How moving to New York helped me rethink my relationship with anxiety

I had expected my anxiety to get worse after moving to Manhattan. Instead, my relationship with it got exponentially better. 


Aaliya Luthra

Manhattan has eased my anxiety more than anything else. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Alexa Donovan, Contributing Writer

I have always been more anxious than the average person. A panicker. A perfectionist. A people pleaser. I overthink, I overshare, I overexert myself. 

New York City works better than my Lexapro. I realize how crass that sounds — let me rephrase that. Moving to Manhattan has helped my anxiety disorder more dramatically than anything else ever has.

By my senior year of high school, I thought I had my high-functioning anxiety conquered. I sliced my tiny pill in half every night, carried my blood pressure medication in a little pouch and went to my weekly appointments. I could always list five things I could see, four things I could touch — I had my routines.

Weaving coping patterns into my lifestyle made my life astronomically better than it was before I sought help. I still keep my planner filled with exactitudes: exact pages to be read, exact flashcards to be written, and exact mileages to be run. I even schedule my spontaneity by planning to arrive at destinations early enough to wander around.

But, no matter how hard I fought my disorder, it persisted. I didn’t need to exhaust my mind and body trying to change or continue to hate myself — I finally understood that this condition is a part of my life and it wouldn’t change easily. To get better, I had to learn to live with my chemical imbalance and quirks.

I still have moments throughout the day where my air passage may get a little smaller, my hands a little shakier and my mind a little faster. But, I’ve felt a little freer than I had in past years of my life.

To say I was nervous about college would be an understatement. And I certainly wasn’t alone in thinking this. Approximately 60% of college students met criteria for mental health problems according to research conducted in 2020 and 2021. Thirty-four percent were diagnosed with some form of anxiety. I was nervous because change, especially after working so hard to feel better, is difficult. I would have to figure out new methods to cope with anxiety, adjust my routines, and learn to stay safe in a city that always makes headlines for chaos and uncertainty.

I spent my entire move-in day sobbing after my parents left. Outside my window, a brownstone replaced a once-familiar playground surrounded by trees. Left alone to a room that didn’t yet feel like mine, I wanted to relive senior year with every atom in my body. I thought my anxiety had plateaued and I had reached my peak of happiness — despite constantly wondering what real happiness looked and felt like.

I assumed everyone labeled me as “the anxious girl” like I did myself, although I’m aware most people don’t have these thought patterns about others. But, oh, was I so wrong. I soon realized that my life didn’t need to revolve around my anxiety. 

There’s a level of anonymity in New York City to the point that I feel free. Nobody knows how anxious I can get. Nobody knows me as the girl who studied meticulously early for every test, the girl that drove to and from every party to avoid needing to scramble to find a ride. Nobody knows me as the girl who had more than the occasional cry at school. New Yorkers are just themselves. They are authentic and non-judgmental. Everyone has their quirks in this world, but it seems as though nobody here feels the need to hide them. When I realized that everyone around me, whether strangers or classmates, embraced who they were, I quickly felt comfortable doing just the same. I freed myself of every label and preconceived notion I placed on myself.

I walked down East 10th Street alone on one of my first days here. I wore a fun and funky outfit I’d never wear at home and took a deep breath. With that breath, I realized I am just me. I am a girl who loves to write, wear chunky jewelry and collect books who now also happens to live in her dream city and attend her dream school. How could I take full advantage of what this city has to offer if I did not allow myself to be free?

Yeah, I have anxiety. I get nervous and overthink often — but the one part of myself I couldn’t shake off is now something I embrace. It is why I finish my work before I have to, why I empathize deeply with others, and how I intensely love people. It isn’t just my mind’s device of torture — it is something that makes me the person I love. 

I couldn’t quite shake the suffocation of my anxiety until I was removed from the pressuring circumstances that these labels forced me into. Although admittedly good external circumstances of my life, my life was lived as “the nervous one.” 

College kept me worrying about how I would keep up with the people I love back at home, balance harder classes and adjust to life far from my mom, my biggest supporter. Instead of driving to my grandparents’ house to check on them, I’d have to take a train from Grand Central Station. But, by starting fresh and authentically being myself, I now know what true happiness is, and I feel less disappointed to have to cope with such worries. Solo walks around my neighborhood, a mile on the treadmill, sleep meditations, and my meticulous planning and long phone calls to my grandma still work like a charm here.

Every day isn’t the best day ever, but bad days don’t feel quite as bad anymore.

Contact Alexa Donovan at [email protected]