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How City Living Affects Our Mental Health

A man in a suit walking by a window with a view of a city, next to people who are sitting and standing by the window

If there is anything this past year has brought to us, it's a whole new perspective on life. It has impacted everyone - wherever you live, you have probably felt the influences and the shift of energy in the world. When the world stopped for a second, we got to re-evaluate where we stand. And for many people, that was an eye-opening experience. Being confined in the walls of our homes has made the need for nature that much stronger. It has also made us ponder upon how city living affects our mental health.

Recognizing the effects of city living on our mental health

Having so much stress in our day-to-day lives, we sometimes don't know what to attribute it to. Balancing work and private life, dealing with anxiety, trying to stay healthy - that's only a few of the challenges we face daily. And if you live in the city, it likely causes you even more stress than you notice! For a clear picture of the situation, we have gathered information on city-living and its impacts on our well-being.

Urbanization and its attributes

The world is becoming more urbanized, no question about it. With the increasing trend for further urbanization, many people are, ironically, starting to feel claustrophobic in the cities. Modern life is matched by increasing poverty, air pollution, immigration, technological advances - all of which take a toll on our health. Depressive disorders, panic attacks, and schizophrenia are more common in residents of large cities. The same goes for substance abuse and internet addiction.

An illustration of a city landscape in a spiral shape

As the cities grow larger, we tend to feel smaller and smaller.

The influence of the environment, especially in the metropolis, scientists explore within neuro-urbanism. It's a discipline that combines architecture and medicine. This promising approach strives to make the urban environment practical and functional, but also healthier for its citizens!

The urban jungle is isolating

Stanley Zammit, a psychiatry professor at the Universities of Wales and Bristol, says loneliness in a big city can increase the risk of mental illness such as schizophrenia. Zammit and his team researched personal, educational, and geographical characteristics that increase the risks. They found that the development of psychosis is mostly influenced by individual factors such as hereditary ones. Still, the rate of mental illness is higher in urban than in rural areas.

If you live in a city, it often happens that you don't know your neighbors. People keep to themselves; it is harder to make friends or even see your friends regularly. In areas outside cities, you can still count on the social support of your neighbors. As a result, people in cities often feel socially excluded.

A guy in a black hoodie standing in front of a bridge in a big city

If you have a family history of mental illness, city living can be harmful to your psychological immune system.

City dwellers have a different stress response

Studies done on the topic have shown that people who grew up in the city react to stress differently than those who didn't. Even though the way our bodies and minds react to stress is individualized, the environment has a lot of influence.

A part of the brain reacts quite well to social stress, especially in people from urban environments. We are talking about the amygdala. That part of the brain is active when you experience something as a threat, which can lead to an aggressive reaction. The more urban the environment in which the subject grew up, the more intense the activity of that part of the brain.

An illustration of a man over a clock, with words that represent negative emotions written over it, a representation of how city living affects our mental health

Dealing with stress is one of the vital things we face in our lifetime, and urban life can really intensify stress and make the job harder for us.

The moment this fight-or-flight response starts to work against us is when our body has the same reaction to numerous stressful situations that are not life-threatening, such as work stress, traffic jams, family difficulties, etc. This continuous stress hurts the body and mind over time, leading to responses such as burnout syndrome, which is very common with city dwellers.

How do we counteract the stress?

Recognizing the stressors and the impacts things in our day-to-day lives have on us is of great importance. When we've shined a light on the situation, it's on us to take steps to make it better!

The following activities represent examples of what we can do to fight the effects city living has on our mental health:

Spend time in nature

When asked what is lacking in their city, most people say nature - the outdoors. Being surrounded by concrete all day, with the view of tall buildings, blocks... All of that harms our well-being. That's why using our free time to reconnect with Mother Earth is so important.

You can head to a park or the woods, take a walk next to a lake, have a picnic with friends. Time spent in nature is proven to clear the mind and benefit our coping with stress. However, if you crave even more greenery, maybe you should consider moving away from the city. If you decide that the move would be the right choice for you, you must also find out what the right timing for your relocation is. That way, you will ensure the transition is as painless as possible.

Interact with people

As we have mentioned, the feeling of loneliness and anonymity which arises when living in an urban jungle can be detrimental to our mental health. To counteract this social stress and isolation, it crucial that we keep in touch with people and maintain human interaction.

The good thing about the city is that it offers lots of exciting opportunities. Visiting cultural facilities, spending time with people you care about, joining social groups to meet new friends are only some of the ways to do that. In the busyness of life, we often forget that the people in it are what makes it great.

An overview

With over half of the world's population living in the cities and the number that keeps growing, urbanization is one of the main health-relevant challenges of our time. Even though city living affects our mental health in numerous ways, it also has its upsides. The urban environment is a complex phenomenon and can be a fantastic, nurturing place for many. It offers education opportunities, better access to healthcare, employment prospects, and so on. What we need to do is take the best of what it has to give and create a unique balance, working towards making our cities a better place for everyone.

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