You can stay sane in the city despite the city challenges

Can anyone stay sane in the city? I love New York. I grew up in the city and reside here now. I have spent many happy days ( and nights) running around this magnificent city, but this city is also a grind. The weather can suck, there’s noise, it’s expensive, crowded and you’d have to be superwoman to not be disturbed by the frantic energy constantly smacking you in the face. Add mental health into the mix – I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder over a decade ago – and finding ways to stay calm, stay sane, and even enjoy the chaos isn’t just a luxury it’s a necessity.

In the “Yoga Sutras” by Pantanjali, a saint from India (150 BC), yoga is defined as the “Cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. In other words, Yoga is the stopping of movement (thoughts) in our mind. Today we think of yoga as involving lots of poses (asanas) and maybe even some fancy clothes or hot rooms. According to the tradition, the primary goal of yoga is actually to still the mind.

Meditation and yoga go hand-in-hand. For most people, this is a challenge; but for anyone like me, who has experienced a manic episode, controlling your thoughts at times is nearly impossible. I live in New York City and even at the best of times, it can be a challenge to create a mentally healthy state within the frenzy of city life. But add the holidays into the mix and even the most even-keeled may find themselves off balance.

Here are a few of the things I do to stay sane in the city:

1) Practice Yoga

In any guide from a yogi’s perspective, the first piece of advice will always be to practice yoga. Yoga can significantly improve both your state of mind and your body. As the popularity of yoga has grown so much in recent years, it is also easily accessible. Most gyms offer yoga classes and there are many local studios (which is my personal recommendation). If you prefer the comfort of your home, many great yoga videos can be accessed via the internet.

2) Get Outside

This is the biggest key to my happiness. I need to spend time surrounded by nature. I walk almost every day in the fresh air. Vitamin D, trees and wildlife makes me feel grounded. This is how I find my peace in the hustle and bustle. And if family drama gets too heated, going for “some air” is always a reasonable request. 

Tune into the park, the water even the trees on the sidewalk. Wherever you are, there is some natural element there waiting and wanting for your attention. 

3) Wear Headphones/Listen to Music

Living in the city is stimulating and pandemic aside can be downright overwhelming. When I’m feeling highly sensitive and this past year with the very real stress of COVID-19,  it can also be over-stimulating and scary. One of my tools is a trusty pair of headphones. Music is healing and makes everyday city life a bit easier. Around family gatherings, a great playlist can shift the mood and bring together the room. It gets us out of our own heads and reminds everyone that being together, in the present is the greatest gift.

4) Take a Break From the Media

Shut off the news and that includes social media. Make a conscious effort to limit your intake. Same with social media, these tools were meant to connect us but often have us comparing our lives to others and wishing for something else. I remind myself that I have no idea of the struggles that person has and would not trade my life for anyone else’s life. When I get into a negative state of mind, I try to decide whether it is necessary to take a “social media fast.”

5) Surround Yourself with Beauty

It doesn’t cost a lot to make an impact in your environment. A handwritten affirmation or beautiful quote somewhere you look every day can do a lot when things get hectic. Invest in a local artist or find something on Etsy or hey Sotheby’s auction if you can (more power to you.) What’s important is you find something that moves you it could be red line on a large blank canvas. Also lovely to go for the sweet personalized touches when giving gifts.

6) Be Grateful

Whether or not your cup runneth over financially, there is still abundance in your life. A gratitude journal is a great way to start and end your day. It’s important to have a journal dedicated just to your gratitude. You can write down a list first thing in the morning and then again at bedtime. If you just need a place to start, just begin with “thank you, I am grateful for waking up.” Even on those days when you may not mean it, repeat it and you will begin to believe it.

7) Be Kind

This may be the most challenging piece of advice on this list, but it has the biggest payoff (which obviously isn’t the reason to do it). A selfless act of service is known as Seva in Sanskrit. It’s doing a good deed. Doing something genuinely kind for someone else, whether it’s a friend or a stranger, is the highest act we can do.

This year has been hard, and with the climate crisis, wildfires, and Delta variant there is no end in sight of the massive stress and challenges we face collectively. If you can give. There are endless ways to give, like financially, donating toys and coats, and volunteering your time, even a quick call to a friend or a lovely card to an elderly person are simple acts of loving kindness. Trust me, this one will help you stay sane in the city.

8) Breathe

How often do we forget about our breath? This is something that we have complete control over that can make us feel infinitely better. In order to take control of your breath, first, make sure you are breathing like you did when you came into this world. That means when you inhale your belly gets big, when you exhale all the air come out like a deflated balloon. Take three deep breaths inhaling through your nose and exhaling out through your nose. Anytime, anywhere, you can return to your breath. It’s always with you.


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Jan Lauren Greenfield
Jan Lauren Greenfield is a crystal-loving, tea drinking, plant communing, writer, director & artist. The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, she writes comedies because laughter is THE medicine. She has worked with the United Nations and has been featured in Vogue Italia. NYC calls her home.

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