There is more scary news about the effect of city life on the brain. But in the compilation from experts, below, there are many ways to save your head and live an enjoyable life.
Researchers have confirmed that people who live or were raised in cities show distinct differences in activity in certain brain regions than those who aren’t city dwellers.
Those who currently live in the city, for example, showed higher activation in the brain region that regulates emotions such as anxiety and fear. That part of the brain is most often called into action under situations of stress or threat, and studies suggest that city dwellers’ brains have a more sensitive, hair-trigger response to such situations, at least when compared with those living in the suburbs or more rural areas.
The study also found that people who were raised in the city during their first 15 years of life were more likely to show increased activation in another brain region, a more global regulator of stress. In these individuals, the change appears to be more permanent than in people who move to cities later in life, says Jens Pruessner, one of the authors of the study.
Living in the city during your early years “means you will become more alert to [stress] situations for the rest of your life,” he says.
Studies have also shown that city dwellers may have a 21 per cent greater likelihood of developing anxiety disorders, and a 39 per cent increased risk of mood disorders, compared to people living more rurally.
Given that 66 per cent of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities by 2050, the impact of urban life on mental health has become more important than ever.
“City living affects the way our brains deal with stress,” said Dr Mazda Adli, a stress researcher in Berlin.
Coping With City Life:
Get more sleep: There are many suggestions on how to cope with city life, but my most favourite is getting enough sleep. Time constraint and stress levels require that people in the city deliberately look for time to sleep during weekends and holidays because a lot of sleep hours is spent in traffic. Without enough sleep you are just one big fight or accident waiting to happen.
Keep a happy home: After all the stress on the roads and in the office if one returned to an angry spouse and kids, one would have ended in fire from a frying pan. My friend often tells his wife no matter where a man goes, he will always want to return to a peaceful home. His witty wife replies “as we both make the bed so shall we sleep in it.” A happy home is an energizer and relaxer, but it requires a lot of work, including sacrifices, to make it so.
Expand Your Comfort Zone: When we are new to a big city it can be very tempting to replicate the same life we had before we arrived- to join a similar small gym, find a similar Indian takeaway, and spend our Fridays nights watching DVDs per usual. Even if we have been an urban dweller for ages we can fall into a rut of the same routine every week. While this can make us feel safe it can also allow us to be negative and bored with our lives. Joy is often waiting just outside our comfort zone and urban living offers a lot of opportunity for experimenting. Why not set yourself a goal of trying one new thing a week, even if it’s just walking home a different route or trying a new restaurant? In a few months you might find that you actually love Ethiopian food, yoga classes, and the opera.
Have an escape strategy: If it all gets too much, have an escape route handy. That might be a nearby park or even just your home. Having a door you can close on external stressors can help you feel in control and will distance you from the everyday stress of city living, says Adli.
“As long as you have good control over city stimulation and stress, it cannot be harmful,” he said. For most people, it’s possible to have spaces where they feel secure and safe in urban environments. But for some groups, such as people with migration backgrounds, it can be much harder to feel a sense of control over their environment.
Step away from the car
“Using the car is extremely stressful for people in cities, whereas walking or cycling to work, for example, is much better for your mental health,” Adli said.
“We know that driving a car in the high time of city traffic puts your stress hormones in a similar situation as a fighter jet pilot’s.”
Stick to Your Own Pace
If you often feel anxious or tense when, for example, commuting, it is likely that you are subconsciously taking on the urban stress of the rushing crowd around you. This is where mindfulness comes in. By using your breath and your five senses to pay attention to the now moment you can choose what to let affect you, including that rushing crowd. And you can slow down to a pace you feel good about. Start with learning how to have a two-minute mindlessness break and take it from there.
It can be easy to feel we have to be someone else to ‘survive’ urban life, believing we have to be more wary and trust nobody. While it’s true that cities have more crime and it’s unwise to leave our doors unlocked or walk through certain areas at night, it’s also true that people are people wherever we go. If we are on guard and paranoid all the time a city will without doubt be a miserable experience. Be smart, but learn to trust your own instincts about people, and take time to notice the positives around you- the people who smile, the local community street party, the bus driver who makes jokes over the loudspeaker. You create your experience, not the other way around. Stay out of bad company, and away from trouble!