City Living Changes Your Brain’s Stress Response
More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, making the creation of a healthy urban environment a major priority.
Urban life has both health risks and benefits, but mental health is negatively affected: mood and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in city dwellers and the incidence of schizophrenia is strongly increased in people born and raised in cities.
Along with the hustle and bustle of urban living, living in the city also increases your risk for mental health problems.
In stressful situations, this study showed that city dwellers exhibited different brain activations than did rural residents.
The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, marks the first time researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify specific brain regions that are affected by urban life.
Hooking study subjects up to fMRI machines and stressing them by administering a timed math test (and then criticising their performance), the researchers found that people who were current city dwellers had increased activity in the part of the brain called the ‘amygdala’ during stress, compared with those raised in small towns or rural areas.
Subjects who had been brought up in cities also had greater activity in another part of the brain; the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex.
Both brain regions are involved in processing stress.
The results of the study where significant and were unchanged by adjustments for many possible confounders such as age, education, income, and marital status.
City slickers therefore, may be more prone to stress. CNN reports on this study, explaining how stress in the city affects our health:
City living not all bad – Suicide Rates May Be Higher in Rural Areas:
Professor Ralph Adolphs and Dr Daniel Kennedy of the California Institute of Technology in a commentary appearing in the same issue of Nature note that there are many upsides to city living.
“In many countries, for example, studies on the complex relationship between urbanicity and suicide, show higher rates of suicide in rural areas than in cities.”
“Although there are a number of possible explanations for this observation, it could relate to cities’ provision of a richer, more stimulating and more interactive social environment, a larger social-support network, and easier access to medical care,” they write.
We all know that any type of prolonged stress is bad for our health. Whether it be never-ending deadlines at the office or the threat of losing all your cattle due to Government bans on live exports.
Gone are the days when we had short bursts of temporary stress while running from a hungry lion.
That fight-or-flight (or faint) response channels essential energy to its survival effort by shutting down nonessential biological functions in a temporary, short-term response. Our stress response helps us run from, or fight our stressor and then we are done and our nervous system returns to normal.
Unfortunately, we can generate the same flight or fight response simply by anticipating stress – whether or not it occurs, and whether or not it’s merited. And when we subject ourselves to prolonged psychological stress, disease and imbalance occurs.
This type of chronic stress typifies the modern world.
So why do some people cope with stress better than others? Whether you live in the city or the country, measures taken to reduce stress levels can vastly improve your health and wellbeing.
We can reduce the risk of stress-related disease when we have an outlet for stress and frustration, some control over what’s causing us stress, the ability to predict stressors, and, perhaps most importantly, social connectedness for emotional support.
We can also use natural supplements to help us handle stress better, to relax us and to improve our mood.