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How to Stay Sane in the City That Never Sleeps

Picture of Esme Benjamin
Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 19 May 2017

There may be other places with vertiginous streets, renowned cultural institutions and 24-hour nightlife, but nowhere feels the way New York does. This city facilitates life at its most serendipitous one day, before crushing your spirit the next. There are so many wonderful things about this thrilling, filthy metropolis, but it can definitely never be described as an easy place to live. With a nod to Mental Health Awareness Month, five experts who’ve lived in NYC weight in on how to stay sane in the city that never sleeps (and seems determined to keep you up as well).

Choose less choice

FOMO (fear of missing out) could have been invented by New Yorkers. An evening in alone can feel agonizing when you know, just beyond the front door, potential adventures are starting without you.

“Having such a wide array of choices is tiring and can create an illusion of control but an actual experience of lower control,” explains therapist Rachel Kazez, LCSW. “It can also reduce satisfaction with the choices you do make and increase FOMO — resulting in a kind of paralysis.”

The solution is to create “mini vacations”, she says. “Spend an entire day just in your neighborhood, pick a recurring small community event to attend every week at the same time, become a regular somewhere (which reduces isolation!), or take a break from online dating. This will give your brain a breather and allow you to enjoy the choices you have the rest of the time.”

Find your introvert/extravert balance

During one of those “I don’t ♥ NY” phases, when life and the city just keep conspiring to make things really tough, defining a coping strategy that works for you is essential.

“After a draining day, what sounds more appealing: being home and binge watching your favorite TV show, or getting together with your friends at a cool bar?” says Jessica Meiman, a psychotherapist in private practice in NYC. “The answer helps you understand your relationship with introversion vs. extroversion, which will determine what taking care of yourself even looks like, what’s self-care for one person could be emotionally draining for the next.”

Tend towards introversion? Eat a good meal, drink a glass of wine in the bath and settle down for a shameless Netflix binge session. More on the extraverted side? Call your friends and blow off steam over dinner and deep conversation.

Make time for Mother Nature

The skyscrapered streets and crowds of other humans can cultivate a sense of claustrophobia, but in New York you’re never far from a park or waterfront. Studies have proven nature is a mental energizer, makes you less stressed and can even help us make smarter decisions, so when it all gets too much, seek grass and bird song instead of concrete and sirens.

“One of the keys is to touch base with nature. We have many beautiful parks, and a stroll among trees or past a pond can do wonders,” explains psychotherapist Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT. “Even stopping to sit on a bench (without looking at your phone) in a small square can help.”

Get a best friend/roomie who’s always there…

“There is nothing more comforting after a day spent struggling through crowds and noise than coming home to a dog wagging its tail or a cat purring,” says Carole Lieberman M.D., a born New Yorker and psychiatrist. “Cuddling them washes away a lot of stress.”

Yes, science supports your desire for a puppy; stroking small furry creatures increases levels of oxytocin — a feel good hormone associated with bonding, and a natural mood booster.

Take things at your own pace

If you’ve ever dared to dawdle, or been stuck behind a dawdler, it’s instantly obvious that idleness is not okay behavior in NYC. We assimilate and absorb that frantic pace of life, and it can grow into lingering anxiety.

Take a beat and slow down, advises psychotherapist Maya Benattar, LCAT. “Meditate, go to yoga class, meander through Central Park. Just because everyone’s rushing, doesn’t mean you have to.” Slow your body and it becomes easier to slow your mind, too. 

And remember, if you can make it here you really can make it anywhere.