Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

This week's question comes from a New Yorker who's just a little freaked out.

Dear Jake,

I don't know if it's the increasing certainty of a Trump presidency, or my rent going up 25% this year, or the near suffocation I'm experiencing every morning trying to board the L Train, but recently I've been feeling REALLY, REALLY, REALLY anxious. Like somewhere between "I'm having a panic attack" and "near constant feelings of impending doom" several times a day. How do you natives deal with anxiety? Is it possible to live here for a long time without going insane?


Worried in Williamsburg

A native New Yorker responds:

Dear WW:

You are not alone! I mean, holy shit, given the state of the world right now, if you're not anxious then you are not paying attention! The imminent rise of fascism nationally, the wholesale liquidation of the poor and middle class locally, both magnified on a moment-by-moment basis by our country's terrible media—you can feel the streets seething with quiet desperation—and increasingly, also screaming, hysterical desperation.

The basic problem here is that our ape brains are just not built to handle the present environment. Back on the savannah in Africa your ancestors probably never had to deal with many more people than could fit in a village, and everyone there was probably kith or kin and dealing with the same problems. Now you take that same brain and ask it to deal with New York stimuli, with thousands of strangers pressing in on the streets and subways, some very rich and some very poor, all struggling to navigate an incredibly complex geographic and social landscape... Well, eventually that brain is just going to go "pop!"

Jake Dobkin keeps it together with the help of his emotional support dog. (Courtesy Jake Dobkin Private Collection)

Now, I believe this tradeoff is worth it. Just thinking in terms of our great museums, vibrant industries, and tremendous food truck scene, New York is way, way ahead of the savannah for excitement, self-actualization, and getting Chinese food after midnight. But your question rests on a false premise: that we natives don't suffer from the same urban anxiety that newcomers do, and don't occasionally lose our shit. Quite the contrary!

Literally every native I know does lose his or her respective shit, and in a variety of ways. The lucky ones have their anxious weeks and find relatively benign methods of working them off, which I'll discuss below. The unlucky ones take solace in drink or drugs or a variety of behaviors which temporarily deliver relief but lead to more anxiety and heartache for them down the road. Others externalize, shrieking at strangers in the street when they think someone bumped into them, or throwing full coffee cups at the side of a bus when they miss it. This is temporarily satisfying, but inevitably invites more conflict and stress.

The wisdom I'm about to drop comes, as all wisdom does, from personal suffering:

When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my sister and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, an anxious childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth telling. Worse than the ordinary anxious childhood is the anxious New York childhood. And worse still is the anxious New York Jewish childhood.

Ok, I stole that from Frank McCourt, but otherwise it's true—a combination of a hundred generations of Hebraic ancestors worrying about Cossack pogroms, and an upbringing directed by loving but certifiable wackjob leftists in Park Slope, has given me a nervous constitution closely analogous to a squirrel on crystal meth.

And yet, despite my genetics and environment, except for a few rough patches which are best left for another column, I've generally done okay keeping it together in New York City, and if I have, anyone can. Here is a list of the most helpful advice for living your best, least anxious life that I've picked up along the way:

* Exercise: living in New York, we are blessed with having to walk around a lot, so you're already doing better than people in other big cities. But you can always do more: try biking to work, or getting off a subway stop early and walking. You'll feel more relaxed immediately.

* Eat simply and well: you have access to the greatest markets in the entire world, and eating a simple, healthy diet, on a regular schedule, is a wonderful way to calm down your nervous system. Learn to cook, or get a partner who can, and limit your use of restaurants to the very good ones for special occasions.

* Drink less, smoke less: one glass of wine a night is fine, and even recommended, but for the nervous brain, additional drinks are converted directly to anxiety the next day. Likewise for cigarettes, coffee and most drugs: limit or eliminate them and you'll be surprised how much more relaxed you'll feel.

* Sleep: keep to a normal sleep schedule. If you've got insomnia, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is learn to control it, and it turns out that's pretty easy. Stick to a sleep schedule, eliminate screens an hour before bed, buy a white noise machine, etc. Presto, you'll feel like a different person in a week.

* Cultivate thoughtful friends and family. Pick your least insane friend or relative, and spend more time with them! You'd be surprised at how much anxiety you can relieve just by spending less time with toxic people, and spending more time with people who are kind.

* Take up a relaxing hobby. Meditation is an obvious choice, but almost any hobby that requires focus and concentration, like reading, writing, playing music, or making art, will divert you from your anxiety and settle your brain. If you can find hobbies that you can do outside, in quiet, relaxing places like our parks, all the better.

* Try to find a job that helps others, or if you can't or don't want to, use the money you make at your job to help others, or use your free time to volunteer. Focusing on others, and causes larger than your own survival, is a very straightforward way of developing equanimity and wisdom.

* Stop consuming bad media. The zen maxim is "don't eat poison," which captures the importance of this. Most American media is designed to make you anxious so that you consume more, or make bad political decisions—avoid anything that celebrates materialism, fame, wealth, and use the time you save for something better, like overthrowing the oppressive patriarchy.

Finally, when all else fails, consider that there is nowhere easier than New York for finding a good therapist or a steady supply of prescription anti-anxiety medication, or both. For really acute anxiety, there's nothing better. You have no idea how many of your friends have done a course of cognitive-behavioral therapy or keep a vial of Xanax in their medicine cabinet. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, and with recent insurance mental-health parity laws, you'll find treatment is surprisingly affordable.

If you read self-help books, they all say that experiencing anxiety is a wonderful opportunity to learn to be present in the moment, and expand your empathy and so on. That's true, but I think they're also a great opportunity to wake up and realize that the society we live in, here in New York and here in America, with our threadbare social safety net and terrible inequality, is much more anxiety-provoking than it needs to be, and true awakening requires that you vote, volunteer, and give money to politicians who are trying to do something about this. Think about it: if we solved our affordable housing crisis, or provided support for young families, we'd probably solve about 50% of our mental health issues right there.

Think about that while you breathe!

N.B.: Did you know people passing out from anxiety attacks on crowded trains is one of the most common reason for train delays, which just leads to more train delays and more anxiety attacks in an ever-increasing cycle? One more reason to get outside and bike to work!

Ask a Native New Yorker anything via email. Anonymity is assured.