New York City is the classic Western example of a bustling city. People everywhere, cars, subway, businesses, fashion, politics, you name it. There is so much ruckus at any given time that it is almost palpable. You anxiously wait for the weekend yet every Monday morning when someone asks you how the weekend was you respond almost instinctively “Not long enough”. Is it still worth it?
You may know this feeling. You are having a very normal morning before you go to work. As soon as you step out of the door, your mood starts to deteriorate for no apparent reason. You stand up in the subway thinking about everything you have to do that day, which is quite a bit. You can’t concentrate, and you just think it is probably because you are so busy and overwhelmed. At work you do find it hard to stay focused and are less productive than usual, which is making you more anxious by the moment. The snowball is rolling down the hill and seems to be growing and gaining momentum. Right at the moment you think you might go off at someone for no reason you decide to go for a quick walk to relax when suddenly you grasp what is making you miserable. This morning when you put your shoes on, one shoelace got tangled between the shoe and your ankle, and its hard tip is right under the soft plant of your foot. That itches like crazy. You also realize you have been unconsciously trying to free yourself from that situation all day by playing around with your foot, sometimes softly kicking a wall or the floor, without success. The relief is immediate once you pull the shoelace out. How could something apparently so small and insignificant cause so much distress yet go unnoticed for so long?
Flossing Out the “Stress” Between Your Molars
The point is that every now and again we come across these small but powerful annoyances. And a place like New York is just full of them. The noise, the dirt, the traffic jams, the smells and the traffic lights are all valid examples. You wish getting rid of stress was just as easy as going to the bathroom when you really need it, but it takes much more than that and oftentimes there is really no simple and easy solution. This is when living away from the city comes into play.
The Poconos are mostly a quiet, peaceful place all year round. The nature provides most of the noises rather than vehicle horns. The symphony of loud music and trucks is offset by “the sound of silence”. Instead of waking up on the weekend to the sound of an ambulance or an ice cream truck (just the thought of it is stressful), you are awaken by birds. Dirt and foul odors are replaced for dead leaves and natural scents. In summary, most of those potentially stressful factors are nullified or minimized.
Population is more sparse in this part of Pennsylvania, so there are not as many traffic lights. To illustrate the point, our church building in Queens was just 2 miles away from our apartment. Yet it took us about 20 min to get there between the 17 traffic lights and Sunday morning traffic, which in New York is worse than it sounds. Not to mention the many turns, countless stop and yield signs and the ever-present potholes. Fast forward to today and it takes us less than 10 minutes to travel the nearly 3 miles to church. There are only 2 traffic lights and one stop sign separating us. Well, the first traffic light doesn’t really count since it is a right turn and here you can turn on red. That alone is worth an entire paragraph, but the author will spare you today 🙂
Traffic lights are fairly insignificant when looked at individually. But you come across them very often in the city and their effects on your level of stress are cumulative, manifesting in the most unexpected situations. Sometimes you catch yourself being overly aggressive in traffic, but other times it is your mood that turns more acid or sarcastic and yet others when you just cannot get enough rest no matter how much sleep you get. Regardless of how many tricks or gimmicks you use to channel your stress or turn it into something positive, at the end of the day you are just delaying the inevitable.
Walking the Walk
Coming to the Poconos improved my life considerably. Just the thought of coming back home was a way to relax. Before the move I was welcomed by our old post-war building, an elevator and then our apartment where my wife and kids were confined to for an extended period of time. Now I come back home and my kids could be playing in the yard for hours and I can walk straight home from the garage. Everyone has more energy and even our interactions improved quite a bit. And since my daily commute involves a lot less walking, I can afford spicing it up by adding a 10 mile two-way bike ride between the office in Brooklyn to the Port Authority area where the buses leave from. That also does wonders in terms of stress relief.
Even if you believe you are not “the peace and quiet type”, your body (and certainly your physician) may advise you to reconsider that
conclusion in short notice. Heart problems, diabetes, depression, anxiety and a plethora of other medical conditions can be traced back to and/or worsened considerably by stressful living and working environments. Although I wish none of these happen to any NYC or other large metropolis dwellers, wishing it may not do much more good than a sugar pill. Even conventional medicine may help only to a certain point to treat, but not cure these ills. What you may need is actually a more drastic but permanent solution: you have to get out of the city as quickly as possible. And when you do, the Poconos should be your top choice when it comes to avoiding or mitigating the perverse effects of stress.