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How Living in a Big City Can Affect Mental Health

A large number of people living in a big city develop mental health issues

Living in a big city is a phenomenon and a complex one. Saying that it has either a positive or negative effect on people's well-being is too simplistic. Numerous factors affect a person's mental health and certainly, the big-city lifestyle adds its own. However, if we are to observe the influence of living in big cities aside from genetic and financial aspects of one's life then we can notice a few things. Knowing them and ourselves will help us determine if our place of residence contributes to our general well-being or not. And then take measures to improve our state of mind and body.

Which factors in big cities can affect our mental health?

We are all different, which is incredibly important. We come from different backgrounds and have different genetic pools allowing us to adapt to various life conditions. And some adapt better than others, which is normal. This is why analyzing the effect of living in big cities makes the study difficult. One person would thrive in a hectic vibrant urban atmosphere while the other would feel overstimulated, detached, and at the brink of a panic attack.

Hence, it doesn't surprise at all that some people come to realize it is time to quit the job and move on and get away from the rat race and busy urban life, in general. We all need to accept responsibility for our mental health and do what we can to help ourselves. The best way to start is to recognize the factors we are exposed to in our daily life. That is if we're living in one of the beehives large cities are turning into.

For example, today's residents of big cities are exposed to big crowds, and noise, air, and light pollution. These kinds of stressors are influencing the residents constantly, to the point that they stop noticing. But the influence is still there. And reaction(s) may develop instantly or over some time, depending on the person's level of tolerance. The presence of various thresholds makes it even more difficult to determine when and what is affecting our mental health until the condition develops. Often, such issues are hidden, ignored, or related to as "high-functioning".

Burnout, anxiety, and depression, unfortunately so common among millennials today, are finding their roots precisely in the factors many psychologists associate with urban living. How are these conditions linked to life in big cities? Mental health is affected largely by

  1. Predisposition
  2. Socio-economic factors
  3. Environmental influences

It is also important to note that mental health is not only negatively influenced by big city life. While some people would leave New York and settle some place quiet, others wouldn't change the energetic atmosphere of the Big Apple for anything in the world. The satisfaction of living in a big center that offers great access to education, opportunities for job, friendship, and love is sufficient to make some people truly happy.

Predisposition and existing risk factors

People who were born in big cities are often regarded with negative bias; having an opportunity to thrive that hasn't been offered to others. But psychologists have determined that adults who lived in big cities as children have a higher chance to develop some kind of mental condition such as anxiety, compared to those who lived in a suburb or rural atmosphere. And what about those with a genetic predisposition toward mental illnesses? Living in a big city does provide opportunities but sometimes at a great cost for such individuals. Introverts may find more friends in a smaller, close-knit community, hypersensitive persons may show their creativeness in less crowded and less competitive surroundings. We can not choose our place of birth but we can certainly choose our place of residence.

Socio-economic factors are shaping our mental health

Big cities are lodestone, especially for young people. And it is quite normal to feel apprehensiveness before stepping out in the world. However, when the reason for moving to a big city is the only available choice, people start a relationship with their new place of residence on the wrong foot. Low income, poor employment opportunities, and other much worse reasons for immigration and relocation are only the beginning. Status of the people who move to large cities due to poor economic standing rarely improves quickly. They are not likely to live in green and well-kept neighborhoods but those characterized by social and economical challenges. Unfortunately, traumas are not likely to get healed but deepened.

Environmental factors

How is the urban environment affecting mental health? It overstimulates people and raises their stress levels. While the feeling of preparedness that comes with sensory stimulation is healthy, big cities provide an indefinite supply of stimuli. They "never sleep" and thus their residents are constantly exposed to the abovementioned crowds, sights, and clamor. It wears down both mind and body and is a cause of overload or burnout. As a natural response, people retreat to solitude, to calm and private places where they can recover. If the overstimulation continues, this withdrawal intensifies leading to isolation, disconnection, and depression. A hectic lifestyle often doesn't leave much time for good, healthy habits. Even if big cities provide citizens with sufficient access to nature, long commutes after work leave already tired people exhausted, making them less likely to spend time outdoors exercising or meditating.

What can residents of big cities do for their mental health?

Work-life balance is becoming more and more elusive nowadays. Unhealthy habits, insomnia due to noise and light pollution, are the least of worries for most big-city residents. What can all those who call a big city home do to protect their mental health? Dedicate time each day to do what makes you happy and fulfilled. Find a place that can be your sanctuary, where you can relax and contemplate. And if it doesn't help, if it doesn't feel enough, consider leaving a big city for the one that will allow you to feel big and strong.


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