As an urbanite, I enjoy many things about city living, such as walking to quaint, local coffee shops and restaurants, attending cultural events, and meeting people from diverse backgrounds. But even though living in a metropolis can be exciting, there are some downsides.
For instance, heavy traffic makes it challenging for me to socialize with my suburban friends. Additional frustrations include crowded public transportation, noise pollution, and having to pay nearly $15 to see a movie.
These might sound like small annoyances, but studies show that the hustle and bustle of urban life can actually take a toll on our physical and mental health. Here’s what you can do about it.
Mental Toll From City Buzz
While living in a metropolis has its perks, it can take a big toll on our mental health.
Compared to rural residents, researchers have found that urbanites are 21 percent more likely to have anxiety disorders and 39 percent more likely to have mood disorders. A 2017 meta-analysis also found that rates of PTSD, anger management, and generalized anxiety disorder were higher among those living in urban areas.
The same was true for more serious psychological disorders like schizophrenia and paranoia.
So, what’s the explanation? According to psychiatrists, urban living gives the brain a workout, which alters how we cope with stress.
Here’s how it works: The constant stimulation of city life can propel the body into a stressful state, known as the fight-or-flight response. That can make us more vulnerable to mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use. This might help explain why 19.1 percent of Americans live with an anxiety disorder, while 6.7 percent have depression.
City living can also chip away at your psychological immune system, which can be precarious for those with a family history of mental illness. According to psychologists, this environmental stress can increase your risk of developing a psychiatric condition, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.
Even though urban life may lead to emotional distress, shame and stigma can stop young adults from talking about their struggles. This may explain why they feel lonelier than older generations, according to a Cigna study.
What’s more, young adults, especially millennials, often feel burnout—a stressful state of mental and physical exhaustion that can squeeze the joy out of life.
Older generations may view millennials as incompetent adults who shy away from responsibility, but as Anne Helen Peterson wrote for Buzzfeed, millennials have “errand paralysis” and think they should always be working.
For young adults living in cities that never sleep, this belief may be intensified, adding to the psychological hardships of urban dwelling.
Sleep and Cardiovascular Health
Not only can city life affect our mental well-being, it can also affect our physical health as well. A 2017 study suggests too much exposure to air pollution and city noise may cause damage to a person’s cardiovascular health.
It seems traffic noise may interfere with sleep quality and cause cortisol, the stress hormone, to spike. Over time, elevated levels of this hormone can increase a person’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
It also seems urban dwellers may be more prone to insomnia and sleep difficulties. In a survey of more than 15,000 individuals, researchers at Stanford University found that the bright lights of a city can dampen a person’s ability to get a good night’s rest.
According to the survey, 6 percent of people living in highly lit, urban areas slept less than six hours each night. They also found that 29 percent of these urbanites were dissatisfied with the quality of their nighttime rest.
Crowded city life can also make us more prone to contracting viruses, especially during cold and flu season. Studies have also found that people living in urban areas often eat too much processed and fast food, which puts them at greater risk for weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Protection From City Living Side-Effects
Learning how to deal with the stressors of city life can help bolster your physical and emotional well-being. The following tips may help to prevent burnout, loneliness, and depression from yanking the happiness out of urban dwelling.
Spend Time Outdoors
Spending too much time surrounded by concrete can cause a bad case of city-living blues. But heading to the park or going for a nature walk may offer a solution. Studies show that connecting with nature can help improve your psychological well-being and even prevent depression.
Busy urbanites may worry, however, that they don’t have enough time to spend outside. Luckily, you don’t need to carve out an entire weekend to benefit from the great outdoors. Try getting outside and finding green spaces like a park during your lunch hour, or set up a weekly walk and talk with a close friend.
Stanford researchers have found that walking in nature helps reset the brain’s emotional thermostat. That helps us get a grip on distressing emotions, which then bolsters our ability to cope with stress.
Create a Community
Connecting to your neighborhood can make it feel more like home, but in the era of social media, we may be less likely to ask our neighbors for small favors.
However, these social interactions help build social connections and form intimacy. They may even improve our physical health.
With that in mind, embrace your inner Mr. Rogers and take time to get to know your neighbors. Invite them over for dinner or strike up a conversation with the barista at your local coffee shop. Connecting with others, even strangers, can help combat loneliness. Small conversations are wonderful ways to foster new relationships.
However, the business and expense of city living may prevent us from working out as much as we’d like. If a gym membership or cycling class isn’t in your budget, try a group fitness routine. In cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London, outdoor group exercise classes are often less expensive and can be found in local neighborhoods.
Talk About It
Talking about the ups and downs of city living is one way to cope with the stress. Finding others who validate your experience can affirm that you’re not alone. If you’re dealing with a mental health concern like depression or anxiety, therapy can help. However, depending on your insurance coverage, it can be costly.
Don’t let that stop you from seeking support. Most major cities in the United States offer low-cost mental health clinics and support groups. Learning about affordable mental health care options can help you find the right type of support.
If the process sounds daunting, remember that therapy doesn’t last forever, but talking to a professional can prevent stress from becoming something more serious and long term, such as burnout, generalized anxiety, or major depression.
The Bottom Line
Urban living can bring as much stress as it does excitement. Knowing how to prevent city life from affecting your physical and mental health can make a world of difference.
It comes as no surprise that exercise, talking with loved ones, and finding a community can give your mood a boost. And while these activities can benefit us all, these interactions can help city dwellers stay afloat
Juli Fraga is a licensed psychologist based in San Francisco, California, with a doctorate in psychology from the University of Northern Colorado and a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California–Berkeley. This article was first published on Healthline.com