A Zero-Stress Lifestyle in Panama

Cero estrés.

Zero stress.

It’s a constant refrain in Panama City, where I now live. It refers to the idea that hiccups are meant to be taken in stride. That if both sides remain calm, all will be well. That there’s no need to “stress out.”

Take the other day for example. I’d ordered a few hundred photocopies, but when I went to pick them up I realized I‘d left my wallet at home. The supervisor said “cero estrés,” and let me take the copies anyway. I went back to pay the next day.

Or another day, when the dancers I’d booked for an event didn’t show up exactly on time. The manager’s reassuring words to me? Cero estrés. “They’ll be there soon…it’ll all work out.”

You know what? It did.

I’ve been living in PTY, as it’s called, for nearly eight years now…and the cero estrés lifestyle is now my lifestyle.

It’s a far cry from the stress I felt back in the States, working in the cruise line industry. Then, if we docked even a few minutes late, passengers complained that they were losing precious port time. If one port had to be swapped for another because of inclement weather or hurricanes, I had to attend to a long line of people waxing on about how they were missing out. No one seemed thankful to be safe and en route to a fun location that wasn’t being threatened by tropical storms.

Even when I wasn’t at work, it felt like complaining—and getting all worked up—was a part of the lifestyle. In line at the supermarket or at a nice restaurant, I was always hearing about what was wrong or missing.

In Panama, locals simply don’t spend much time complaining—not about little things…or even big things (like weather) that are beyond our control. Instead, they’re patient.

At first sight, Panama City seems like it’s all hustle and bustle. There are skyscrapers, traffic jams, and construction projects everywhere you look. The Panama Canal is being expanded for the first time in history…Central America’s first metro is under construction outside my door…and the colonial sector featured in the Bond film Quantum of Solace is getting a facelift.

Despite all the growth and an apparent “can do” entrepreneurial attitude, people here are restful…serene…smiling, even.

It’s rubbed off on me. These days, when I have to wait, I don’t hide behind my iPad or smart phone, filling every second with work. I strike up a conversation with the people around me, or laugh at their kids’ antics. Before, the noise and banter would have bothered me.

Before, if I didn’t get ten errands done on a Saturday, I felt like a failure. Now, if in one day I accomplish one or two things on my list, I’m content. I’ve learned that from the people here.

Recently, a visitor from the States asked me to take him around the city. Rather than plan ahead, he wanted to play-by-ear and get a feel for the city. In a place where everyone is flexible, it was easy to do.

We went to one of the city’s best restaurants (Maito, in the San Francisco district) for lunch. The chef happened to be free, and we got a tour of his herb garden and talked about how local produce influenced his cuisine. Later we went to the Trump Ocean Club Hotel and got offered a tour and a peek at some of the luxurious rooms.

At the new tapas bar in the Hard Rock Megapolis a local celebrity sat down with us, and two hours later was still regaling us with stories about his adventures in the Panamanian television and animation industries. If we’d kept a rigid schedule, running from one place to the next, none of these interactions would have been possible. But we kept it low-key…cero estrés…and things worked out better than we ever could have imagined.

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