How A Trip To Australia Forever Changed The Way I Think About Stress
This summer, mbg is celebrating travel that really goes the distance. Our new Transformative Travel series will spotlight how to forge meaningful connections on the road and carry life-changing insights back home as souvenirs. Today, we’re hearing from Emma Loewe, mbg’s sustainability editor, about how a trip to Sydney changed the way she handles stress.
I was in a department store in Sydney—I think it was a Kmart. I was 20 years old, carrying all of the excitement and nervousness only a 20-year-old who was alone abroad for the first time could. "Even the Kmarts in Australia seem different," I thought, jet-lagged and aimlessly navigating the bright aisles searching for a towel to take back to my apartment for the upcoming semester.
I sheepishly asked a store employee where they were and thanked him for pointing me in the right direction.
"No worries," he smiled.
I must never have heard these words used in place of "you're welcome" before, because I remember walking away confused by the quaint little saying. "Obviously I didn't think anyone would be worried about my lack of towels," I thought, setting off to finish my shopping trip. I didn't know it at the time, but for me, those two words would go on to define Australia—a place that has left quite a mark on my life.
The "no worries" mentality.
Over the next four months in Sydney, I'd hear a lot of Aussie-isms, but none more than "no worries." Most of the time, people would use it in place of "no problem," "it's alright," or "you're welcome"—and it seemed to me like they meant it, too.
On the surface, Australians and Americans have lots of similarities. We speak the same language, listen to similar music, and share an undying love of avocado toast. But I noticed such a difference in the way Australians approached the things that mattered and the things that didn't. It was a culture of people who valued hard work, yes, but who valued adventure, meaningful connections, and health just as much. As for the other stress and filler that creeps into life? To them, it was simply nothing to worry about.
I started to question what in the world was really worth my worry.
Even though they were young, most of the Australians I met were already well traveled, having prioritized saving up their money to get out and explore. They were constantly in motion, running from class to a cafe to the park to see friends—sometimes literally. They spent more time outside. They smiled a lot. Over those four months, the first topic of my conversations was almost never what I was studying in school or what I wanted to do for a living. Those details came up eventually, but they somehow seemed to matter just a little bit less.
As a serial perfectionist who tended to lose sleep over things like grades and job applications, this caught me off guard at first. Back then, I let my stress define me, and sometimes it felt like waves of panic and fear kept rolling in like the waves in the ocean: one after another. But slowly, with every passing day spent lingering over a good coffee, walking through new parts of the city, and living less in my to-do list and more in my bucket list, I started to question what in the world was really worth my worry. Was it achievement for the sake of others? Or was it fulfillment for the sake of myself?
Pretty soon, I had no worries either.
Granted, back then I was a college student with very few responsibilities and lots of free time, which made it pretty easy to live by this mantra. And yes, the people I surrounded myself with were pretty much in the same boat. So, who knows, maybe other people visit Sydney and find it to be a place full of unhappy workaholics (though I seriously doubt it).
But then again isn't that what travel is all about—allowing a new place to be exactly what you need in that moment?
When I think back on my time in Australia, I think of it like this quote by author Azar Nafisi: "You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you'll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you'll never be this way ever again." Just as much as I miss the hot sun and the banana bread and the people that defined my experience in Australia, I miss the person I was then, too—the one who just realized that worry didn't need to be a defining part of life. But thankfully the other amazing thing about travel is that you can take some of that person home with you, too.
You get a strange feeling when you leave a place.
It's been about four years since I last set foot in the magical country of Australia, but I still sneak a "no worries" into most of my emails. I use it instead of "you're welcome," and I probably drop it into casual conversation more than I should.
These days, I know that there are plenty of things that warrant my concern, but I also know that there are a lot of things that don't. I know that it's easy to get caught up in the moment, wrapped up in little stressors that add up to something bigger—but it's in those moments I try and step back, zoom out, see the bigger picture, and remember what I'm grateful for. Because when I live within this broader perspective, there never really are worries that can’t pass.
So thank you, Australia, for teaching me what is probably the most profound realization anyone has ever had in a Kmart.
Next up: Read about one woman's transformative experience in Japan.
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