I can’t remember if I was anxiety-prone before I moved to New York City or if moving to New York City made me anxiety-prone. But in an overcrowded city where everyone seems overcaffinated and overworked, feeling a bit on edge has come to feel normal. I am among my people.
Sensing that I needed a vacation, a friend —- and one of those rare New Yorkers who doesn’t wear all black and never seems to be in a rush —- suggested I take off work for a week (gasp!) and jet off to Oahu to attend Wanderlust, a yoga and meditation festival focused on rejuvenation. So off I went, turning off my phone for the first time in years.
One of the biggest things I picked up on from everyone I met —- from my gracious hosts to my surf instructors and even my taxi drivers and hotel bell hops —- was that no one really seemed even a smidge stressed out. So besides bringing home delicious macadamai nuts and kona coffee, I brought back habits I learned from the Hawaiian people that have truly reduced my anxiety. Sure, we may not have the beaches or the palm trees, but there are some things islanders get right that we can all learn from and adopt.
Lesson 1: Be conscious of what you put into your body.
It would be a crime to cut out pizza, bagels and doughnuts forever, but science has shown that a sugar and carb-heavy diet can lead to anxiety, causing spikes in mood swings and crashes. There is a definite link between nutrition and mental health, which everyone from Psychology Today to the Mayo Clinic has confirmed.
In Hawaii, fresh fruit and fish are served at virtually every single meal. Everywhere I ate, from Chef Chai Chaowasaree’s top-rated Waikiki restaurant to the Nobu Waikiki, served delicious never-ending courses like fresh ahi with tomato mango salsa (Chef Chai) and black cod miso. (Nobu), but I never felt overstuffed or gross the next day, like I do binge-eating on other food. Now that I’m home, I’m craving Chef Chai’s simple dessert of fresh pineapple slices even more than the sugary cupcakes I usually crave.
Try cooking Hawaiian with Chai’s miso sea bass recipe here.
Lesson 2: Get your adrenaline going.
By far my favorite part of my trip were my two surf lessons, first with Waikiki Beach Activities and then with a surf instructor based right at my hotel, the Waikiki Parc. The total adrenaline of catching a wave followed by the complete peace of paddling in the water was theraputic. Here in New York, Rockaway Beach has great surfing spots, but there are other ways you can get the same feeling closer to home. Try a trapeze class at TSNY New York. Take that improv class. Whatever will give you a natural high and a sense of accomplishment, do it.
Lesson 3: Appreciate your surroundings.
Hawaiians are really in-tune to their environment. At Wanderlust, yoga poses were often described in ways that reflected the immediate surroundings. The teachers spouted instructions like “stand like you are straddling a whale” and “turn your chest out a dolphin.” New York may have less nature than Hawaii, but we live in a beautiful city. Just taking the time to stop rushing and looking up once in a while —- who cares if you look like a tourist? —- can give a calm and remind you that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Who needs tree pose when you can do a sky scraper pose?
While in Hawaii, I took a hula class from master hula teacher Liko Cooke and she said something that stuck with me. “Hawaiians believe salt water is healing,” she said. “Whenever I come back from a vacation, I immediately go for a swim in the ocean. Here, if someone is sick, they drink warm salt water. We even use seasalt to bless our food.” You’ve probably experienced a smiliar feeling after coming back to New York after a long vacation: there’s a calm that comes with seeing the city after being away. Find a place that heals your spirit, whether it’s a secret spot in the park, your favorite local cafe or somewhere else entirely, and go there regularly.
Still would rather just book your own trip to Hawaii? Find the perfect hotel here.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence