Please help me not be a simmering cauldron of rage
December 7, 2014 10:56 AM   Subscribe

I recently moved to New York City. I find getting around the city seems to involve constant interior thrum of unwarranted anger at other people. I would like to stop being a person who is heading to work or the grocery store while being mad at most everybody else; it's not a good way to live. Any tricks or heuristics or habits of thought you use would be very helpful!

To be clear, I don't have a temper -- I'm actually very sweet-natured and polite when actually talking with people. I'm not worried about lashing out or anything like that. Nor is this something that bothers me in other areas of my life -- I meditate, I have loving relationships, I'm not an angry person. Hence my surprise to find in the months since I moved here that going from place to place creates an inner monologue of "hey, asshole" and "look at this fucking hipster" and "get off your phone when you're talking to the barista, creep" (okay that one might be kind of warranted) and "why are you walking so god-damned slowly" (I could go on) and basically hating everyone. I don't expect to be a saint -- I'm going to be angry at people with super-loud car horns, or who stop and stand at the top of the subway station stairs -- but for my health and happiness and ability to be a good person I'd like to not be kind of pissed off whenever I'm mixing with everybody else in my adopted city. Are there ways -- practices, ways of thinking, things to remind myself -- that can mitigate this?
posted by deathmarch to epistemic closure to Grab Bag (40 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
For me, this is usually a sign thatI am stressed or otherwise unhappy with other areas of my life. Touching base with myself ("how are you really feeling right now? What things are stressing you?") helps redirecting my emotions to where they belong.

Also, obstructionists on the street or on subwaystypically stress me out when I'm in a hurry. Perhaps there is something you can change about your commute to make it more of a relaxed people watching experience and less of a hurried commute?

And lastly, your problem seems typical for people living in NYC. It's hard NOT to let everybody's mood rub off on you. Again, people watching (like a nature magazine journalist or ethnologist) might help you not mindlessly absorb crowd moods. Because you'll be detatched, watching from your outsider bubble.

And lastly lastly, visualising said bubble around you might help you detatch yourself from the ambient irritants.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:08 AM on December 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

Where in the city do you live? I feel like I have this sort of rage constantly in a lot of parts of Manhattan (the Upper West Side, the East Village on a weekend night, Canal Street, the Union Square subway station, anywhere in Midtown, etc), but moving to Brooklyn really helped stem the tide. Then again, I have friends who experience hipster rage, so the solution for them was to move to Queens or Riverdale or something.

I guess what I'm saying is, how much do you love your neighborhood, and does it feel like home or does it feel like you're constantly at war with your idiotic neighbors?

Also, what is the likelihood that you are hangry when this happens? I definitely tend to feel this sort of inner rage when I need to eat. And my most likely "GET OUT OF MY WAY ASSHOLE" moments are going to take place while waiting in line for coffee.
posted by Sara C. at 11:10 AM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I feel you.

I've found that commuting in NYC makes minor discomforts far worse, so my strategy is to take extra care of myself when it comes to the things that tend to drive me crazy. So: I don't let myself get dehydrated or hungry. I make sure to take off my coat as soon as I get to the platform (because being on a crowded hot train where you don't have room to remove your coat is torture). I listen to podcasts or read books, which gives me a reason to look forward to the commute rather than dreading it. I make sure my phone is always charged, so that I don't get lost.

But also, you'll simply adjust. Navigating the streets and subways in NYC is a skill you have to develop. You'll learn how to walk in a way that minimizes your interactions with annoying people, it just takes some time. I didn't understand how much of a change this was until my family came to visit me, and I was constantly leaving them behind by accident.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:17 AM on December 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

NYC, more than any other place I've lived, gives you back tenfold what you put out. So you have to give yourself opportunities to let the good stuff come back to you:

- Open a door for someone
- Say good morning to someone
- Say thank you to someone
- If someone next to you is grouchy on the subway, say, "I know. It's just been a crazy day, hasn't it?" People actually smile, relax a little & say goodbye when they disembark.

Stuff like that.
posted by mochapickle at 11:17 AM on December 7, 2014 [26 favorites]

This sounds very Manhattan to me. Can you get out of Manhattan?

As far as mantras or reminders, what about "Sometimes I'm the asshole"? I find it helpful to remember that sometimes I'm going to be the one in the way, for whatever reason, and that other people are (usually) going to put up with my temporary assholeness without being jerks about it. We're all the asshole sometimes, so I can afford to be a bit more forgiving when it's not me.

Exercise also helps a lot, because then you're too exhausted/relaxed to care.

Also, did you move from somewhere that gets more sunlight during the winter? Could it be SAD-related?
posted by unknowncommand at 11:22 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to experience this commuting in LA traffic. I feel like I have broken though the rage and made peace with traffic after doing a job for six months that required me to drive the entire length of the city (east to west AND north to south) multiple times per week and sometimes per day. A lot of it is getting desensitized. Here's what helped:

-As suggested above, keep your phone charged and have good podcasts/music/books/etc on deck. Make sure your podcasts and stuff are downloaded so you don't have to rely on having a phone signal.

-Allow for way too much time to get anywhere. My life improved dramatically when I accepted that my commute was an hour and a half to travel 15 miles. Not "my commute is an hour and a half and fuck that" but just "my commute is an hour and a half so I must leave an hour and a half before work starts."

-This is hard to explain, but I feel like I had a mental shift from being someone who hates commuting/traffic to being someone who doesn't have strong feelings about commuting/traffic. If you can, try to observe the things that bother you without feeling like you have to react to them. This feels very obvious and silly as I'm typing it, but I swear it has completely flipped the way I feel when traveling around town. If someone cuts me off, I watch them cut me off, but I don't lay on the horn and get my blood pressure up. I just listen to my podcast and trust I'll get to where I'm going eventually. YMMV.
posted by justjess at 11:30 AM on December 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

Could this be an internalized stereotype, like "hey I live in NYC now, time to have an NYC attitude!"
posted by rhizome at 11:38 AM on December 7, 2014

Native New Yorker. I get you. David Foster Wallace's "This is Water" can help.
posted by kinetic at 11:38 AM on December 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

Could this be an internalized stereotype, like "hey I live in NYC now, time to have an NYC attitude!"

Nah, it really is that infuriating
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2014 [14 favorites]

Nthing that unless you are a zen master, this is par for the course.
posted by greta simone at 11:45 AM on December 7, 2014

It's time for a reality check: People walk at all different speeds, in all kinds of different places, and you're never going to change this. They don't always walk how you want them to walk. You already know this before the first time you go outside each day. So expect that people will be walking too slow, or too fast, and sometimes in a place that's not the most convenient for you. I guarantee you: you do the same thing to other people. And you wouldn't want them to get angry at you. If you want to be good at living in New York, accept that these things are going to happen.

I live and work in Manhattan. The way I see it, if someone is in my way, here are my options: I can go around them. I can wait for them. Or I can say "excuse me" and hope they move.

Things that are not acceptable ways to deal with someone in your way: yelling at them, insulting them, touching them. That's not how to be a New Yorker — that's being bad at living in New York.

If they're doing something that's clearly unacceptable like blocking a whole staircase or blocking the whole sidewalk, I'll say "excuse me" repeatedly, and if that doesn't work I'll clearly explain what I'm trying to do. After all, they should know what they're doing is wrong. (Emphasis on the word "whole." If you can easily go around someone, go around them.)

But it isn't wrong to walk slowly or be in the same spot that someone else wants to go. Do you get angry at the disabled or elderly for going too slow or taking up too much space? Presumably not. Well, you can't tell who has a disability, since it's not always visible. Think any young person who doesn't appear disabled is able to do whatever you want them to do? Nope — think again. You don't know what's really going on with people. Give them a break.
posted by John Cohen at 11:57 AM on December 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

A lot of times the frustration comes out of your interpretation that the other person is doing something on purpose and that it's particularly affecting you. Sometimes, yep this is true, but even when it is, if you can tweak your thinking, sometimes you can tweak your level of annoyance. Once a while back the guys on Car Talk talked about a relative who would say something like "He must have really bad diarrhea!" whenever someone cut them off in traffic. As ridiculous as that thought is, it's caught on in my house as something we say to ourselves/each other when we find someone else doing something that would otherwise annoy. Substitute your own silly or more empathetic guess about bad behavior (maybe the guy on the phone has an emergency with a sick kid? Maybe the slow walker has arthritis?) even if it is ridiculous and see what happens.
posted by goggie at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Driving often does this to me, and it's one of the things I like least about myself. Listening to funny podcasts is the best way I have found to mitigate it.
posted by something something at 12:04 PM on December 7, 2014

I've lived in NYC for 15 years. My Bose noise-canceling headphones, warn as much as possible, helped a lot.

Also, are you, by chance, female? If yes, you need to address that, otherwise your question is kind of like complaining about not feeling well but neglecting to mention that you just came from an Ebola-afflicted country. NYC is just the worst in street harassment, and those once-a-minute "interactions" can really add up to the feeling constant rage.
posted by rada at 12:17 PM on December 7, 2014

I've lived in NYC for 35 years and this is something I still have to work on! Some of my strategies took years to figure out though.

In all your comings and goings, try to figure out how to avoid crowds. Getting on the front car of the subway often helps you avoid navigating the crowd on the platform when you get off. On the other hand the front car is often the most crowded.

I walk down side streets rather than big ones. For example I avoid 23rd Street at all costs.

If I can walk there, I much prefer walking to taking the subway. Somehow I feel more in control.

If you can get to work at 9:30 or 10:00 instead of 9:00, the subway is often much less crowded.

Try to live in a neighborhood that's more residential than night-life focused, so when you are home you are in a more relaxing environment.

If you keep to the right side of the street, you may not always avoid aggravation but at least you have the moral high ground.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

A few (and contradictory) strategies I've adopted, depending on my mood:

1. When I have the energy for it, I enjoy being aggressively nice: holding doors for people, giving tourists directions, offering a seat to someone who needs it. As an added benefit, sometimes this jolts the people around you out of their commute-inspired Resting Jerk Face as well.

2. Asking myself, "How does this actually negatively affect me?" A lot of times the answer is "it really doesn't," even if it's irritating.

3. Directly and politely confronting the behavior, if appropriate. Usually not worth it, but sometimes successfully resolving a situation (e.g. asking a subway pole leaner "Excuse me, would you mind if I just held on here as well?" actually gets the job done way better than passive-aggressive glaring ever could.

4. Subtweeting. Or whatever form of social media venting works for you.

Oh, and yeah, headphones.
posted by eponym at 12:22 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, being aggressively nice is fun too! And I always make sure to say a hearty thank you when someone does something considerate for me, like holding a door or moving aside to make room for me on the subway.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:25 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding David Foster Wallace's This is Water.
posted by danceswithlight at 12:30 PM on December 7, 2014

This is a lousy time of year to be a pedestrian. Do you have a warm coat, gloves, hat? My winter mood improved greatly once I wasn't cold all the time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:33 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, are you, by chance, female? If yes, you need to address that, otherwise your question is kind of like complaining about not feeling well but neglecting to mention that you just came from an Ebola-afflicted country.

None of the problems mentioned by the OP are gender-specific. This stuff all happens to men and women.
posted by John Cohen at 12:38 PM on December 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also, obstructionists on the street or on subways typically stress me out when I'm in a hurry. Perhaps there is something you can change about your commute to make it more of a relaxed people watching experience and less of a hurried commute?

+1 to this. My commute involves a transfer from train to bus at a congested station. I can time things so that I have 5 minutes or 20 minutes to make the transfer. My mornings are so, so much better and less filled with hatred of my fellow man when I catch the earlier train; it is totally worth getting up 15 minutes earlier for.
posted by aws17576 at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Howard Stern interviews Jimmy Fallon If you have the inclination to listen to this Stern/Fallon interview, it's a great example of Fallon controlling the interview by being a classic, restrained New Yorker. I found a lot to learn from Fallon's approach, especially when Stern invades his privacy. I hope you find it useful.
posted by effluvia at 12:48 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I often get frustrated commuting, and it's usually because I'm running late. I don't like the internal hatred monologue, so I try to switch gears and just enjoy my commute without thinking about the destination. For instance, if I was going for a walk just for the heck of it, I wouldn't really care that a slow group of people were clogging up the sidewalk, would I? I'd rather be late and nice than punctual and angry. I'll just have to leave earlier next time.
posted by Gravel at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2014

There is a feedback effect when you're around so many people, so close. When I feel anxious, everyone on the subway looks annoying and aggressive. When I feel great, everyone on the subway looks like a glorious and wonderful cross-section of beautiful humanity. Whatever I feel gets projected on other people and then magnifies whatever I was already feeling.

I don't know if there's an easy answer, but be sure to spend time alone when you can and take care of yourself. New York is a city of extremes and that includes your own emotions.
posted by the jam at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are experiencing the classic symptoms of culture shock. It comes and it goes. And it comes again.

The only antidote is to joyously embrace life in your new surroundings and really love where you live. And anticipate the annoyances beforehand to head them off at the emotional pass.
posted by Nevin at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another thing: look for ways to improve the psychogeography of your commute (down to the block-level). My current commute intentionally involves taking an escalator out of the subway station and walking by a dog park (both of which I enjoy). It avoids certain blocks that have caused me fury in the past, due to frequent pedestrian bottlenecks related to food trucks, or sidewalks that narrow, or sidewalks that largely consist of grates. I don't cross at this one light that has a left turn signal, because the motorists and pedestrians get so angry at each other EVERY SINGLE DAY. So, it's a bunch of tiny, tiny tweaks that are specific to things that I like/hate, and they add up to a more pleasant mindset (and make it feel as though I have some level of control), which makes it easier to deal with the rest of it.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2014 [18 favorites]

Oh man I cannot favorite unknowncommand's suggestion enough.

My life got a million times better when, instead of walking from the 23rd St. subway to my office along 23rd street, I instead walked on much quieter, prettier, and less windy 20th street. Even though 23rd street was the more direct route.

I will definitely say that, if there's something you came to New York because you wanted to experience, try to surround yourself with examples of that at times you know are going to be tedious.

And, yes, I know this could involve massive changes of neighborhood and job location. Which is something else that really changed my attitude towards these urban microannoyances. I spent my first two years in NYC living in Upper Manhattan and mostly needing to navigate through either Midtown or the Financial District. It was OK, but I died a little inside every day. Moving below 23rd street changed everything for me. Because that was the New York I came for. Living this whole other life and then having to make room for that New York in my free time added a lot of stress to my life.
posted by Sara C. at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do not deal well with crowds. I just don't. And I get pretty grumpy and my internal voice goes to "all y'all are ASSHOLES" when things get too crowded and too inconvenient and it is too constant, with no break.

I have a long history of doing lunch either early or late, of buying groceries at 3pm (when it is not so crowded) or 2am (when it is pretty well desolate -- or was in places where I have done this) and so on. I worked just about the latest morning shift I could sign up for when I had a corporate job. It helped keep me just enough out of step with everyone else that I was not competing so much with traffic and crowds when arriving and leaving.

I know someone who says they commuted in the opposite direction from most folks in one place and it was glorious. While everyone else was going west, they were going east and vice versa (or whatever the directions were at the time).

So maybe there are ways you can rearrange your life a bit to reduce the friction. My experience is that reducing the friction means my tolerance isn't simply worn out well before the friction is done with and it makes a world of difference.
posted by Michele in California at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2014

With commuting, the way I deal with overcrowded subways and people walking slow on the sidewalk is to picture a similar situation in a car. I happen to severely dislike driving in city situations, finding it tiring. When I'm in a subway, I can withdraw and focus on myself and ignore the people around me. People in NYC seem to walk to slow only when I'm trying to get somewhere and need to be there really soon/now. Give yourself a little more time. You spend that time traveling, but due to all the modern conveniences, your commute can be you time, something that I find car commuting cannot be.

And echoing all the statements to avoid the really busy streets and intersections. Especially Times Square. But Herald Square, 23rd street, etc. can also be rage traps.
posted by Hactar at 2:30 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll second the idea about trying to trade a little efficiency for quality of commute if possible. I often took the M instead of the L in the morning even though it was marginally slower for my destination, because it was often less of a sardine tin and also a prettier ride into Manhattan.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

why are you walking so god-damned slowly

I used to feel the same way.

Then I broke my tailbone, was in unbearable pain for a week, and had to use the metro for getting myself to urgent care and the pharmacy.

As someone who is used to speed-walking, it was a lesson in humility for me to be lumbering along with all the other slow-walkers.

Now, whenever I'm stuck behind a slow walker, I just imagine that maybe, they've either had or are experiencing a painful injury.

I move on past them, and remind myself to be grateful for my two legs, and the ability to move around pain-free.
posted by invisible ink at 3:00 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is not advice per se, but there is a beautifully written essay by Georg Simmel, called "The Metropolis and Modern Life", from 1903, that speaks to the particular types of stress engendered by living in a city, and it really helped me understand my feelings about cities and why they make me feel the way they do.
posted by ITheCosmos at 3:12 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

That kind of anger comes up for me when my anxiety is acting up. Treating the anxiety with medications and behavioral modifications (cutting out caffeine, getting enough cardiovascular exercise, getting enough sleep) helps me a lot.

When I lived in very crowded places, I found that I was happiest when I thought of my commutes as a kind of game to get around people safely; a friend once described it as changing his own way of looking to see the empty space, rather than the people, in his field of vision and moving from empty space to empty space in order to move forward.
posted by jaguar at 3:28 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I cope with the constant frustration of other people in a city by just saying to myself "This is the city tax. In exchange for putting up with this I get the wonders of living in a big city".
posted by srboisvert at 4:16 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all the comments above, so if I am repeating anybody else without acknowleding, my apologies. As a twenty-plus year resident, I think you are still learning about the fun and aggravation of being around a few million of your best friends. Getting pissed off is a natural part of being close to so many people, so many of whom are completely, utterly oblivious to what's going on around them. My means of coping are multitudes.

* Reverse commutes whenever possible. Not always feasible.
* Walking routes that take you past something that you find wonderful (a park, a book store, a bakery, a church). These little things are what make the city so fantastic.
* Notice faces, clothing, books being read, stuff about people. People may piss me off, but they are interesting.
* Bike commuting. When I am on the bike, the person who pissed me off is going to be out of my sites in seconds, compared to the eternity on the train.
* Great music or a great book or magazine. I don't really like to be tuned out with earbuds or headphones all the time, as do many of my fellow city-zens. I've found that the New Yorker is the perfect subway reading material. Better than a book, more manageable than a newspaper.
* Learn to walk around the slowpokes. Take evasive action, think of yourself as a sidewalk ninja, but follow basic walking etiquette (staying to the right whenever possible). If you are going to jump off the curb to pass a knot of people, look behind you.
* If you're pissed, express it inwardly (outwardly is permissible in a very small minority of cases, usually I say "Pardon me" or "dude!", then let it go. Think of it as issuing a pointed glare, looking away, breathing deeply, and pressing on with your day.
* Real New Yorkers, those both born and bred, are the ones who let 99.9% of crap roll off their back, but have very considered opinions on queue formation, bagels, subway stair walking, and bus seating.

Good luck in our fair city! I hope you come to a meetup!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:55 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ha, I do the exact same thing, en forme de poire! I was going to say, certain buses/trains/routes make me irrationally angry while others don't faze me as much. I'm instantly hostile the second I step on the L train. That being said, I have a zen like patience for the G train (which baffles my friends).

I will happily take an hour long commute where I can read my book in peace to a ten minute commute where it's so crowded, I'm covered in the person next to me's sweat. ...shudder....

So my point is, try different routes to find the least stressful one. And get some excellent reading material. I actually look forward to my commute because it's the only time I can get some reading in.
posted by silverstatue at 5:09 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I make up songs.

That's not a lane, that's not a lane
that's the shoulder don't you see?
If I broke down or had a flat
that's where I'd need to be!

That's not a lane, that's not a lane,
that's the shoulder can't you tell?
If we meet ever meet in person
I'll tell you to go to hell!
posted by Nothing at 5:14 PM on December 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

You have the power to control others without them knowing it. Enjoy that power. Challenge yourself to making at least 3 people smile really big every day. They will inadvertently cause others to smile and you will have created a ripple of mind control. Feel the power. Embrace it. It's better than anything Harry Potter can do.

Smile at everyone. Practice random acts of kindness. When someone is being really annoying, try to give them a back story (they are probably struggling with illness and/or loss).
posted by myselfasme at 6:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

It used to really help when I allowed myself to act annoyed. Roll your eyes! Sigh! Grumble! Then get over it instantly!

Seconding this. I used to just quietly seethe when people did jerky things during the commute, but when I started selectively expressing my feelings, it served as a release valve for the whole thing. What I mean by "selectively" is, I only speak up when it's a clear-cut case of them being wrong - like pushing their way onto a subway while a whole flood of people are trying to get off. I've started letting myself scold them ("people are STILL TRYING to get off, let us OFF, please") and it helps a lot, even with all the other bullshit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think a good strategy for any annoying situation in life is to think 'when would I act like that'. If you can think of an answer that isn't too spurious, act how you'd want to be treated in that situation. I assume that most people are fundamentally decent, but a mixture of selective memory and more awareness of our own circumstances than others obscures that from us. So, if someone doesn't hold a door for you or whatever, think 'Hey, I was in a hurry the other day, and probably didn't do that either', then let it drop. Life's nicer that way.

The flip side of this is also fun, if someone does something you'd never do under realistic circumstances, you have my permission to act in whatever way you want and have no guilt about it afterwards: if someone's being an arsehole, feel free to be a bigger arsehole back to them, and feel free to rant about them later, but don't let it spoil your day because remember, they're just an arsehole.
posted by Ned G at 8:56 AM on December 8, 2014

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