I first moved to Paris six (!) years ago. And in those first five months that I was here, I suffered immensely from culture shock—that feeling when something that you’ve been dreaming of your entire life turns out to be less magic and more métro, boulot, dodo. Don’t get me wrong, I also experienced thrills of discovery and butterflies as I took the bus from Place de Clichy down towards the Louvre, but it was a hard adjustment, one that I mostly dealt with by drinking the oh-so-reasonably-priced-wine.
When I returned to Paris in 2015, I experienced a similar problem—but by then, I knew that reverse culture shock is much, much more difficult. Even though I knew Paris, could navigate the metro (and would rather walk than get anywhere near Châtelet), and had a much better grasp of French than before, adjusting to life in Paris again wasn’t easy. I felt guilty for not taking every waking moment to go to a museum or by not going to restaurants enough. The Paris I lived in was lonely, rainy, and more similar to the one you read about on the Paris syndrome Wikipedia page than the one portrayed in Paris je t’aime. I missed the sunshine from the south of France, and the drive it gave me to spend my days writing, my nights painting, and my mornings at the market.
Being a grad student is hard on any continent, but even more so when nearly every close relationship you have exists over Skype or WhatsApp. Over the course of the past year and a half, I’ve made a conscious effort to not let stress or work get to the best of me—these are the best practices that have worked for me.
Mandala meditation is a class that I took online with Jen Smith and finally, after re-learning how to use a compass and protractor, am starting to get the hang of (Etsy shop soon??). It is a great way to unwind, especially for my fidgety hands that always have to be doing something lest they feel unproductive. In fact, the mandalas that I’ve drawn recently I’ll return to the next day in awe that it was me who had created it. It mostly just requires a pen and paper (or if you’re really in it, a pen, paper, compass, ruler, and protractor), meaning it’s much more low-maintenance than watercoloring (also much better than adult coloring books that really serve to stress me out even more). I’ve watched a lot of other videos on YouTube, but Jen’s class is the most comprehensive one that I’ve found—plus I find listening to British accents soothing and have already watched all of Downton Abbey and Harry Potter.
Finding Affordable Yoga in Paris was a godsend. Before, doing yoga was something I loved doing in America, but could never afford in France (if you’re wondering, my favorite yoga studio in DC is Yoga District). My favorite location is the one snuggled between the Palais Garnier opera house and the Jardin de Tuileries, because sometimes you can hear opera practices going on in the rooms below during savasana.
Mindfulness by walking (and taking in the views!)
It’s easy to walk around Paris with headphones in listening to a podcast or music to distract you—this is called commuting. But I’ve found that walking and listening to the sounds of the street, watching the cars, and simply paying attention to my surroundings brings me more into the moment and better able to appreciate actually living here, whereas at other times I’ve felt like I actually live most of my life under Paris. I now try to walk whenever possible despite my Navigo, something which is particularly challenging as the weather gets colder (for that, I cannot recommend Uniqlo’s heattech clothing more highly!).
Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I also like to head to the roof of Galeries Lafayette, where there is no cost of admission or line to get in. It is a quick reprieve from being on the streets or underneath that allows me to soak in Paris and the romance of the smoke coming off the Paris chimneys.
Back in March, Clotilde introduced me to the Jess Lively podcast, my favorite episodes of which are here and here. Her messages and interviews are (I think) aimed at people like me who take on the all work and no play approach as deadlines loom, and have taught me so much about self-care and when I have a choice in things (always). On a similar note, my good friend Lauren (← check out her new business!) wrote a blog post on sympathy vs. empathy back in December that I loooove.
I also love listening to Why Oh Why, Modern Love, and The Splendid Table while I draw mandalas, because more often than not they have absolutely nothing to do with my work or research, and allow me to just escape Paris and my work, if only for a moment.
While these tips can be used all over the globe regardless of your profession or studies, I’ve found them (and pastries, after all, I am in Paris) to be of great help when feeling overwhelmed with cultural and language barriers or bureaucracy on top of my other work, especially while working on my thesis.
What do you do to unwind and stay stress-free? Any tips?