seeing a qualified psychiatrist or psychotherapist.